By Erin Fitzwilliams, Dave Carl and Wayne Haviland
When WVU News was first broadcast on campus-wide and local television almost 19 years ago, it changed the television journalism class from a mere major requirement to a professional experience for students.
The newscast has come a long way since the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism’s current Dean Maryanne Reed started the broadcasting course in 1993 upon coming to WVU.
“There was a class but it wasn’t broadcast – it wasn’t shown anywhere,” Reed said. “I came out of industry, and I thought it was very important for students to have their work aired so they could feel like it meant something, people were seeing it and that they would have an impact. It would raise the bar of what they were doing.”
The first newscasts were operated out of a small studio in Martin Hall, home of the SOJ. And in those days, film was used and the camera shot with 3/4 inch tape.
“We had an ancient set circa 1960s. It was very unpredictable. It would be fine and then it would just break down in the middle of a show,” Reed said.
At the end of the first semester of WVU News, Reed approached West Virginia Public Television, and the class was able to use their set. But after a few years of working with them, the newscast was back in the small SOJ room with the same issues.
Professor Gina Martino Dahlia came to WVU in 2000, and that year the WVU News set moved to One Waterfront Place in the WVU Television Productions studio.
“I worked with them to develop a set. We used materials from our old set, and I got them to do a show open for us,” Reed said. “It was the first year our newscast aired on inter-campus television. Around 2002, PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) began running it on their statewide station.”
Students have “always” been in charge of the newscast, including producing the stories, writing the show, anchoring the show and running all the studio equipment, Reed said.
Reed said it was designed to give the students professional experience by giving them an audience.
“It’s developed to the point where they’re winning all these awards now, which I’m very proud of,” Reed said.
Today, WVU News has won many awards including the Society for Professional Journalists’ top student broadcast. WVU News was recently named the Broadcast Education Association’s 2011 No. 1 Student Newscast, and former anchor and senior television journalism student Erica Mokay was awarded Best Anchor.
Dahlia, as professor of WVU News, has been with the program for 10 years and she continues to adapt the newscast to the ever-changing news industry.
“When I first started 10 years ago, you started to see news markets that were not doing all this one-man-banding we hear about now,” Dahlia said. “There were very specific positions in a TV station. The photogs would only shoot, the reporter would be in front of the camera – the anchor would only anchor. That has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. With the introduction of social media especially, you’re seeing a photog that needs to adapt and who not only has to take pictures with his camera, he has to take pictures with a still camera, he has to tweet he has to be able to shoot vosots (a voice over with sound).”
WVU News is a labor-intensive class, meaning students work on the newscast all week,
beginning with a news meeting Monday. The reporters will pitch story ideas and exchange interview information, then they have until Thursday to go out and shoot, report and edit their news package. On Thursday, Dahlia will meet with each reporter to give them tips and help for their package. The producers and Dahlia then get together on Friday to decide what packages “make show,” and typically four to five make it for each 15-minute newscast. The producers then give more edits and changes to the reporters, and write the script throughout the weekend for the tape-to-live shooting on the next Wednesday.
“They definitely spend all week on a package. We all know when you get a job you’ll do two packages and a vosot in the field,” she said. “So they tend to be extremely busy but I think you know that they’re learning the fundamentals. That they need that week to hone their skill and to get really good at what they do so they’re able to handle all the stress and demands that are thrown at them in their first job.”
For Dahlia, helping the students is more to her than just a job. She gives personal attention to all students and allows them to contact her day or night for help.
“It’s really just hard work and it’s a true commitment to that one-on-one. Students know they can tweet me and text me, they can email me anytime of the day or night and I will get back to them immediately,” she said. “There’s not that much personal attention going on in college any more where you can say ‘my professor called me.’ ”
Alex Koscevic, a senior television journalism student and an anchor for WVU News this semester, said she is currently one-man banding in a show in Ohio, and that WVU News has helped prepare her for the job market.
“I always knew I wanted to do television journalism, but I didn’t really know much about any other schools. I toured a lot of schools and coming here, I wasn’t sold so much on the campus as I was the journalism school – that’s what got me here,” Koscevic said. “Watching our newscast and seeing all the awards we win, it’s crazy to think that I could have been somewhere else that there wasn’t so much emphasis and so much work going into something. Now we have such a great product because that work is behind us.”