Covering the Worst Thing

Every broadcast news team needs a written policy addressing how they will handle student or faculty deaths on the air, when emotions are running high and judgement can be clouded by grief.

This is not a topic anyone wants to think about, but we must.  It is best to have something in place so you are not making it up as you go, especially when feelings are raw, and there are numerous ways you can inadvertently offend or upset members of your audience with a perceived slight, or an innocent oversight.  

Screen Shot 2018-08-26 at 8.52.15 AM.png

Broadcast staffs usually have to respond quickly, and that makes having an established, written plan that much more important.  Here are some things to consider:

*It is appropriate to reach out to the family before the tribute.  Even consider having a school counselor or the principal ask the family about it.  The last thing you want to do is offend the family.  They might even provide a photo they would like you to use.  

*Make on-air tributes consistent in running time.  Whether it is 10, 20 or 30 the same approximate length for everyone, and save them for the end of the show.

*The less said, the better.  I suggest the anchor introduce it with something straightforward:  "As we leave you today, we remember John Smith, a  member of our student body who was lost over the weekend.  We send our condolences to his family and friends." Then follow with a photo or video clip, or both, of maybe 15 seconds, with the name in a graphic.  Fade to black.

*Do not get caught up in how the student died.  Yes, maybe suicide has a different impact than say, a student lost in a traffic accident.  Your job is to simply pay tribute to the life, and the memory, not to judge their method of passing by giving less or more coverage based on circumstances.  

*Avoid using music with lyrics.  If you play music in your tribute, instrumental tracks are safest.

*Doing no memorial piece at all is basically ignoring the thing everyone is talking about, and thinking about.  It is actually better to provide the catharsis many people will get from your brief tribute.  Doing nothing can actually draw attention to you and your staff, which is the last thing you want to do.  

*Having a written policy, one you are free to share with anyone who questions your approach, is smart.  It is also smart to run it past a trusted counselor and administrator to make sure everyone understands your policy up front.

There are always extenuating circumstances that can force you to veer from your policy.  There can be requests from the family that impact your decision.  Still, having a policy in place, instead of making it up as you go, can save everyone some heartache, and avoid uncomfortable situations in moments of great pain and sadness.



Journalism Time

I ordered a shirt last month.  It arrived last week.  All proceeds go to support the Capital Gazette newspaper after that horrific shooting in late June when five people were killed.

The front of the shirt says "I back the First Amendment."  On the reverse side the entire First Amendment is printed.  It is not an expensive or fancy shirt.  Light cotton.  I am sure it will shrink.  White with black lettering, except for the word "back," which is printed in blue. 

Screen Shot 2018-08-04 at 9.36.34 AM.png

As a new school year approaches, we teachers usually get excited, and hope to make it a great year.  Optimism runs high.  You know the feeling: "THIS year I am going to teach better, be organized, really push the kids, and take things to a new level."  New year.  New hope. New challenges.  

As I enter my 35th year at Hillcrest High School, where our enrollment will start at around 1,100, and slowly drop during the year, where more than two-thirds of our kids are on free or reduced lunch, and our 60-year-old building sometimes feels older, I wonder how excited I am.  

The answer is:  pretty excited.  Maybe even "really" excited.  Yes, I am part-time these days.  Two broadcast classes every other day.  A soft load for this old-timer.  I retired in 2012 from full-time teaching, and rolled right into part-time, in my same classroom, teaching my two favorite classes, Broadcast Journalism I and Broadcast Journalism II.  This will be my 35th year at the same school, and the 29th year teaching the classes I actually started at Hillcrest back in 1989.

In a couple of weeks, when I walk into my classroom for the first time, I think I will wear my new shirt.  Remind my kids that reporters die in the line of duty every year.  Tell them reporting what is happening around the world, or in the classroom around the corner, is important, and worthy of them, and essential to our freedom.  I hope a few will consider journalism as a career, but most years, they don't.  The relocating, the long hours, the low's not a very good career choice.  I saw a survey recently that put "journalist" at the bottom of smart career choices.

