Getting right in the middle of the action and getting your hands “dirty” has been the Westminster way for our Broadcast and Media Production students for as long as I can remember. That was no different when a group of our students took to the “air” to broadcast the Westminster College Mock Convention this past fall. The convention is designed to give our students a look into the political nominating process and for our broadcast and media students it’s a chance to experience unscripted television from both in front of and behind the camera.
It’s time to make a confession here, I took part in my first mock convention when I was a student at Westminster back in 1984. I participated as the state chair for New York as well as producing a recap of convention activities for our college radio station WWNW. Years later in 1992 as a faculty member I co-hosted the live on-air programming with another student. Plus, in 2011 and 2015 I supervised our students both on-air and behind the camera in producing our television coverage.
Covering an event like this provides valuable experience to our students. Doing live TV without the benefit of a script is not an easy task. Students who are on the air quickly learn the benefit of doing their research. The more work you’ve put into getting to know the event and people participating, the easier it is to “fill time” when there is a lull in activities. As many opportunities that we an provide to our students to get this experience, the better in my opinion. I remember one student mentioning to me that her experience in being a mock convention anchor and its inclusion in her portfolio helped her secure her first job out of college.
However, we don’t want to forget the other crew members in this process. Unscripted television provides a challenge to directors and camera operators as well. Finding interesting shots and composing them well in a place as plain as an intramural gym isn’t easy. Remembering that close-up shots are more interesting and compelling is a must. You earn your keep when you have to find a way to make a two to three-hour event taking place in one location with very little physical activity like a football game look interesting.
Our students are always responsible for setup to tear down and everything in between. My approach has always been to ask questions, point out possibilities and let them have at it. This is the point in their careers where they can make mistakes and hopefully learn from them. There is nothing as humbling and beneficial as reviewing the video from a production where you didn’t seem to know what you were saying or your camera shot was boring. But, you also get to see those moments where the words just flowed and the sequence of shots were telling a compelling story.
At Westminster we thrive on the experience we give our students in unscripted events. We want our students to be able to handle whatever is thrown at them and use the experience they gain here in the “real world.”