Back in 1988, when camcorders were new, and very expensive, video production was limited to the professionals.
The average person did not have access to or the training to shoot and edit video. Furthermore, they had very few outlets to share their creations.
That was the year that Panasonic introduced the Kid Witness News program. It was the brainchild of industry legend Robert Greenberg, the Vice President Of Corporate Communications for Panasonic North America (at that time). Panasonic loaned video production equipment to lower income neighborhood elementary and middle schools around the country. Previous to this, there were few formal media programs for this age group. The intent was to raise a generation of video production professionals, and give the students a chance to develop lifetime skills that they could use to build careers in the video production industry. And at the same time, it gave these children a voice. Something very few of them had access to previously. The content the students were creating was in a news format. For its time, it was a cutting edge program.
I was a charter member of the program, acting as an advisor and guest instructor for the program in the Los Angeles area. I was able to be a part of, what is a little known historical event, the birth of a student led school video news program. There has been little recognition of the program over the years. But I do know it was among the first of its kind. Through that program, we introduced thousands of students to video production, many of which may never have had access to such advanced technology. Schools did not have the budgets, understanding, or staff to administrate such a program back then, especially public schools with tight budgets, and no room non-core equipment. For sure, the average inner city student did not have the funds to buy over $15,000 worth of video production equipment. Occasionally the equipment was stolen from the school. Panasonic always replaced it immediately. It was that important a program.
Skip ahead to today. Just about every school has a video production program. Almost every student has a video production studio in their pocket. It’s called a cell phone. For me, who was there at the start of it all, I am astounded how mainstream this program is today. My seventeen year old son is a member of the Baron Broadcast News program, at Fountain Valley High School (Fountain Valley Barons) in Southern California. He came home and showed me some of his segments last night. It’s amazing how far we have come in less than thirty years. What was once cutting edge and a niche, is now everyday mainstream. By third grade, our students are able to create a finished video.
What inspired this blog was an incredible message I got through LinkedIn a few weeks ago (I’ve included a screen cap of it. I was contacted by a former KWN student. He wanted to verify that I was the person he was looking for. When I did verify that he found the right guy, he sent me back a note that brought tears to my eyes. He thanked me for the program, and told me what an effect it had on his life. Based on the note, I assumed that he became successful using the tools we taught him so long go. He is the only KWN student I ever heard from. I never expected any sort of recognition for my work, it was just something that I wanted to do. But to get such a touching note was overwhelming. This was proof positive that I made a difference in one person’s life. Sometimes that’s all we get. I remember him well. I know his family struggled. When he first saw the video set up, his eyes lit up. He immediately found his life’s calling.
As media instructors, we have a power we may not ever realize. It’s an exciting field, with great income potential. Making money while doing something you love is every person’s goal. Jobs in the media make that goal possible. There is nothing mundane about the media industry.
As media instructors, you are able to reach that hard-to-reach student, and inspire them. The students that are struggling with their grades are your best candidates. I’ve seen it first hand, I was one of them. Use the program as best you can to help those students that are looking for a place to go with their lives. You may or may not ever get that thank you note I received, but you can go home at night knowing that you helped create many success stories. Be proud.
Perry Goldstein is an electronic industry veteran, with experience in the consumer, Pro AV, and broadcast fields. Perry is also a widely published writer and speaker for the electronics industry. He is a guest lecturer in the California Community College system, specializing in Digital Marketing. He is also a volunteer at Friendship Circle, and organization serving the special needs community.