Lesson Plan: Failure

It is not just a clever phrase meant to get your attention.  I really do "teach from failure" almost every single day.  Students in my broadcast classes fight challenges with gear, with story-gathering, with writing, research, time management, and of course, with those three crucial parts of any good story:  beginning, middle and end.  

So in this blog, you are going to meet some of my former students, pictured below, who were kind enough to share a few frustrations from their work in my Broadcast Journalism I and II classes.  I asked them to bravely recall failing, and learning from it.  

Clockwise, Tyler Wassam (large photo), Lindsey Cunningham, Kimberly Moore (pictured with Dylan Walker), Rob Lyons and Lexi Bull.

Clockwise, Tyler Wassam (large photo), Lindsey Cunningham, Kimberly Moore (pictured with Dylan Walker), Rob Lyons and Lexi Bull.

First up, Lexi Bull, class of 2013.  She was mildly traumatized the day I walked into her edit bay, looked at the story she was editing, and told her it had no substance.  Then I deleted the timeline and said "start over."  She was a sophomore at the time.

"I was shocked because I'd never experienced something like that. Especially being the "A" student I was. BUT, I knew it (the story) deserved it. I knew that I deserved it. And I sort of enjoyed finally being called out for not giving my best effort. I could do that in other classes and still get A's. Even though HTV wasn't ever really about a grade, my best effort was demanded (in the most loving way possible). If I didn't live up to capabilities, I experienced the consequences. But I never feared failure in the class, which was a great comfort."

Lindsey Cunningham, class of 2015, remembers struggling with sound, and with questions during interviews.

"Almost every story seemed like a failure because there were always things that could've been better.  Every story had a list of things to improve on next time around. I know I started focusing on getting natural sound for every story, because the pieces that didn't have any just sounded so awkward.  Also, I improved my interview skills from beating myself up over the questions I neglected to ask."

Tyler Wassam, class of 2014, also talked about sound, but in his case, it was a lack of sound due to technical problems. 

"Honestly, I think I learned the biggest lesson on my first story.  We had an incredible character with an amazing story. It was about a painter who survived a train wreck and spent years of his life in the hospital. We were super excited to get into the editing room and hammer out the edit, but when we started reviewing our footage we noticed something was off. We had forgotten to turn on the mic, and ruined a chance to tell someone's story. That's the number one thing that sticks out to me and I'll never forget to turn on a mic again; I'm known to double or triple check mics now, just want to stay on the safe side."

A story shot on the streets of New Orleans during the 2011 HTV "Southern Swing" bus tour still haunts Kimberly Moore, class of 2012.

"I did a walking ghost tour story in New Orleans. Thought it would be super cool, and a fun way to show the culture there. Wrong. The story was a total bust. Not only was it extremely boring and the ghost part clearly fake, there wasn't a lot of appealing visuals on the route we took, and the sound bites were awful."

So a ghost tour with no ghosts.  Kimberly continues...

"I learned many things from doing that terrible story. One, always have a plan B story in mind. It'll just be better for everyone. Two, you need to be quick on your feet and learn to work with what you've got. Any good reporter can turn a terrible story into a decent one, you just have to know how. Three, utilize the locals more. Especially being in an unfamiliar city, the best source we could have used was the locals."

The senior member of this group of former HTVers is Rob Lyons, class of 2009.  He remembers a specific story that got some intensive care at the last minute, and how he learned from it.

"My junior year we did a story about a Rogersville, MO student with a brain tumor. Though the final product turned out to be decent, what we brought to Coach was anything but. He sat down with our senior line producer and re-edited the footage in front of us, painfully reminding us what questions we should’ve asked, and how we should’ve edited what we had together. We had been taught these things since Broadcast I, but it was my initial failure in this story that transformed this 'head knowledge' into tangible guidelines that greatly helped the rest of my time in HTV."

So there you have it.  Recollections designed to remind us all, teachers and students, that broadcast journalism is always a work on progress.  One more thing--a quote from Brian Shipman, the Drury University TV instructor--something he teaches his college kids:  "Fail faster."  

In other words, you are going to fail from time to time.  Do it, learn from it, and move on.