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Broadcast journalism students don’t need to know everything before they do anything. 

Students can and should be producing shows for an audience almost immediately.  That’s their reason for being…and their reason for being good.

Now, that is not to say that students should be asked to do full newscasts with packages and live shots the second week of school and I’m certainly not saying that they jump into production without also learning some journalism.  But I am saying they can produce newscasts that are matched to their level of mastery and they can do it very quickly. Their first newscasts should just exercise the skills you’ve taught thus far—no more no less—and as your instruction progresses and their skills build, their shows will become more sophisticated.

So just how does a teacher put this into practice?  Understanding skill sequence is the first challenge in planning instruction and getting material for an audience quickly. A teacher must take time to identify the specific skills and decide in what order to teach them.   The second challenge is pairing instruction in journalism with instruction in production. In a broadcast journalism class, both are essential.  It only makes sense to teach them concurrently. 

The ideal situation is to sequence your instruction so that, at the beginning of the class, students are learning basic journalism at the same time they are learning basic production and the result of their classroom instruction is basic programming. As the class progresses, the students become more advanced in both journalism and production skill which results in more sophisticated programming. This is a spiral method of instruction in a project-based class.

Let’s think about that first show that your principal wants you to produce with new students.  What can it be?  Or if you have advanced students who will do the bulk of the work, how can your new students contribute immediately?  What is a logical first project for them to produce and what are the associated skills?

A logical first project for beginners would be a reader—a short news story written and then delivered by the reporter/anchor.  The BASIC journalism skills that would be involved in this project could be cultivating news awareness, recognizing the elements of news and making news judgments, basic journalistic ethics and responsibility, and basic newswriting (sentence structure, vocabulary, voice, tense, style, accuracy, etc.).  The BASIC production skills for this project could include, preparing the file for the teleprompter, using the teleprompter (operating and reading), recording in the studio and on-air appearance such as dress and body language. Note:  at this point, the teacher would be taking care of any skills not yet taught, such as lighting in the studio, use of microphones etc.

When beginning students have completed this project, you have in essence a daily announcements show.  The stories can be strung together and feature all the different students or can be incorporateKerby01d into the show script for two anchors.  Voila!  A basic show ready for an audience after 1-2 weeks of instruction that included both journalism and production! 

Unfortunately, many high school journalism classes produce these shows and never go further.   They’re stuck in the first spiral of basics.  Don’t let that happen to you.  When students have mastered the skills for producing readers, you’re ready to move them (and their show)  to the next level.  Here’s how that works.

The next show has much room to grow and a logical next step would be doing stories which include voice-overs.  Students will use the same writing and production skills as in their readers, but now they will be adding b-roll or cutaway shots to illustrate what the reporter is saying.  Identify what new skills are going to be added with instruction.  Certainly shooting b-roll and inserting shots with editing involve new skills.  But exactly what are they?  What does a student need to know to shoot good b-roll?  Is this the time to teach shot composition and angles?  Probably.  What journalism skills can be added?  Would this be a good time to instruct in legalities such as invasion of privacy and limited rights on private property?  What about teaching questioning techniques for off-camera interviews, as well as attribution and identification in writing?  As you add these skills, students should be expected to demonstrate them in their projects (finished stories). 

As you visualize this spiral method of instruction, think of one side of the spiral line as journalism and the other side as production. The student moves around the spiral learning both sides at the same time and the two sides are somewhat matched in difficulty. As the student increases in journalism skill, he/she is also increasing in production skill. As the skill level spirals, the complexity of the program/project increases.

The subsequent spirals see students taking over newscast production as producers and directors—making content decisions, making story assignments (based on their early training about what makes news), producing readers, VO’s and VO-SOT’s as well as edited packages utilizing their previous training in doing each of those, and shooting regular newscasts. Students may produce more challenging products such as documentaries or a feature series. Students are not overwhelmed early and their confidence level grows with the spiral.

As students progress, you will find that you’re spending less time on actual instruction to the whole group because you have taught two or three spirals and the students are high enough that they are becoming independent learners who are taking control of determining their own story assignments and producing their own shows with student news directors in charge.  Still, their success rests on that broad base you created with the first spiral of basic skills and the thrill of working to an audience early. 

Coming in September:  How can I grade fairly when students are doing different assignments with different deadlines?


Kerby00Janet Kerby is a National Board Certified Teacher in Career and Technical Education specializing in broadcast journalism. Janet’s extensive teaching experience and award-winning program at Roane County High School in West Virginia provide the background for her current work in teacher training.   Janet has developed an online graduate course Teaching Broadcast Journalism and is currently teaching that course as part of Kent State University’s online Master of Arts Degree–Journalism Educator Specialization.