Behind the scenes with broadcast students

Seven journalism students face a bank of screens, and with only a few minutes to go before recording starts, the atmosphere is busy and tense. This is the control room of UM News, a weekly news segment staffed by senior broadcast journalism students.

photo of j-school broadcast students working on video production on their screens.

Though the students are producing their broadcast in the Don Oliver Television Studios on the first floor of the journalism building, the segment airs each week on KPAX-TV and ABC Montana.

“Are we almost ready to go?” Sean Robb asks his colleagues, who are busy cueing instruments. Robb, who is from California and will graduate next spring, is working as a producer today. Other days he is chasing stories as a reporter, in front of the camera as an anchor, or behind it as a cameraman.

“It’s really good experience to do something over and over each week,” Robb says, adding that the practice makes him more efficient at reporting and producing. The pressure to produce in UM News is intense, he says, in a way that reflects the working world of a broadcast journalist.

Associate Professor Ray Ekness, a former broadcast journalist himself, agrees that the program simulates the pressures of the working world. Students do get the buffer of two dry runs before they record the broadcast that will air on television, which is a safety net for the learning students he said. The semester in UM News includes a broadcast filmed without dry runs as well.

Silence descends on the control room as the team keys in the cameras. Today’s director is Joe Hodgson, a senior from Great Falls, Montana who spent his summer interning at Comcast Sports in San Francisco. “Go ahead and pan to the right ever so slightly,” he directs his cameraman, watching on the screens in front of him.

On Friday, the students will meet with professionals from KPAX-TV and ABC Montana for a review of the week’s broadcast. They’ll learn the tricks of the trade and how to streamline their next show.

“Go ahead and roll thunder, full sound!” Hodgson orders, and the broadcast is under way.

We no longer control the video…

The recent tragedy at WDBJ in Roanoke, VA has prompted the usual journalistic introspection about violent imagery. Our industry has shown once again that we are a wild bunch, with no unified standards. Some outlets covering the shooting of Alison Parker and Adam Ward chose to show isolated snippets from the station’s own video of the shooting, which transpired live on air. Some held back. Others went so far as to show bits of the video recorded by the alleged shooter, Vester Flanagan. But some stayed away from those particular images. Decisions were all over the map.

quote lifted from text reading

There was a time when these judgments would have felt very weighty, but that time has passed. Personally, I think that is for the best.   I chose to view all the videos and can say they were truly horrifying.   That was my choice, and I am sure many people will choose differently. On this topic, the Internet truly is a democratic medium. I do not view those beheading videos—again, my choice, and I do not judge those who do look.

TV and newspapers no longer get to decide whether the public should be protected from grisly pictures. We can always go elsewhere. The debates in newsrooms about what to show seem quaint, almost dated. It’s true that TV viewers are in a unique position, because they might be surprised by a sudden gory video. That is why TV long faced tougher scrutiny from regulators.

You can argue that Internet videos feed such violence by guaranteeing an audience for the unstable. I cannot agree. Along with relics like the Fairness Doctrine, our editorial nanny state is being whittled away by YouTube and Twitter. You can avert your eyes, but you cannot stop the change. Journalists can now move on to the more serious business of covering violence and its causes, and stop focusing on ethics questions from a bygone era.

Larry Abramson