Station Spotlight | UNC-TV: A Part of Something Bigger

Erica Starke-Knight, a producer at UNC-TV, visited her first SRL classroom the day after the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Allison Burroughs, who teaches broadcast journalism at North Brunswick High School in North Carolina, said her students “took to her and opened right up.” Together, they shared their thoughts on gun laws, increasing police presence on campus, metal detectors and whether teachers should be armed. Respectful discussions, said Allison, that were necessary in the classroom following a tragedy that touched school communities across the country.

When did your station first become a part of SRL? 

Public Media North Carolina (aka UNC-TV) officially became part of the Student Reporting Labs program in November 2017.

How has the Student Reporting Labs program benefited the station?

One of the goals for our Children’s Media and Education Services team is to increase tween and teen engagement and work to recruit and develop the next generation of public media content creators. Student Reporting Labs has provided a direct pathway for us to accomplish this goal by connecting us with a high-school that has already been introduced to public television, responsible journalism and suggested topics for telling important stories in their communities. This model creates an incredible collaborative opportunity and opens the door to on-the-ground engagement with young people who want to express their concerns and suggested solutions about issues that are important to them. The SRL program provides a way for us to assist students in crafting and developing their storytelling skills, as well as, teaching them how to work together as a production team.

Why is it important to help build the next generation of public media producers and participants?

To quote Howard Husock, vice president for research and publications at the Manhattan Institute, “At a time when local newspaper staffs are shrinking, local public-media stations increasingly understand that journalism is their best route to serving their communities….” Mr. Husock went on to say, “In increasingly scarce supply, however, is high-quality, reporting-based local journalism — and public media is actually in a good position to win audience trust by providing more of it.” It is my belief that Student Reporting Labs plays a critical and important role in helping to build the next generation of public media producers as communities around the world are yearning for their stories to be heard and shared. PBS NewsHour is a trusted brand, well known for its responsible journalism, and the fact that we are in a climate where young people are galvanizing and staging protests throughout the country in an effort to impact change, the timing for this program is impeccable. I believe that providing an opportunity for young people to learn critical thinking, problem-solving and news literacy through SRL is invaluable and can help to amplify their voices effectively with lawmakers who have the ability to institute change.

What were your goals going into an SRL classroom this year?

My initial goals at the beginning of the program were as follows:

  •  To share my experience as a public media professional, explain the importance of learning “good and factual journalism” and express the need for them to help us change the current media industry by getting involved.
  • To arrange a behind-the-scenes media tour at UNC-TV where students would participate in a hands-on, interactive experience and provide an opportunity for them to meet and talk with other public media professionals.
  • To listen to story pitches and help students develop ideas related to subjects that matter most to them and ultimately assist the teacher in guiding them through the production process from research through final video completion.

What did you learn and what were some anecdotes and takeaways from students?

This experience has magnified a couple of things for me. First, school buy-in/investment, teacher support, and resources are critical to ensuring a successful Student Reporting Lab program so that students will gain the maximum benefit from the experience. Second, in this current climate of civil unrest, uncertainty, and social injustice, the need for students to have a unified and effective way to raise their voices, express their frustrations/anxieties, tell their stories and offer solutions are critical and SRL provides the ideal platform for them to accomplish this. My first visit to North Brunswick High School was the day after the Parkland, Florida school shooting. The students were fired up and anxious to express their desire for safer school environments in their community and around the country. I felt that the SRL Power in Numbers assignment was an excellent way to tackle this issue. We had an intense brainstorming session about what measures should be taken, how they could galvanize their classmates and community around the issue and what steps should be taken immediately. They were passionate, full of ideas and appreciative that the teacher and I were listening, taking them seriously and offering guidance to help shape all of their thoughts into a storyline for a video. I was inspired, excited and humbled to be involved in this exhilarating process and left the school feeling energized and grateful that I was in a position to be a part of something bigger than a story, but, rather a movement.