Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A River, Some Upstanders, Summer Hiatus, and the Uncertain Future of Public Television in New Jersey

Learning about the Upper Saddle River on "River Day".
I recently taped my last two stories of the school year for Classroom Close-up, NJ. I have a lot of packages to edit for next season so I'll be plenty busy over the next few months, but I will miss getting to visit New Jersey's public schools until September.

The first one was my favorite type of assignment, an outdoor event with an environmental theme. We visited Cavellini Middle School in Saddle River for the story "River Day". Every sixth grader at the school spent an entire day exploring and learning about the Upper Saddle River which runs right through their campus. I love how the educators at Cavellini are using the local environment to get kids excited about science. When I was a student, both my middle school and high school were just steps from the Detroit River and I can only recall a handful of times we ever ventured outside to explore the area, and that wasn't until high school biology class.

The dynamic duo, Nello and Ed, taping
"Block the Bully" for next season.
Have a great summer guys!
The last story, "Block the Bully", was another example of how schools have changed since I was a student in the latter half of the 20th century. Once a month at Ridgewood Avenue School in Glen Ridge, the entire student body simultaneously participates in a lesson focused on preventing bullying. The lessons are developed by the school's Character Education Committee, the members of which volunteer their time to work on this important issue. I love the concept of upstander, as opposed to bystander, I think it's one of the most important lessons anyone could learn.

So now we're heading into summer.

Summer in television is a lot like summer for students. It's nice to have the break, but eventually you start to look forward to the new school year starting. Sometimes that looming event carries an air of anticipation because it's a change, and even when you embrace the change, it's still an unknown. That's kind of how this summer feels since I know things will be different on the show next season.

In case you haven't been following the local news, the State of New Jersey decided it was no longer going to fund the public television network that currently airs our show, NJN Public Television. And while NJN isn't going to disappear entirely, it is going to change. All of the full-time employees have been given layoff notices and the Star Ledger released an article on Sunday saying that the network will be taken over by WNET (channel 13) out of New York. According to the article: "The nightly newscast and its other existing shows will likely not continue."

Just to clarify, the layoffs don't affect me directly. I'm not an NJN employee, I'm a freelancer, but I do feel terrible for the NJN staff, including my colleagues on the show, who are full time employees. I'm not entirely sure what this means for Classroom Close-up, NJ since it would seem we fit into the category of "other existing shows". I'm pretty sure it means we won't be working in NJN's Trenton studio going forward, but I don't think it means we're going to stop making the show. Heck, we've already got seven or eight shows in production for next season, and as far as I know, the show's sponsors haven't pulled out. It might mean we have to find a new network or distribution outlet to air the show on. I don't know, I'm sure our executive producer will be filling us all in soon.

I think I'm just going to try to enjoy the summer.

If you're interested in public education, visit the Classroom Close-up, NJ Facebook page and click the 'Like' button! To find out where I'm headed next, subscribe to my blog or follow me on Twitter.

Monday, May 9, 2011

How Next Season’s Story Nearly Became Breaking News [Video]

A memorial flag is illuminated near the spot where
American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon
on Sept. 11, 2001. Photo Courtesy of U.S. Army
I'm getting ready to start cutting my first package for the next season of Classroom Close-up, NJ, It's a story about the 9/11 curriculum developed for New Jersey public schools entitled "Teaching 9/11". It will intentionally air around the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, but I'm not planning to make it into some kind of retrospective of the events. Instead, I'm going to talk about the process of developing the new curriculum and how teachers were involved. I'm also hoping the story can dispel reservations people might have about the curriculum by showing a bit of it in use. I'm pretty sure our cameras are the only ones that have been inside the classroom while any of these lessons were being taught.

I could go into a lot of detail about how the curriculum is more than a simple set of social studies lessons, but I'll save that for the actual story. If you want to know more right now, John Mooney over at NJ Spotlight has written some great articles on this same topic, including his most recent one about how the death of Osama Bin Laden will impact the 9/11 curriculum. That was defintiely one of the first things that went through my mind when I heard the news last week. As of now, I don't think the news is going to have much of an influence on my particular story since I'm trying to keep the focus on educational aspects.

However, last week was a clear example of how just how fast a story can change. Timeliness isn't usually a big factor for Classroom Close-up, NJ. Our stories often air weeks after we tape them and sometimes, as is the case with "Teaching 9/11", it can be five months or more. That's a far cry from the breaking world of news, as I was quickly reminded when Princeton Patch asked to me go out and get some local reactions to the Bin Laden story. No cushy thirty day post schedule for this one, just go out shoot it, and get it online as quick as you can.

If you're interested in public education and/or hyper-local news, visit the Classroom Close-up, NJ Facebook and the Princeton Patch Facebook pages and click the 'Like' buttons! To find out where I'm headed next, subscribe to my blog or follow me on Twitter.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Get on the Wall! [Video]

The "Mural Club" story I wrote about back in February wasn't in this week's new episode of Classroom Close-up, NJ. That's because after I finished it, I decided it needed an artsy title and re-dubbed it "Get on the Wall". It starts at about 13:25 into the show, but as always, be sure to check out all of this week's stories.

I'm not typically prone to flourishing narration, but I'm really pleased with how this one turned out. All that creativity at Reading-Fleming Intermediate School must have inspired me.

No new show next week, but those of you who would rather watch the show in hi-def instead of online can catch a repeat of this week's show on Saturday, May 7 at 9 am on NJN. I don't know the airdate yet, but the next new episode will be the season finale where we recap the past season. Don't worry, we are already deep into production for next season, so plenty of blog posts about public education still to come!

If you're interested in public education, visit the Classroom Close-up, NJ Facebook page and click the 'Like' button! To find out where I'm headed next, subscribe to my blog or follow me on Twitter.

Monday, May 2, 2011

I Went Two for Three on Flashmob Videos This Weekend [Video]

What a crazy weekend!

I just happened to be hanging out near the library with my video camera on Friday when this flashmob broke out.

And then it happened again on Saturday when this flash mob broke out at Communiversity!

Alright, I confess, this wasn't some John-McClane-in-Die-Hard-2-style coincidence.

Another crowd? Another flashmob? How can
the same gig happen to the same guy twice?
I was actually tipped off about both of these flash mobs by Greta Cuyler, editor of the recently launched Princeton Patch. About a week earlier, I contacted the Patch about possibly contributing to the site in hopes of getting some more opportunities to polish my news gathering skills. These were the first two assignments they sent me on and they were a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to doing more with the Patch.

And just when I thought I had a monopoly on Princeton flash mobs, I find out there was a third flashmob that I wasn't at! Next year I'm getting them all!

If you're interested in hyper-local news, visit the Princeton Patch Facebook page and click the 'Like' button! To find out where I'm headed next, subscribe to my blog or follow me on Twitter.