I'm just glad some people still do it.  Bring us the truth, sometimes at a very high cost.  Yep, I think I'll wear my shirt.


ASB Workshop: That's a Wrap

Screen Shot 2018-07-16 at 7.29.06 AM.png

Thirty teachers from across the map journeyed to Springfield, MO for the 2018 ASB Workshop for broadcast and video teachers.  After five days of presentations, field work, writing, editing, and the big finale--two magazine shows created in about 36 hours--the attendees walked away better prepared for the coming school year.  How do we know?  We checked Twitter:

"Feeling empowered after Day 1 of  #asbworkshop. Learned ways to impart technique from seasoned teachers, collaborated w/others on lesson ideas & witnessed the magic of a local news broadcast."

"Incredible week at the #ASBWorkshop Everything I needed to reenergize my program!"

"Here we go - at #ASBWorkshop learning from best to bring the best back for our @AquinasNation students."

"@AshleyReynolds Thanks for taking time to share your reporting tips and guidelines with our #ASBworkshop group today.  I really appreciate your sharing Mia's story and Mia's Mission." 

Teachers worked on four separate assignments during the 2018 ASB Workshop. Edit bays at Hillcrest High School, home of HTV Magazine, were humming throughout the week.  

Teachers worked on four separate assignments during the 2018 ASB Workshop. Edit bays at Hillcrest High School, home of HTV Magazine, were humming throughout the week.  

Coaching Baseball Be a Lot Like...Coaching Broadcasting

We have heard about "coaching in the classroom" for years, so I thought I would try to break it down based on my background between the lines.  I was a baseball coach before I started a broadcast program at our school many, many years ago.  (Don't ask how many--that's rude)

Coaches...have very specific goals in mind.  They communicate them every day, every week, every month, every season, every off-season.  They do not mince words, and kids buy in.  Our goal is to finish the season with a win in the state championship game.  Everything we do points to that.  As a broadcast teacher, are you as specific in setting goals for your kids?  Do you have a solid plan to get kids from point A to point Z by the end of the year?  And do they buy what you are selling?

Baseball coaching and broadcast coaching share several characteristics.

Baseball coaching and broadcast coaching share several characteristics.

Coaches...believe repetition is crucial.  They oversee the same drills at practice all the time.  Not much is new when it comes to the fundamentals of any sport, and how you perfect them.  As a video teacher, are you as diligent in requiring kids to practice the basics over and over until they become second nature?  A good second baseman knows how to use several different pivots to turn a double play.  Do your students know how to make all the adjustments on their cameras to account for the different conditions they will be shooting?  They do if they practice regularly. not praise what is routine, what is expected.  A shortstop who fields an easy two-hopper and throws accurately to first base for the out is just performing an expected act.  No reason to jump off the bench and applaud.  Do you often find yourself so happy with video that has accurate color and decent audio that you lavish praise on the students who recorded it?  Don't.  Put that stuff under "Doing what is expected."  It is a subtle way to raise the bar.

Coaches...push a team when it is going well, and encourage a team when it is struggling.  I used to be hard to live with when we were winning.  Never satisfied.  That was because when you start patting yourself on the back, you can lose your edge.  If your kids bring in a big award, have pizza and cake the next day, then move on.  Shift into "coach mode" and ask them what's next?  

Coaches...take the heat off their kids.  If a player makes a bad base running decision and it costs us a game, as a coach, I take the blame.  "I shouldn't have sent him."  Your broadcast kids might do a poor story, full of lazy writing or bad video, and maybe receive criticism for it.  You might need to shoulder the blame a little.  "I was going to help them clean it up, but I ran out of time.  We will do much better next time."  Kids can get discouraged easily in sports, or in broadcasting.  There is always a fine line between letting them grow by handling criticism, and preventing them for losing heart.  

So there are some coaching techniques that definitely translate to your video classroom.  It is up to you to decide which ones work.  From personal experience I can tell you most of my HTV students felt they were being "coached" a lot more than they were being "taught," and I am okay with that.





