Covering One of Your Own

On thing that makes me a little antsy is when a kid pitches a story where the main source is a former student from our TV staff. Why?

Former broadcast kids know what you’re after. They “get it.” I do not mean they lie, or that their stories are not worth covering. I just think inside jobs can be a lazy way to get a story. I would prefer kids look elsewhere for sources. BUT… if a former broadcast student’s perspective is so vital, so necessary to a story’s impact, I usually can find a way to get comfortable with it.

Case in point…our latest “Bay 11” podcast. We needed to talk to some current or recent high school students who had tried fad diets, the topic of the piece we were preparing. While my reporter, Anna, looked for teen sources, I contacted a former HTV News Director, Emily, who just graduated college. I often ask former staffers for contacts when we are struggling, and Emily has helped us in the past with some solid leads. Our HTV alums can be invaluable resources, and they remember how hard it was to find people for their own stories when they were on the staff.

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This time, when I told Emily what we were covering, she said she definitely had a source. It turned out that she had a diet story or her own to share. She offered to talk to Anna. Like I said, I am usually not comfortable with “inside jobs,” but when Emily explained her dieting journey, and its dramatic consequences, I knew right away teens and others needed to hear it. Anna agreed. It changed both the focus, and the impact, of her final story.

So my sage advice is to not rule out using recent students as sources. Just make sure it is worth not looking a little harder. In this case, I think we got it right, and I certainly appreciate Emily’s willingness to share her difficult experience with us.

You can hear “Losing Weight, Losing Control” on the latest Bay 11 podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play,, basically wherever you usually find your podcasts. You can also find it on our home page at

First Show "Teaching Moments"

Guess what? Sometimes, we just screw things up. It is year 29 for “HTV Magazine,” a show I actually started at our school in 1989, and things still go off the rails from time to time.

So here are my latest first-show-of-the-year miseries, and remember, my staff is made up of juniors and seniors:

*Two boys get great b-roll, but no audio from their primary interview. Just a lot of static. So they convince the guy to give them a second chance a couple of days later. This time, the photog is so focused on the audio recorder, that we discover later that he forgot to hit “record” on the camera. So he had audio the second time, but no video.

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*Three girls decide to cover our new, first-year head football coach, always a big deal on campus. They shoot a nice interview, well-lit, good questions. They shoot a decent amount of b-roll at practice, and at a game that unfortunately took place in a downpour. Problem is, they shot about three plays from scrimmage, total, from the game, and none from practice. So lots of shots guys standing around. The coach standing around. But this is football and still, the footage had no sounds of pads crunching, a quarterback’s snap count, no visuals of completed passes, tackles, kickoffs…just guys pretty much standing around, mostly in the rain.

*Another story was about 9-1-1 prank calls. Not a good thing. My crew goes to the call center, gets almost no natural sound…a lot of shots of people sitting around, and the primary interview, I find out later, is with the reporter’s mom, who works there. What’s next, my dad the plumber? My sister the dancer? I mean….

*The line producer’s job in our program is to assemble the show. He takes the anchor spots we shoot, all the finished packages, the show opening that he produced, and he glues it all together, making it sound and look as good as possible. And he adds our lower thirds, the captions with the names and descriptors. Reporters write their lower thirds for him, and turn them in so he can actually drop in the graphics. He has only received captions for two of the eight stories. Thanks, reporters.

*A crew I reminded 100 times to shoot tights didn’t. All wide and medium. I mentioned these are juniors and seniors, right? We have covered WIDE-MEDIUM-TIGHT since they got here. I mean, I’ve helped produce a training video about that, seen by thousands, and apparently forgotten by at least six or seven teens I know.

SO…I could go on and on. We all could, right? Some of you, at least? I have to remember every September that first shows provide teaching moments. That is a good thing. But if those mistakes continue, then the old guy I see in the mirror needs to get his message across a lot better.

When You Know Enough

In 2000 we hosted our first "Camp STN" in Springfield, and have done so ever since, even though we re-branded it as the "ASB Workshop" a few years ago.  Same approach, different name.

The workshop/camp provides me with a yearly opportunity to share what I can with the teachers who attend.  What I have also enjoyed through they years is just giving teachers around the country any assistance I can when they ask.  Some of them call, some of them e-mail, but I always try to answer. 

Camp STN began in 2000, and it is now the "ASB Workshop."  Teachers helping teachers.

Camp STN began in 2000, and it is now the "ASB Workshop."  Teachers helping teachers.

That is my message today to those of you who have been teaching this challenging subject for a while:  Pass your knowledge on.  Help a colleague when you can.

Some of you may think you do not have the experience to be an "expert."  Hey, I'm no expert.  I am just a guy who made lots of mistakes, took lots of missteps back in the day, and now tries to help others avoid those.  Back in 1989, when I started HTV, it would have been so great to have the ear of an experienced broadcast teacher.

I am not a great resource for gear or software or any techie stuff.  I can help a beginning program to a point.  I can also point you in the right direction for more advanced assistance.

I am not an authority on classroom management.  What I do probably will not work for you.  But you might get a couple of useful ideas from my controlled chaos.

I am not a person who cares much about grades, so my approach to evaluating students is extremely objective and arbitrary.  I do not use rubrics, or provide written critique forms.  We talk, we discuss, and I demand more, not less, most of the time.  And the kids respond.

I do enjoy talking about journalism, and discussing approaches to the coverage of challenging topics.  I can talk about the J word all day.

Chances are, those of you who have built a program, or have taken over a program and watched it grow and thrive, have a lot to share.  Please--DO IT.  Give back.  Be a resource.  Respond to a colleague in need.  Even if you are just four or five years in, other teachers will relate to your experiences, and grow from them.

It will help them a lot, I promise, and it will make you feel better as well.  Just pay it forward and see what happens.   



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.  

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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. 

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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

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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...

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*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.