Whitney High broadcast students win big at national convention

Participants see contests as career preparation
By: Andrew Westrope, Staff Writer
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A group of broadcasting students from Whitney High School nearly stole the show this month at a national convention in Los Angeles, where they bested some 2,000 students from around the country in a handful of contests to test their video journalism skills.

The school sent 41 students from three programs – WCTV-19 for news, Wildcat Productions for commercials and public service announcements and the Sports Team for live events – and placed in three of the convention’s 15 on-site contests March 8-10. The students won $5,000 and first place in the Best Live Event category for their submission of the Whitney-Antelope high school football game, plus first place in the “Stand Up” category, third place in “Sweet 16,” honorable mentions in “Best Commercial” and “Tell the Story” categories and a News Bureau Reporter Award.

The Student Television Network hosts the convention every spring, sponsored by U.S. Education TV, and this year’s was at The Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in Los Angeles. Students also toured KTLA, Los Angeles’ news station, and watched one of its live broadcasts.

Whitney broadcast teacher Ben Barnholdt, who started the school’s program just three years ago, commended his students for an especially remarkable job this year, since it was only the school’s second appearance at the event. He was particularly pleased with their work on the Sweet 16 competition, reportedly one of the convention’s toughest, which gives participants 16 hours to assemble a 16-minute show with a one-word theme and no help.

“There are over 100 schools, and you’re in this big ballroom, and you have no video, so everybody starts out at ground zero. You have 16 hours to put your weekly show together, when typically it takes us about two and a half weeks,” he said. “At 6:30 a.m. they picked a word for a theme for our show, which was ‘persistence,’ and then 16 hours later, at 11 p.m., they had to drop off a flash drive with our show, and they finished third in the country.”

The students won Best Overall Network at last year’s national convention in Dallas, but Barnholdt said one of the most important things they took away from that competition was a lesson about preparedness. This year, they scoped out different story ideas in advance, knowing they would need material that would be relevant to teens and filmable on that day. For part of their Sweet 16 event, the students got permits to rappel down to the Hollywood sign to get a shot in front of it.

As assistant news director for the school’s regular news program, 17-year-old Frankie Winson said a combination of preparation and resourcefulness made a big difference this time around. And it didn’t hurt that the theme, “persistence,” was something to which they could all relate.

“With our take on Hollywood, we did ours on an actress … and then some people did small coffee shops and how they persevere against these bigger shops that are trying to put them out of business, how do they keep going,” she said. “It really did work for us. It seemed like a really hard word at first, but once you looked at the definition, it’s like, ‘OK, you have to work with that.’”

Winson said another reason they placed in more events this year was because they attended workgroup sessions at the convention that gave tips on how to write, anchor, edit, interview and perform other duties the challenges required.

Barnholdt said the opportunity to scramble around a new city and rub elbows with professionals can be a thrilling experience for the students, but the most valuable part of the convention is the intensive crash course it provides for aspiring broadcast journalists.

“Typically, they have to go to six or seven other classes, and they have two weeks to put stuff together,” he said. “This was: Show up to work in the morning, do your story, turn it in by nighttime. And that kind of immediacy, I can’t necessarily teach, because I have to respect that they have seven other classes, or they might have a job or a family to help take care of.”

For Winson, the most useful part of the experience was being judged honestly by some of the best people in the business.

“We know how good our show is, but you want to show other people as much as you can, ‘This is what we do,’ and it really helps for all the people who want to do that in college,” she said. “I think it really did prepare us for the real world, having people actually critique us and not being so nice to us.”

Lexi Dibachi, a news director with Eric Yount, found an element of self-reflection in the work.

“You learn a lot about yourself, I think, when you’re out there and trying to find these people, and you’re talking to them, and you know their life stories, and that’s a cool feeling,” she said. “I talked to a music producer, and he was actually an artist and it didn’t work out for him, so it was just cool hearing different people’s stories.”

In his last year of high school before entering the University of Missouri’s journalism program, Yount echoed his classmates’ thoughts on preparation. On top of his role in the Sweet 16 and Stand-Up competitions, Yount was chosen to co-host the convention’s final awards ceremony based on his resume and audition video. Because he had the chance to rehearse beforehand, he said, he was ready when the time came. For Yount, the convention itself was a rehearsal for things to come.

“You get to meet people in the industry, and you get to make mistakes there, (where) it really doesn’t matter,” he said. “You get to meet people, and they tell you tips and tricks for doing your story or how to get a job and everything, so I think it’s a good practice.”