What I Learned: Year 28

I just wrapped up my 35th year of teaching, and my 28th year teaching Broadcast Journalism.  I keep teaching, and I keep learning.  Here are a few thoughts from this past year...

Screen Shot 2018-05-28 at 3.21.33 PM.png

*Classes like mine are not classes, really.  They are much more.  They are work sites, they are creativity zones, and hopefully, they are safe places for kids who have no other home in the school.  This is true of other destinations in our building--the theater, the choir room, and the gym come to mind.  All provide kids a sanctuary during hectic times, a place to visit with peers interested in the same things they care about.  Most important of all, they provide a place of acceptance.  "You get to be a video nerd in here.  We all are."

*There is nothing wrong with new approaches.  There is nothing wrong with tried-and-true approaches.  The challenge is when to use which.  My comfort zone is journalism, and beginning-middle-end storytelling, so I am not always patient with news pieces that wander off topic.  For some of my film-ish kids, a good story is often less linear, and less obvious.  Subtlety is a tool for them.  So I am learning to be a more patient viewer of the "creative" content. 

* I am a believer in the podcast format.  We started one last fall, called "Bay 11," and I am so excited about this form of storytelling, and can not wait for our second year of shows.  Podcasting emphasizes so many skills that translate to video, but that is just a side benefit, and not one I care much about.  Our podcast crew of four is actually separate from our HTV staff, and I do not expect them to suddenly turn around and start shooting video stories.  They exist on a different island, not tied to our video expectations.  BUT...the TV kids have a lot to learn from the podcast stories if they pay attention.  I will see how it goes next year.  I hope our video is more "sound" than ever.

Have a great summer.  I'm ready for the ASB Workshops--all four of them--coming in June and July.



The One Day Show

Here is an idea to help prepare your incoming broadcast staff.  I call it the "one day show."

The idea is to get your kids to one location for a day, have them all shoot stories, then edit them back at school the following week.  In just that one day, if all goes well, your kids shoot six or seven segments, and you have a final show of the year to post.

It can be a spring festival, or just a visit to your downtown area, where the kids can find unique characters or local businesses or events to feature.  Thematically, the show is simple to approach:  "A Saturday in Downtown Anytown."  Or "The Anytown Fish Fry."  Whatever is going on, chances are, your staff can find seven nice angles.

Find stories fast in your own backyard for the One Day Show.

Find stories fast in your own backyard for the One Day Show.

The benefit of this modest location shoot is it provides a great chance to let your new staff feel like a team.  It is one of those "bonding" opportunities, but it does not require much stress.  By focusing on just shooting short feature stories in a day, it lets everyone take their time and look around a bit.  The editing, and anchor intros, all the post-production, happen the following week back at school.  The one day show is all about the shoot.

Of course getting all of your kids to show up on a Saturday in spring is likely impossible.  My advice--don't sweat it.  In fact, count on it.  If 14 kids can show up, but eight or nine can't, so be it.  Those who miss out probably will make sure to be part of your next big staff event after they hear how much fun the others had on the one day shoot.  



ASB Workshop(s) Update

We still have openings for our two ASB Workshops this summer in Springfield, MO.  

The Returners-Only version is June 23-26, and you are eligible to attend that one if you previously attended any of our workshops, including the one in Springfield, or the ones we do on the road.  


The oldest, and still popular workshop for first-time attendees, happens July 8-13, and it's filling up.  We expect to close registration in a few weeks.  This workshop has been around since the summer of 2000, and has trained teachers from coast to coast, and from several foreign countries.  It is mainly for high school and middle school teachers, but we have also enjoyed having elementary video teachers join us at times.

So what's new at the workshops this year?  Here are some things to look forward to.

*Returners will enjoy new sessions we have not offered before, including comprehensive presentations about starting a podcast, and about live streaming events.  In addition, the hands-on assignments, always a part of any ASB workshop, will be new and "different" because we always keep this workshop as fresh as we can.  After all, why return for the exact same stuff? 

*The regular workshop in July, which caters to teachers in the early stages of running a video program, but also to experienced teachers looking to re-charge their batteries, will continue to incorporate our tried-and-true approaches.  BUT...we also pride ourselves on keeping the week fresh, and up-to-date, so that means some new content can be expected.  As always, expect some great local cuisine and a field trip or two you won't soon forget.

