The senior thesis course of Hofstra University’s School of Communication TV Production major comes down to the full production of a television pilot. The shows range between 30 minutes to an hour and the class runs about 5-7 shows a semester. [Some examples here.] Last week the students were given a task that was different than the productions that they are used to in the class. As an experimental program in advancing the curriculum, Dr. Gershon and I added a social media exercise called the Media Awareness Campaign.

The goal of the project was to split the class into two equal parts (about 15 students per team) and were asked to produce a media campaign commercial that is somewhat a PSA and somewhat an informative video about the Long Island Lighthouse Project. Their task was to research the subject, pick a point of view and discover what the general concerns of the issue were and what the people of Long Island thought about the situation. (In case you are not from the region, or unfamiliar with the issue, here is a explanation from one of my former students.)  The students were not given much information about the topic, but urged to do research and utilized social media in order to support their stance and specifically, to affect someone’s opinion. The object of the assignment was not to change someone’s mind, but just cause the audience to consider the issue in a different way.

The intent that Dr. Gershon and I had at the beginning of the project was to show the students an alternative style to television producing. If anyone was to work in a cable live-to-tape show scenerio – like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, The O’Reilly Factor and even late night shows – they would have to produce run-and-gun packages like this on a daily basis. Over the course of the 3 hours the class had to create their videos, at first there was frustration and anger toward the project. The students felt several gut reactions including the thought they were being watched as a social experiment [we were not, but afterward I realized what a good idea that could have been] or they were involved in a proxy fight with the Broadcast Journalism department on who can do a better job reporting [again, no, and not a good idea politically either]. The intent was to introduce the class to different and new forms of television production.

The idea was born out of several conversations I had been having with alums that date back to 2001 graduation dates who are working in the industry. A very close friend of mine who works for NBC News who’d rather remain unnamed because he is still working for the company had recently revealed some very interesting facts about the state of television production today. He said that:

Companies aren’t paying for expensive edit rooms and craft editors but employing these dj’s [digital journalists] that know a good deal about everything but aren’t great in anything and making everyone cut on desktop edits with headphones…

…I think I would have embraced this movement more if I was in college now knowing what I do.

So that was the intent: to have the students see that. As the night when on, their production sides kicked in and they finished researching, scripting, camera blocking and directing the short pieces. The pieces are at a destination site and Video 1 is Pro, Video 2 is Con.

After the class was finished, the class watched both segments and I explained from my point of view the importance of the exercise. I told both teams they did an excellent job and the videos would be both put on a website to be voted upon by the online audience (the results are up now and the Con opinion won). Then I explained the theory behind it. Channeling Kirk Mastin and his speech at BEA last year I quizzed the class on the importance of having the knowledge of a tv major.

I asked this question of the class: If you were to come across an event and you had a camera on you but you noticed other people had cameras as well, which way do you point your camera? Several students immediately knew the answer: You point it at the crowd for reactions. Every amateur can shoot an event, but a professional shoots the reactions (read: Susan Boyle viral clip). Then I asked, if you were asked to research peoples opinions online for a video, where do you find the reactions. Many answered: blogs. I said that’s right, but there are still reactions to the blogs that are fairly more opinionated and more immediate and visceral and those are the comments. That’s where the audience online lives. The commenters are the audience that in many ways the TV industry is aiming their stories towards.

I felt it was important for the class to have this experience and they were all asked to write a comment about it and sent it to Dr. Gershon with how the project could be done better next year. Most of them had the same comment: They felt the project was important but also felt that they needed more time (agreed) and should have had the social media/research part explained to them in a more detailed manner (again, agreed).

My friend will be coming in to talk to the class after their Spring break to discuss the ways that television is going. As I’ve written many times before about its co-existance on the web within television production, I also mean the process of producing utilizing not only Internet research, but the online community that comes along with the topics that are researched no matter what they are whether it be the Long Island Lighthouse, healthcare, drugs in high schools or whatever. The way social media impacts television is immense and should be thought about in most television production curriculums.

Although, this is my gut opinion and this is a blog so it is very easy for to have this point of view. As I’ll repeat again, this is not only an excellent time for a student to be learning television production and theory, but also an excellent time to be a teacher of the subject.