Tag Archives: students

Where have you gone, Lou Grant?

By now everyone in the world has heard about the colossal screw up last week when KTVU-TV fell victim to a prank and announced fake, racist names of the crew of that crashed Asiana airliner.

While most people are chuckling and asking “How could that happen?” the men and women who run local TV newsrooms should be shaking in their boots. If they have any self-awareness at all, they should be dropping to their knees and praying “Thank God, they didn’t call my station.”

I spent more than 26 years in the  local TV news business most of them as a news director, running local news departments. I have been out of the business for more than ten years, but I stay in touch. Many of the problems I saw when I was there remain today, and have gotten worse.

This may not be exactly what happened, but it is a very plausible scenario. A call or email comes into the newsroom. Some junior staffer, probably fresh out of college takes the call and gets excited and yells “We have the names of the pilots!”

Someone only slightly more experienced responds, “Oh my God, we have to get this on the air, NOW!”

Already someone else has called the promotion department to tell them to start working on a promo hyping the “exclusive breaking news.”

The chyron operator (the person who types the letters that you see on the screen) transcribes what is given to him.

Meanwhile, not until the anchor reads the names on the air does anyone actually look at the names and say them out loud.

Supposedly in the KTVU case, someone at the station called the NTSB where an intern confirmed the names. How this happened, I cannot explain.

So why does something like this slip through?

1. Too many stations overemphasize flash and speed over substance and accuracy.  How many times have you seen or heard “breaking news,” or “this just in,” or even better “live, late breaking.” On the other hand, how many times have you seen a station brag, “We got it right!” Getting it right may be an assumption, but when it isn’t emphasized, it falls by the wayside. It may only be a dumpster fire, but if it’s live and breaking news, we’ll be all over it.

2. The economics of the TV business are such that there just aren’t as many experienced people left in many newsrooms to actually provide a system of checks to catch mistakes before they air. This was a noon newscast in a major market. You would think there would be some senior people around to call the shots at that time of day. However, when you get to a smaller market, especially on weekends or in the early morning, it is just a handful of inexperienced people processing a high volume of news content. The same young producer or reporter who gathers in the information also writes it and approves it for air. There is no one to give it a second look, or if there is, they are frequently as green as the first person.

3. TV newsrooms are not staffed by rocket scientists. This is a dirty little secret that no one wants to talk about. This is not a blanket indictment of everyone who works in TV news, nor am I saying that TV news people are all morons. For the most part, they all have college degrees, so at least in theory they are literate. And clearly, there are some very sharp people working out there.  However, on the average over the past two decades or so, the TV news business has not attracted the cream of the intellectual crop.

It starts in college. If he or she is being honest, a broadcast journalism professor will admit (as many have to me) that the students he/she is teaching are not the best and the brightest. The students who were at the top of their admission class are majoring in subjects that will produce a more lucrative career, like pre-med, pre-law, finance, engineering, and so on. When compared to majors like engineering, chemistry or even nursing,  broadcast journalism is a fairly easy major. It is often a second choice or back-up plan for students who couldn’t hack it in the more demanding majors. (In full disclosure, about a hundred years ago, I was one of those students.) Further, it is not at uncommon for the top graduates in a broadcast journalism program to take a look at the starting salaries in the TV business and say, “Screw this. I’ll go to law school or get an MBA.”

4. It’s very sad that a large number of those students/graduates aren’t really interested in journalism or news in general. They want to be on TV. They might be just as happy, or perhaps more so, being a “spokes-model” or a contestant on “Big Brother,” as covering the city council in small-town USA. For most new, young TV reporters, the job of collecting and presenting news is just a means to an end — a way to get on TV. If the stars align in their favor, maybe they get a shot at their true dream, to get off the street, away from the day-to-day drudgery of actually covering news, and become an anchor. As a result, there is very little emphasis what traditionalists might consider real journalism. “How does my writing look?” is replaced by “How does my hair look?”