So come to Springfield this summer.  We promise some memorable lessons, some unique challenges, and a week full of great information, and hands-on experiences, you will re-visit often during the coming school year.

Register on this website under the "Workshops" tab.

STN: My Takeaways

We returned safe and sound from the STN convention on Sunday night.  No gear lost, no kids lost.  So how did it go?  Here are some reflections I have about this annual gathering of 3,000 broadcast and video production students and teachers.

*Energy.  It is the first thing that hits you in the face when you sit down for the opening ceremony on Thursday evening, for the film and "Excellence" awards presentations on Friday night, and then for the Sunday morning closing awards ceremony.  Loud, a little crazy, with chants, flag-waving, pep-rally-style energy.  And that is contagious, and just a lot of fun to see and hear.  

Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 7.05.20 AM.png

*At those events listed above, the in-house and online live broadcasts have gotten more and more professional.  Great graphics, solid production values all around.  Well-done, Texas High School, the school behind those productions.

*Tompkins.  Rose.  Huppert.  The list goes on of outstanding, top-level presenters who challenge their student and teacher attendees to think in new ways, and to be better journalists.  Story telling is at the heart of it all, and that is something STN continues to value.  It has since the beginning, and the "Tell the Story" logo remains a staple.

*Film kids are killing it.  Full disclosure--I am a HORRIBLE film viewer.  I have a hard time sticking with most movies I try to watch out of Hollywood.  I find them cliched, pointless, with too much CGI and not enough heart, or they are overly violent or vulgar, and just not that interesting.  But Hollywood better get ready for a new generation of storytellers, based on the creative, captivating work I saw at the film ceremony at STN. 

*Journalism kids need to step it up.  We are seeing plenty of great depth-of-field video, but we are not seeing nearly enough depth-of-story.  Recent activism by teens, and an overall restlessness with the status quo among young people, could (and should) seep into their journalism.  At least I hope so.  The film kids are probably a little ahead of the J kids when it comes to getting beyond the obvious.

*The Crazy 8 contest is so short (just eight hours to create a show) that there is little time for real depth.  It is just a who-works-fastest kind of competition.  BUT...hang on.  I mentioned to my kids on the way home that I think we should sit it out next time, and use that as a travel day.  Rebellion.  They loved the event, and the staff bonding, which is probably the main reason to participate.  So next time we attend, we will be there, slugging it out in the Crazy 8.  

*My kids, like a lot of them in the audience at the closing awards ceremony, gasped when they saw the DQs in some categories, especially the disqualification of the winner in the "Tell the Story Editing" competition.  But I LOVED it.  Good on you, STN.  Students who misbehave and break the code of conduct should be DQed.  Boozing it up in the hotel, or breaking curfew, are not appropriate, and I thank STN for the added clout you give me as a teacher to hold my students accountable.

*No event goes off without a hitch.  The late start of the closing awards ceremony was annoying, but blame the late-night misbehavior, and the resulting disqualifications, for forcing a delay in preparing graphics and script for the final ceremony.  Adjustments had to be made.  So be it. 

*The size of the event is impressive.  It started in 2004 with 500 attendees.  Now it is six times bigger, and with schools around the country emphasizing video as a skill all kids need, even beginning in elementary school, there is no reason this convention will not grow more.  

*The event features both journalism and film/production tracks and contests, and some teachers on the outside looking in do not believe you should have both at the same convention.  But one can actually motivate the other, and both provide teachers plenty of critical viewing lessons.

*Finally, Hawaii.  It is our 50th state, but it may be the number 1 state in STN.  What a fun group to witness, the pride they have in each other's achievements, their kindness to others, that "aloha spirit" they bring to STN every year.  They have some of the best video producers in the nation, both middle school and high school.  In fact, their middle schools kids' work was the most impressive thing I saw this year at STN.  Keep that "Hawaii" chant going, kids.  You are setting the bar high for all of us.