Fall 2007 Issue
That's A Wrap
Broadcast from Garner Hall, the public affairs show ‘Community Crossroads' gives BU students a real taste of the television news business
By Jeremy Jones
Beneath the bright, hot lights and among the endless wires and television camera cables inside the David Brinkley Studio in Garner Hall, something more than a typical student video project is taking shape.
For approximately three hours every Wednesday, the studio resembles the set of a busy network television news program. With producers, crew members and guests bustling around, one could easily get the impression that they were about to tape a show that will be watched by hundreds of thousands of viewers.
In fact, that's precisely what's taking place.
Through an agreement with ION Media Networks (formerly known as the PAX network), students in the COM 401 class produce a 30-minute public affairs show called "Community Crossroads." The show is broadcast weekly on ION affiliates in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Tampa markets.
"I think it prepares these students very well, because it's real-life experience," said Connie Hicks, a two-time Emmy award-winning TV reporter and BU associate communications professor. "It would be a sin for students not to have this opportunity."
The collaborating between ION and Barry began in the fall of 2004, when Department of Communication Chair Dr. Dennis Vogel orchestrated the agreement with the network to produce the show from Barry's campus.
Students produce approximately 24 shows each semester, shooting one or two episodes every Wednesday. Between eight to 10 students are enrolled in the class each semester, with every person working to ensure that "Community Crossroads" comes across to viewers as a professionally produced program rather than a fly-by-night student project. With the exception of hosting the show, which is done by Hicks, the program is entirely student-produced, and putting together just one show is no easy task. A minimum of 10 hours of production work is required to produce each 30-minute episode.
Students must create and research the topic for each show, schedule expert guests, operate studio cameras, run the television control room, complete FCC reports and floor direct. By the time the semester is over, each student will have worked every position that goes into producing "Community Crossroads."
"I had heard from other students that it was a demanding course. I knew the expectations were high," said Brittany Pelletz, who took COM 401 as a junior last semester. "It definitely gave me great experience."
For Pelletz, who dreams of one day becoming a TV reporter, the experience doesn't get much better. She says requiring students to produce this type of television program provides a vital insight into the many sides of the television business. Being able to list on a resume that you've produced a full-scale public affairs show with potentially large market visibility can help [your] chances to land a better job in an industry that is already extremely competitive, she added.
In addition to providing students with hands-on experience, the show also fills the public affairs niche that has been missing from television programming for the past few years, said Hicks, who attributes the decline of public affairs shows in large part to the loosening of FCC guidelines that required TV stations to air a certain number of hours of public affairs programming.
"Very few TV stations are producing public affairs programs, which is sad. There is a substantial amount of content in these shows," she said. "These types of shows aren't being done because stations don't have to anymore."
"Community Crossroads" also addresses some of the most time-sensitive, controversial issues in the news today. Past shows have explored topics such as child abuse, AIDS awareness, obesity, college alcohol abuse and spirituality, with issues such as immigration, euthanasia and the controversy surrounding the Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine sparking heated debates among the guests.
Rodney Burton, who also took the class last semester as a junior, agreed that the show's content often led him to become more engaged in each show's production. And while he admits the strict deadlines and long hours were more than he expected, Burton said the experience he gained on a professional level helped him get a position last summer as a production assistant on CBS' "The Early Show" in New York City.
"It was all up to us whether ‘Community Crossroads' went on and whether it was successful," he said. "The course provided so much for me that I couldn't imagine not having this class as part of the Broadcast Communication program."
And just like in the television industry, where change is inevitable, COM 401 will be experiencing some changes of its own. Beginning this fall, it will be slightly restructured to afford students the opportunity to do more extensive directing of the show while increasing the credits for the class from two to three.