High school students broadcast TV news from Manchester

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(Host) You’ve heard of CNN, the BBC and NPR. But have you heard of the BBA, out of Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester?

VPR’s Susan Keese tuned in this week and has this report.

(Keese) The BBA newscast begins like any other TV news, with swirling color graphics, split screen imagery, and the latest war footage from Iraq. But the journalists on this show are a little different.

(Anna Jamison) “Since our last show there have been many new developments in the war. Luke Eriksen reports from the newsroom….”

(Keese) It’s the student news team at Manchester’s Burr and Burton Academy. Their newscast airs Thursdays on the school’s TV network and on a local station which can be seen in three states.

Seventeen-year-old Anna Jamison is the anchor. She was a reporter last year. The stories BBA news did then, on video game violence and even wind power, seem a little less weighty now that there’s a war to cover. With so many people already suffering, Jamison worries about saying something insensitive or wrong. She considers this work important.

(Jamison) “People my age bring a whole new perspective to covering the war, because we’re not as seasoned. All the other journalists are more experienced than we are, so I think we may be a little less cynical.”

(Keese) The high school’s studios were a gift from former AOL-Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin and his wife, who have a house in Manchester. It’s in memory of their son, a teacher who was murdered in New York City. BBA is a CNN affiliate with access to all the video footage the network transmits.

(Brian Gawlik) “If we look at the naz, we’ll see a whole section- Oh ‘Inside Iraq.’ Look at all the stuff we can go for here….”

(Keese) Brian Gawlik directs the broadcast journalism program. He worked in television extensively before turning to teaching. He claims the old saying ‘Do what you love and it won’t seem like work’ is true:

(Gawlik) “It has been for me and I know it’s true for the students here, because they wouldn’t be here now at 4:30 after school if they didn’t love it.”

(Keese) The students often work late nights as the weekly deadline nears. Junior Luke Eriksen has spent his week scouring print sources for his news summary. He waded through four hours of video for his two-minute segment. Now he’s working on his standup in the newsroom. His friend Konrad is behind the camera.

(Sound from the studio)
“Try it again? All right stay in your seats, do it again. ‘In Central Iraq, U.S. mar- In central Iraq, U.S. marines plowed….”

(Keese) Later, in the editing booth, he’ll piece it all together. It’s a lot of work editing the 14-minute show. But Eriksen says it pays off.

(Eriksen) “I think it keeps us more informed than the average person. I’m glad that I’m here.”

(Keese) Eriksen thinks BBA’s news is more balanced than many adult stations:

(Eriksen) “I think we just try to get the message out and see both sides of it, you know?”

(Keese) Recently the crew interviewed a reporter friend of Gawlik’s in the war zone north of Baghdad. Chris Kline, a Fox News Correspondent, is not an embedded reporter:

(Kline) “As I’m speaking to you now, I can see enormous bomb flashes in the distance only a few kilometers away. And the concussion from the bombs is such that, as I’m speaking to you students, my floor is shaking. Next question.”

(Keese) Kline described the impact of the war on people he’d encountered. He urged the students to seek out differing perspectives, and question everything.

They took his message seriously. This week senior Chris Nunn drove all the way to Troy, New York, to interview a priest whose congregation walked out during an antiwar sermon. Nunn had seen the story on the networks but thought it didn’t go far enough. He ended up with a thought-provoking piece on religious values and armed conflict.

(Sound from Nunn’s story) “At times like this we find ourselves searching for answers that sometimes nobody really has. Anna.”

(Keese) When the show airs there’s always feedback from classmates and teachers. Chances are the students already know what needs to be improved. Their teacher Brian says they’re creating their own style, maybe even the future of TV news.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese in Manchester.

Note: Vermont Public Radio operates a studio from Burr and Burton Academy.

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