As part of embracing the digital future, ABC has gone back to school with its “ABC News on Campus” program for engaging student journalists in producing content for the Web, its ABC News Now broadband network, and even its broadcast programming.
When we talked with him Monday, University of Florida journalism student Miles Doran was preparing to appear on as a correspondent discussing the news of the youth vote in the election night coverage anchored by Charlie Gibson. “I’ll be introduced as a college correspondent,” Doran said. “We’ll be doing it here at the student union at the University of Florida, where they’re having a big election night bash and watch party.”
That will be a big moment for the college junior, who has already served internships at two Tampa TV stations, as well as one over the summer with Steve Hartman at CBS News in New York, but who notes he is still “not old enough to drink.” The election night feature will be professionally produced, with an ABC camera crew, although other students will have an opportunity to help with some behind-the-scenes duties. His more typical ABC News on Campus contributions have included stories such as one on the “Great Underwear Dash,” a tradition where students strip down to race across campus in their skivvies.
The ABC News on Campus program launched when students returned to school this fall at Arizona State University, Syracuse University, University of Florida, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Texas at Austin.
“What we hoped to do was bring them in and give them exposure how we put the pieces together,” said John R. Green, executive producer for special programming and development at ABC. “We get them on a conference call every morning and require that the students pitch stories every day, just like our network bureau chiefs do.” That means some of them get the experience of having their ideas shot down, he said. “It's tough, they have to deliver the goods. It's a little bit more than what an internship is – it’s meant to really be a mentoring thing.”
Part of the idea is to have ABC News professionals mentor the students, while getting back a little of their digital savvy and insight into youth issues, Green said.
Doran said he has also learned a few digital tricks from his work with the ABC news pros, such as how to upload video from the field using a laptop and a wireless connection. “I’m not sure what they’re learning from us, other than what college students are thinking.”
Student produced TV packages are published to ABCnewsoncampus.com as well as abcnews.com and a weekly roundup of the best contributions are featured on ABC News Now, which is distributed over cable as well as some broadband Internet and mobile phone networks. ABC’s network news shows have also picked ups some, such as a report from University of Texas at Austin student Sara Loeffelholz about a dean’s attempt to ban political signs from being posted in dorm room windows, which aired on the overnight World News Now broadcast.
“I think that’s pretty phenomenal that a 22-year-old student reporter had a program airing on network television,” said Kate Dawson, faculty advisor to the Austin bureau.
Students have also participated by shooting background footage and providing research assistance to ABC reporters, Green said.
As part of its investment in the program, ABC provided each school with new Sony cameras and video editing software from Avid Technology. Green said he noticed that many of the schools were teaching video editing using Apple’s Final Cut Pro and he thought it was important that they also get exposure to the Avid system, which is standard at the network and most of its major affiliates.
Sue Green, a former managing editor of ABC15 in Phoenix who oversees Arizona State University’s ABC News on Campus bureau, said the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication based there already had a lot of good technology available for the students to work with, so the real value of the program comes from giving the students an opportunity to work with a variety of TV news professionals.
“Different people approach different stories in different ways,” she noted. “They’re not only getting continued mentoring, but as they talk through their scripts with other people at ABC they’re also getting exposure to issues of ethics and how the laws work.”
“The amount money invested in equipment is not extraordinary – it’s really the time,” Dawson said. She has been impressed by how, even in the midst of the pressures of election coverage, ABC producers and editors have taken time out to work with the students. As part of the kickoff for the program, ABC also flew the bureau chiefs and their advisors to New York to visit the Good Morning America set and meet with people like Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson. “ABC takes it really seriously,” she said.