As every journalist knows, there are at least two sides to every story. Students in Mark Crain’s Industry, Strategy, and Policy class have learned to appreciate that maxim as they take on the role of broadcast journalists this semester.
Crain, Simon Professor of Political Economy and chair of policy studies, is teaching the class in collaboration with WLVT Channel 39, the PBS affiliate in the Lehigh Valley.
Students are producing a 30-minute filmed broadcast, Lafayette Lens, that will air on PBS39 May 7.
Every aspect of the show is student run, including directing, filming, writing, scheduling interviews with local people and experts, promotions and public relations, music, and everything else that goes into producing a professional broadcast.
Crain has two sections of students—more than 50 altogether—working on the project.
The first edition of Lafayette Lens, titled “The Cyber Craze and the Shale Age,” will include two 15-minute segments: one on how technology is affecting our lives and the other on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a controversial technique for obtaining natural gas.
The students are getting professional advice from Amy Burkett, station manager at PBS Channel 39 and co-executive producer of the broadcast.
“This is an incredible real-life work experience for these students,” she says. “The deadlines are real and the pressure of creating something that reaches 2.6 million homes can be daunting and exhilarating at the same time. This is an experience the students will be telling stories about for the rest of their lives.”
This is the second time that Crain and his students are partnering with PBS39. In November, Lafayette collaborated with the station to produce a two-hour, student-run Election Night broadcast, which was available to millions of viewers through Channel 39 and by live-stream on the College’s website.
“In these students’ lives, we greatly rely on visual media,” says Crain. “This is as important as being able to write a research paper, and it is something that is hard to do well. The students are learning about the real world through broadcasting. The course has students from all majors, so many are getting a crash course in broadcasting and learning on the job.”
Burkett stresses to the students that writing a good introduction is not like writing a term paper. It’s important to take the audience into consideration, have a conversational style, and provide some entertainment value.
“I’m helping them challenge their critical thinking skills to develop content appropriate for public television. We’re working on new writing styles and fact-based research. We’re discussing what it means to recognize your own biases and how to be fair in presenting information. The students are wonderful to work with. I’m completely impressed with their methodical work process and creative thinking,” Burkett says.
To help engage the PBS39 viewers, Lafayette Lens will feature interviews with people both on and off campus. Students will debate issues on both sides.
“Everyone can tell you the issues behind these topics,” says Crain. “We want to get to the deeper implications. How are these [topics] affecting people on our campus or local residents?”
For example, the technology portion of the program will include a segment in which a student addicted to technology will try to go without it for 24 hours. In another segment, the editor of The Morning Call newspaper will talk about how the internet is affecting the newspaper industry.
For the fracking topic, students are interviewing geologists, asking the public about their opinions, and speaking with residents adversely affected by fracking. Recently, economics major Justin Chando ’13 (Normandy Beach, N.J.), who is in charge of field segments for the fracking topic, and the two field teams shot two segments in Williamsport, Pa., the self-proclaimed “energy capital of Pennsylvania” and ground zero for extensive natural gas exploration.
“We are examining both sides of fracking, looking at political, social, and environmental effects,” says Kelsey Gula ’14 (Newtown Square, Pa.), an art and economics double major who is working on promotions for the fracking segment. “There are two sides of the issue. Your kids may have to deal with this years from now—or, is it a savior for our economy?”
Alison Dally ’13 (Nazareth, Pa.) is working as a producer for the technology segment. As an international affairs major with a minor in economics, she is excited about how this work will help her after graduation.
“This project fits in nicely with my interest and goals because I want to get involved with production,” she says. “I am in the process of applying for the NBC Page Program, so this experience will look great on my resume.”
If all goes well with this first edition of Lafayette Lens, Crain hopes to see it become an ongoing collaboration.
“I think there is tremendous value of this partnership to our PBS39 viewers,” Burkett says. “They get the opportunity to look at issues impacting them through the lens of college students—the people who will be solving these issues in the future. It is a great vehicle for growth in our audience. The real benefit will be if we are able to bring viewers a Lafayette Lens every semester and viewers have a chance to look forward to what the next topics will be.”