5. Back to college for a moment, although the salaries aren’t a lot different, there is a contrast between the broadcast journalism students and their academic cousins across the quad in the print journalism department. It tends to attract a different type of student. In print journalism, it doesn’t really matter what you look or sound like. The most fame you will achieve early in your career is a byline and maybe a thumbnail photo. Strangers won’t come up to you in the grocery store and ask you why you changed your hair style. While still in school, you are actually expected to be able to write something longer and with more depth than a tweet.

I wish I had a good conclusion for this post, but I don’t. I continue to watch local TV news here. Mostly I just want to know if it’s safe to go to bed and what the weather will be in the morning. I really don’t care about the “live, late breaking” dumpster fire.

Advertisements

Feelin’ a little discouraged

As I have written in the past, I am involved teaching a fifth-grade religion class at our church. We are Catholic, so this class is for the kids who do not attend the parish’s parochial school. Most Protestant churches would call it “Sunday School.” In the Catholic Church, it’s called CCD.

This is my eighth year teaching 5th grade, and I have noticed that nearly every year, we hit a low point around February. I don’t know whether it is the spot in the curriculum, the attitude of the kids or the way I teach. However, it seems that nearly every year around this time I wonder, “Why am I doing this?”

Classroom management is an issue for me. Part of the problem is I wear hearing aids, so keeping track of multiple voices is very difficult. I have a co-teacher who is essentially my “enforcer.” She was not able to attend this week, so Mrs. Poolman came along to help. At one point she asked me, “You don’t get paid for this, right?” When I pointed out that she knew this was a volunteer job, she replied, “I knew you were a little crazy, but not this much.” Thanks for the support, Mrs. P!

I think there are several issues involved. The biggest is the class meets for an hour on Wednesday evenings. The students have already been in school all day, and this is “overtime.” We are seriously infringing upon their leisure-fun time.

While I try hard to make the class as interesting as I can, sometimes the activities I design to break up the routine are counter-productive. This week I planned a small-group poster activity. But once the groups got together, they decayed quickly into chaos. They were much too distracted by cutting up with each other and arguing over what color markers to use, to actually complete the assignment.

The class is not homogenous. There are typically 20 students on any given night. I have a small group of very quiet kids who I have to work on to draw out of their shells. And I have a few who are not naturally quiet, but are usually engaged and well behaved. And then we have:

–One little girl who is desperately needy for attention. Her way of getting it is to stir up trouble with anyone who is around her and then blame them for the disturbance.

–A few loud, high-energy (ADHD?) boys who have a compelling drive to be the center of all attention. They just roll over the quiet kids.

–A group of socially active “tween girls.” They are not intentionally disruptive, but they are constantly “a-twitter.” They just love to chat with their friends.

Next week, we’ll try it again. Since our last lesson was a total bomb, I’ll need to recover the same material, but in a more traditional style.

I hope I’m getting gold stars on my record somewhere for all this. Sigh.

And this is a good idea?

Sometimes I have to wonder what some people are thinking, or if they are even thinking at all.  One esteemed member of the Georgia General Assembly thinks the answer to combating crime on college campuses is to arm the students.

This is not a new idea, but it doesn’t get any better with age.

That is a wonderful recipe for safety.  (For my friend, Ned, who has difficulty discerning whether I am being serious or sarcastic — I am being sarcastic here.)

1.) Take a group of immature (18-23 years old), young adults and provide them access to guns.

2.) Do so without providing any training.

3.) Tell them you are doing so in order for them to be able to use the guns to protect themselves and their fellow students.

4.) Insert them into a situation involving close living quarters (college residence halls, fraternities, etc.) and frequent opportunities to consume large amounts of alcohol. (College students? Seriously?)

That sounds like a really good plan. (More sarcasm, Ned.)

I have heard people comment that the shootings at Virginia Tech would not have happened if the student body had been armed. Actually, I wonder how many other innocent students and faculty would have been shot by the untrained and unskilled would-be vigilantes who have watched too many shoot-em-up movies and played the same genre of video games. Scarey.

Keep the shootings to the DVDs and the video games. It will keep the body count down.

