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Journalism Students Expand Broadcast News During Pandemic

Screen shot 2020 12 08 at 5.32.31 pm

Despite the severe limitations put in place to protect Stony Brook students, School of Journalism students broadcasted more shows this semester than ever before. 

Screen shot 2020 12 08 at 5.32.31 pmWhile they couldn’t travel to cover stories as they have in past semesters, students and faculty came together to expand what they could do in the School’s professional studio and produced more news shows — taped and live, a weather show in Spanish, and a special update on the disastrous conditions of Long Island scallops.

“At one point during the semester, we had six shows coming out every week,” said Phil Altiere, the School of Journalism’s production supervisor. “Before the pandemic, we would have had probably half that. It was a challenge because you had to keep everyone safe while still being this busy. 

“We made it 13 weeks. It was pretty incredible that we were able to go so long and do so much,” he said. “We didn’t do just the minimum — it wasn’t about checking the box. It was about what else we could do to make this special if the students were going to go through so much to be there and to make this work.”

Of the five journalism classes that had on-campus sessions this fall, four of them used the professional broadcast TV studio. The introductory class broadcasts didn’t change much from previous years; those classes consisted of students getting used to the equipment and the different roles required to produce a news show. Rather than doing original reporting, students focused mostly on writing original stories based on local and national news.

But the advanced classes, which usually involve original reporting where students leave the studio for interviews and to shoot other video footage, had to be revised significantly. Rather than doing original reporting for a weekly broadcast, as they have in previous classes, students did fewer stories but added live broadcasts, which put a different kind of pressure on the team. They also worked on reports about the pandemic and its impact on Stony Brook Hospital for a year-long reporting project supported by a local foundation.

“When they went live, even though it was just a few minutes, there was a higher sense of attention, professionalism and focus because they knew they were going to go live,” Altiere said. “We always wanted to have that kind of experience in our curriculum, and we decided this was the time to do it because everything was a bit raw.”

Img 20200921 121444 01While they were expanding the ways they worked in the studio, students, faculty and staff were also doing all they could to keep themselves, and each other, safe. Because of the need for social distancing, classes of 20 students were divided into groups, with a group working on the same broadcast from the studio, the control room next door, and even the School’s newsroom, located in another building on campus. 

In each space, everyone was masked except the two students serving as anchors for that show. Those students — one at the newsdesk and the other in front of a green screen on the other side of the studio — were allowed to take off their masks only once they were in their spot. Everyone else had to stay at least 10 feet away from them, with lines of tape on the floor to guide them. 

“The social distancing was definitely a challenge. I would start to walk over to a camera or a computer and realize, ‘Oh, I can’t go over there,’” said Cecilia Fuentes Cruz, a senior journalism major. “Phil was a stickler. I think he would sense us wanting to get closer to each other, and he would remind us to look at the tape on the floor. He always made sure things were distanced and where they should be. You would never walk into the studio or the control room and find two chairs close together. We just knew to obey the rules.”

To support learning in each space, journalism faculty and Altiere were joined in almost every class by Dini Diskin-Zimmerman, television production director at the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, who has extensive television experience at News12 and CNN. The additional shows and effort would not have been possible without her help, according to Altiere.

The more advanced students also frequently worked with the students in the introductory classes, helping them learn to use the equipment and to produce their own broadcasts.

“It was definitely different from what we expected, but we knew it was going to be different,” Fuentes Cruz said.

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