Write, Report, and Produce

Ask any student in this high school media studies program what they like about it and you’ll hear the same thing:  they don’t like it; they love it! 

Whether their involvement is in the daily school news show, in digital editing, in production, or in the cable program, Bath City Beat, these enthusiastic students love to create stories about their school and community and communicate them in an engaging, polished, format. Their video program, Bath City Beat—also on YouTube and soon to be on SchoolTube—has grown over the past seven years to garner the daily attention of over 200,000 viewers in two counties which include 30 different communities.  This show has also turned the Bath City Beat reporters into local celebrities, an inevitable by product of its valued content as well as the professional reporting style and format of every show.  Why such success in such a short time?

In part because of the brilliant concept and design, thanks to John Kotarski, originator and executive producer for the first six of the program’s (so far) seven year existence.  As executive producer, Kotarski engineered a partnership between the city and the school system in which both parties could fund and structure the operation for mutual benefit.  Within that context he designed a media studies program that had a community cable news show as its core practicum, produced entirely by high school students.   Presently the program’s ongoing success rests on the skills of those mentored by Kotarski, senior producer, Patrick Linabury and producer, Darin Roberts. The expertise of the digital editing instructor, David Binkley, rounds out this trio of talented leaders.

When asked about the program’s ongoing success, Patrick Linabury points to Bath City Beat, that school-community link that effectively serves the communication needs of both entities.  Linabury calls it a “unique consolidated service…unique because the program offers educational opportunities for students to showcase their reporting and production skills and continually practice their craft while simultaneously we serve the community as these citizen journalists investigate and report on significant local news.”  He noted that may include everything from candidate debates to pollution problems in the Clinton River (a tributary to the great lakes).”  Linabury is also quick to point out the valuable skill of his colleagues and the student team who gather, write, report and produce the news.

Producer Darin Roberts plays a key role shaping the Bath City Beat program.  When asked how he picks the stories, he explains, “We try to cover significant local events and issues…that can be anything from covering homecoming to the mayor’s city address…of course we cover school related events like the school play  but we find that some school stories have local and even national significance.”  The range of stories is truly amazing.  Some have prompted political action as in the Clinton River project.   In this instance school science students and Bath City Beat reporters shed light on a pollution issue that resulted in greater environmental protection of an important river that’s part of the Great Lakes watershed.  The Clinton Township Relay for Life also provided an opportunity for the student journalists to raise community awareness about an important issue. In covering the event, reporters, Melanie Jeralds and Jessica Wennmacher revealed the tremendous community support that makes communities and their leaders feel justifiable pride. Of course when important events occur in the schools, BCB reporters are right there to cover the story.   This was certainly true of the NASA video streaming that took place at King elementary on September 12, 2007.  In this wonderful story (see video clip below) students conversed with astronaut, Clay Anderson, LIVE from the international space station.  Select students with carefully crafted questions were actually able to hear Anderson’s answers through the audio while simultaneously viewing the NASA on the video stream.
 
  
International Space Station Video Clip Bath City Beat
Halloween Bumper

On the rare occasion the group isn’t pressed by deadlines, appointments, editing, reediting, and the myriad of other activities inherent in video biz, they just might have a few moments for creativity.  And when this happens, the playful synergy of actor, producer, and digital editor can be wonderful.  Witness this by viewing the “Halloween Bumper” a verrry scarrry short about the “star” Jack McClaskey having a very bad dream.

Whether engaged in the serious story or crafting the amusing bumper, media studies kids are keenly aware of the program’s value for  them,  As BCB reporter,  Jack McClaskey says, “Where else an I create, write, perform, speak, and learn technical skills almost simultaneously …it’s amazing!  We get to be creative, script intros, outros, do voiceovers, gather and produce news…and it’s great to be out there (in the field).” 

Another BCB reporter , Jessica Wennmacher, echoes these sentiments as well and adds her specific thrill in learning the technology.  “We get to use the graphics generator, the teleprompter, the camera, audio boards and work with Adobe premier.”  She adds a rather insightful point as well about the personal strengths she’s gained as a result of her experience:  “Probably the most important and useful thing I’ve learned is confidence, both in front of and behind the camera.  It’s that trait that will always be useful.”

So what’s wrong with the program?  Not much.  If anything the kids and their teachers will tell you that more students need access to the program.  There are a limited number of digital editing classes and stations available.  Also there’s no way you could put 30 kids (the average class size) in the studio and accomplish much of anything.  So the inherent limit to the number students involved poses a problem.  Still, there’s evidence from the top that the program will evolve and flourish.  Linabury notes that the new superintendent, Dr. Charles Muncatchy (a charismatic leader who embraces learning communities as essential to best practices), visits the studio frequently and clearly understands its importance.

As schools grapple with the question of how to teach the requisite social and technical skills for the 21st century, programs such as the one at Mount Clemens High School may be part of the answer.  The No Child Left Behind Act renders a dual mantra: “close the achievement gap” and “bridge the digital divide.”  Particularly in light of the technology mandates such as those emanating from the Michigan Department of Education, superintendents, principals and teachers confront a daunting task:  By the end of Grade 12 each student will be grounded in the following:  basic operations and concepts; social, ethical and human issues; technology productivity tools; technology communications tools; technology research tools; technology problem-solving and decision-making tools. (www.michigan.gov/mde).  Shadow a Bath City Beat reporter for a week.  You’re likely to discover, each of these technology standard and expectations is being met.