Poor, impoverished students

College students in Georgia are starting to whine. I have a little sympathy for them, but not too much. The governor released a plan this morning to save the Hope Scholarship. That is a lottery-funded program that has provided full college scholarships at state schools for students who graduate from high school with a 3.0 GPA and maintain it in college. Unfortunately, lottery sales are not keeping up with Hope demand and something has got to give. The governor’s plan caps most Hope Scholarships at 90% of current tuition levels with no automatic increases as tuition goes up at state schools.

I am sympathetic to the students and their parents, but not totally. I think that having someone pay for 90% of your college tuition is a really good deal. At one typical medium-range Georgia public university, that unpaid 10% comes to just under $44/month (two semesters’ tuition and fees, spread over 12 months). I strongly suspect that many of those students spend more than that on beer.

There is something to be said for requiring the student to pay at least a portion of the cost of their education. They may place more value on it. I had a boss once that held to that exact theory. He would reimburse employees for outside courses and training to improve themselves, but never the entire bill. He believed that if someone wasn’t willing to foot even a small part of the bill for a course, it would not be something they would take seriously. I think he was right.

Another issue is how the level of affluence of many of today’s college students has increased since I was a poor, impoverished (I really was!) student back in the dark ages of the 1970s. Before my current job, I worked at a state university, and got to see the way many of today’s college students “survive.” It always amazed me when I volunteered to help out on “move-in day,” and saw how many students arrived equipped with their own car, laptop computer, stereo, smart phone, flat screen TV, video game system, etc.

In Georgia, the joke has been the biggest beneficiaries of the Hope Scholarship are the car dealers. Enough parents used the money they saved on tuition to buy their young student a new car, they invented a new term for it – the Hopemobile.

Most of today’s students look with distain at the idea of living in a 13×13’ dormitory room.

My old dorm room looked pretty much like this.

Share it with a roommate? Never!

Use a communal restroom and shower room down the hall? Who are you kidding?

Most now live in relative luxury in off-campus apartments or in more-expensive apartment- or suite-style residence halls.

I’m sure there a few students for whom the Hope cutback this will be a hit, but for many, perhaps a great majority, this will be a minor inconvenience.

So if you are faced with an additional $34 a month in education expenses, what can you live without? Your smart phone? Your car? Your cable TV service? Your regular Thursday night bash at the student-bar? Your “luxury” apartment?  I’m sure it would be a tough decision.

Hello, CCD class and Good Bye, Mary Travers!

We had our first CCD class of the year last night. In the Catholic Church, these are religious education classes for the kids who go to public or non-parochial private schools. This is my fifth year teaching 5th grade in our parish. I have a co-teacher in our friend, Susan. Last year’s class was very large by CCD standards, 29 students enrolled and about 25 showing up each week. However, they were a great class and we had a lot of fun.

This year’s class should be interesting. It is much smaller, around 16 students. Classroom control is always an issue, especially at the beginning of the year. Many of the students don’t consider having to sit through an hour’s worth of extra education on Wednesday evenings a part of their job description. For some kids, their Ritalin wore off around 5 pm, and they can be seriously wired. My answer to this is to start out as somewhat of an SOB. It’s much easier to start out tough and then let up than the other way around. By the second or third class, I usually have all but one or two stubborn cases converted. Then I can revert to my normal, charming self. (Ha!)

It is interesting though how quickly you can ID certain stereotypes.

“Miss Chatty Cathy” — You hardly ever see her face because she is always turned around talking to the girl in the desk behind her.

“Mr. Center of Attention” — He really wants to be on-stage and likes to make smart aleck comments about everything. He is the first cousin of “Mr. Stand-Up Comedian.”

“Mr. ADHD” – He is so wired that he falls out of his desk several times each class.

“Miss Question a Minute” – Her hand is always in the air with a question, whether it pertains to the subject at hand or not.

It should be a fun year!

*    *    *    *

I heard this morning that Mary Travers died yesterday. That is sad. For those not familiar, she was the “Mary” in “Peter, Paul and Mary.” I realize I am dating myself, but I really enjoyed that group and their music. We even went to one of their concerts in Jacksonville just a few years ago. Mary’s rendition of the John Denver song, “Leaving On A Jet Plane” is one of my all time favorites.