Students from the School of Communication and Media (SCM) flew to Los Angeles on April 1 to accept two awards at the 42nd annual College Television Awards.
The 14 students from last spring’s On the Road: Reporting from the Field class won these awards for their work on writing and producing a half-hour-long news program titled “New Orleans | Raging Storms.”
The group won the award in the News category and received the Seymour Bricker Humanitarian Award. On top of that was a $3,000 and $4,000 cash prize, respectively.
The half-hour-long news show featured seven stories from this group covering topics like climate change and racial injustice surrounding the city of New Orleans. They set out to New Orleans last spring break to film and interview their characters in person.
The students who won were Givonna Boggans, Michelle Coneo Fernandez, Solana Brol, Emily Dolan, Louis Biondolillo, Gabby Taylor, Carter Winner, Kaya Maciak, Ryan Breyta, Drew Mumich, Bernice Ndegwa, Keyshawn Reese, Talon Lauriello and Khan Hussain. Not everyone was able to attend the awards ceremony.
Last spring, professors Steve McCarthy and David Sanders taught On the Road: Reporting from the Field. The class allows students to experience the real-world journalistic process of creating and delivering these stories to the public.
It all starts with pre-production. McCarthy said this stage is crucial to the process as a whole and is something that students learned on this trip.
“Whether it’s news, documentary, even commercial, I think there [are] three different legs of it,” McCarthy said. “There is pre-production, production and post-production. If one of those legs is weak, the stool falls down. It doesn’t stand.”
Pre-production was a success for the group. However, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was an obstacle for them last spring.
In the latter half of the week in New Orleans, Sanders began to feel ill. He tested positive for COVID-19.
McCarthy has four decades of experience in the field of journalism. He described this trip as one of the most difficult of his career.
“I was [going to] have to do all the driving because we had arranged it where there would be two teams,” McCarthy said. “I had one van and [Sanders] had another and we would go out and report every day so now it was just me driving. The second thing is I thought I was going to get sick. I thought everybody was going to get sick. I thought this was going to be a complete disaster. I have been around the world. I’ve shot in 56 countries [and] in 49 states. This was one of the most difficult trips I’ve ever done because of the tension of worrying about everybody getting sick.”
One student did get sick (not with COVID-19 as feared) but with the help of her teammates, she was able to finish her piece.
“And the students faced a lot of adversity, but they really overcame it all,” McCarthy said. “And they did it through hard work and dedication.”
Through it all, the group’s teams were able to complete their stories.
“The most rewarding part was getting it done and then winning the national award for it,” McCarthy said. “It was a recognition by basically our peers in the production business, in the television business that we are one of the best programs in the country.”
McCarthy said the students earned the award.
“I was just proud of the students,” McCarthy said. “I was proud of the work they did in it. I was proud of the work ethic. I was proud of the brains that they used to put this thing together. The dedication, the passion. I’m just really proud of my students.”
Sanders noted that not everything came out perfectly but being prepared and knowing how to work around bumps in the road is a skill that students picked up on this trip.
“They learned so much from a trip like that,” Sanders said. “They get to realize how important preparation is because if you don’t set the groundwork well ahead of time, there’s no way to get everything done. There’s no way to connect with the people that you need to connect with. There’s no way to work out the logistics of travel and all those elements. So they learned how important it is to plan ahead. They learned how important it was to persevere.”
He emphasized how this was quite the learning experience for the students, especially working together.
“They learned how to be a team because there’s no way they could have done the work that they did without really helping each other out and being responsible to each other, not just for their own project, but for their classmates’ projects,” Sanders said. “They learned stamina because it’s a lot of work and it’s exhausting.”
He believes that the creation of the pieces and the effort put into them was one of the most rewarding things from this experience.
“To see the quality of the material that they were able to put together and the fact that they were willing to revise and revise and revise and revise again and take all the criticism that they were given and have the stamina to do that to come out with half an hour of television news that they came up with is very rewarding,” Sanders said. “And of course, to see it recognized and to see them up on stage in Los Angeles accepting a national award for their work. It makes me proud of them but really the gratifying part is the work itself.”
Michelle Coneo Fernandez, a senior journalism major, was one of the students who participated in this award-winning production.
She co-produced a story on gun violence in New Orleans.
Coneo Fernandez said her experience was touching and sharing these stories creates a deep human connection.
“The experience was truly life-changing from a professional and a personal standpoint,” Coneo Fernandez said. “I think the most important thing to highlight was the idea of interviewing someone about such a sensitive subject and keeping ourselves together and just rolling as the emotions came out.”
Coneo Fernandez said the course goes beyond teaching about writing, filming and interviewing.
“It could be perceived as a class that simply takes you on a trip or a portfolio-building opportunity,” Coneo Fernandez said. “However, this type of class teaches you how to work in teams, how to prepare yourself for stories, how to plan ahead, to foresee obstacles, and a lot of other transferable skills that will be useful in almost any work environment.”
Coneo Fernandez hopes her College Emmy win will inspire students to be resilient and build a platform to amplify their voices.
“To have won an Emmy award was just incredible, exciting and very rewarding,” Coneo Fernandez said. “But it doesn’t compare to the overall satisfaction of a job well done when we finished it and were able to present it. I surely hope this inspires students in the SCM to continue to tell stories and to simply work hard to make sure those voices are heard.”
Bernice Ndegwa is a senior journalism major. Her story in “New Orleans | Raging Storms” centered around the coastal environment in Louisiana.
“I worked on a piece about oyster recycling down in NOLA through the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana,” Ndegwa said. “I had such a great time in the class and during our trip.”
She enjoyed the new experiences and learned a lot from working in a team.
“It was definitely a lot of work but I learned so much not only during our days in NOLA but throughout the entire semester,” Ndegwa said. “It really allowed us to collaborate with different student organizations in a way I had not experienced before. Going to a place that we hadn’t been before had its challenges for sure, but the dedication and adaptability from the group [to] keep going was definitely the biggest lesson.”
Ndegwa was overjoyed upon receiving the awards.
“Getting to experience such an amazing weekend provided by the Television Academy followed with our win was like a dream come true,” Ndegwa said. “I hope that this will continue to open doors for the SCM and its students.”
“New Orleans | Raging Storms” can be viewed on the Hawk+ streaming network.