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Television Awards Honor Student Journalists - 2004-06-04


Student journalists are being honored in Los Angeles this week with the "Student Television Award for Excellence." It's sponsored by the U.S. National Television Academy, which presents the prestigious Emmy Awards for television news. Mike O'Sullivan reports, the student honors showcase the best in high school reporting and perhaps, offer a glimpse of the future of network news reporting.

There are 18,000 high schools in the United States, and half of them have video production facilities, says Av Westin, a veteran news producer with the CBS and ABC television networks. He now heads the National Television Academy Foundation, which presents the annual honors.

?Unfortunately, in too many of those schools, the students are being taught the mechanics of the business how to shoot, how to edit, and all that and that's important,? he says. ?But a television camera and microphone is both a weapon and a tool. And it's up to us who have been through it all to make sure that the teachers understand and the students understand that there are responsibilities and opportunities when you've got a camera in your hand, and you've been given some kind of assignment.?

In completing that assignment, he says, the young reporters must consider privacy issues, laws, and questions of fairness and accuracy. Mr. Westin complains that too much of today's broadcast journalism has been corrupted by the drive for ratings and profits. So these awards promote what he calls "best practices" for television news. Entries are judged on content, creativity, and the quality of the production.

There were more than 400 student entries from around the United States and Mr. Westin says winners in the six categories, which include news, sports and documentaries, did first-rate work.

"The overall quality of the 405 ranged from people who were trying, to people who knew how to do it,? he added. ?And the [work of] winners, I will tell you, is network quality."

Lara Wilinsky and Matt Hayward of Overland Park, Kansas, created a public service story called "Speak Out for Stephanie." It concerns a couple whose daughter had been raped and murdered. The grieving parents spearheaded an effort to alert young women to the dangers of rape. In the report, the parents speak about their daughter.

MOTHER: "Anytime she would walk into a room, the room would just light up. She had a beautiful laugh. She was a great daughter."

Ms. Wilinsky says she and her co-producer grappled with questions like how much detail to give about the grisly murder. They wanted to be sensitive to the feelings of both the parents and the viewers.

?How do you go into an interview and question parents about the death of their daughter?? she asks. ?How do you establish the rapport to let them open up to you and to make a good story??

They struck the right balance, according to Matt Hayward, who says response to the story has been good.

?After it was done, people would talk about it,? he says. ?And that's what I really liked, is that they'd talk about it. It brings up issues that maybe they haven't thought about before. It makes them start questioning laws and the way that they think about things, and safety."

Stephen Neary of Indianapolis was honored for technical achievement for his animated report called ?Where It's At: Caroline Hanna's Dance Club.?

?I took a bunch of pictures of teachers and pasted them on some cartoon figures and kind of had them dance around,? he recalls. ?The idea was that our former principal had started up a dance club in the faculty dining room and was hosting parties during school hours, and all sorts of bizarre stuff.?

He says the students loved the report. To his surprise, so did the teachers and he didn't get into trouble. ?And even if you're poking fun at them sometimes, as long as you do it well, they take the joke well and they can laugh just as hard as the students can,? he says.

These three students plan careers in either broadcast news or film production. Veteran newsman Av Westin says not all of the winners, though, will go into the media business.

?Some will, some won't,? he says. ?But the fact is, the residue of having paid attention to standards will make them critical viewers, will let them understand what should be done. And they'll be able to look at a television broadcast and say, that's not fair, they left something out; or they should have done this; or that's pretty good.?

He says the critical judgment that these students have developed could improve what he considers the declining quality of television news and that makes these awards especially significant.

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