The Buzz TV is in the 10th year of production at Fort Mill High School in Fort Mill, South Carolina.
What started as a half-baked idea… “hey, let’s do a TV show”… has grown into a multi-level, award winning broadcast filled with dedicated students that love both the challenge of doing a weekly show and the tradition-filled, family atmosphere that the classroom environment provides. We just won the National NATAS award for Best High School Broadcast, 9 Regional NATAS Awards, STN Best High School Weekly Broadcast, SIPA Scroggins Award for Best High School Show as well a bunch of state and regional awards, and I was honored at the 2017 STN National Convention as Teacher of the Year which totally boggles my mind since I’m the farthest thing from a teacher!
Tell us about your background and how you decided to start teaching TV/Video production?
I am a former TV News Producer who actually stumbled across the class completely by accident. I had been in contact with the Principal of the High School trying to establish a Lacrosse team when he told me about the program. They had been struggling with advisors and so we struck a deal - he would work on getting a team if I would “fill in temporarily” until they found someone who actually knew what they were doing… that was 10 years ago. Two lacrosse state championships and multiple broadcast awards later - I guess they stopped looking for someone suitable :)
How did you obtain initial funding for your program? How do you fund the class now?
The class was already established as a video production class funded through Perkins Grants - with a studio and control room, however much of the equipment was extremely outdated, or just didn’t work anymore. We are still a CTE class and receive Perkins Grants - but it was a couple of years of figuring out what we had that worked, what we needed to grow and what would be the best fit, functionality and have the durability to withstand the not-so-gentle touch of 70plus teenagers every day. We also put on the BMOC Pageant (Guys Pageant) during spirit week - which has become extremely popular and we run a one week summer camp for elementary & middle school students - both have been fantastic fundraisers and help oﬀset the cost of equipment repairs and our annual trip to the STN Convention.
Did you have equipment available?
Initially some, but as the program has grown, we have added equipment along the way and definitely had to update. This industry changes so rapidly- as soon as you take the plunge and make a big purchase - something new is released!
How many kids are in the TV/Video Production classes? How is it broken down? Is it a multi-year program?
We are on semesters so I teach 2 sections of TV1 and 1 section of TV2,3,4 per semester. TV1 is an intro class where we learn all the basics and 2,3&4 is the Buzz TV class. TV2’s are junior level staﬀ members and the 3/4’s are senior level staﬀ members (Anchors, EP’s, etc.) 3/4’s stay with me both semesters and receive Honors credit for the class
Can you tell us a little more about the sessions: How long are the classes? How many students? What types of projects?
Classes are all 90 minutes long. TV1 is made up of 25 students per section and they are mostly all sophomores - we learn camera angles, shot composition, lighting, sound, how to conduct an interview, anchor, write a script, do a stand-up. Projects include 6-Word stories, PSA’s, Shooting for Suspense, Intros- it all culminates at the end of the semester with a stab at their very own show- “The JV Buzz”. I teach 4 sections of TV1 per school year which gives me 100 TV1 students. From those I usually pick 20-24 to move forward to TV2 which they take their Junior year. Those 24 kids are split between the 2 semesters (12 1st semester, 12 2nd semester) and they are on the Buzz Staﬀ. They will write and produce their own stories, cover events, conduct interviews and we work on refining skills, writing to soundbites, and making our packages clean. Those 24 Juniors are then whittled down to 10-12 who take the class all year senior year. These are the show anchors, lead reporters, head videographers and EP’s and they also work on putting together reels for college scholarships & competitions.
How many kids to do the morning news broadcast? Do you also do a weekly broadcast? Special events coverage?
We do a weekly show with 22-24 kids on staﬀ. We do cover quite a few special events as well.
We used to stream our football and basketball games live- but we lost a lot of our cables and equipment due to a stadium renovation and have not replaced everything quite yet.
Do your students capture other school events? Sports? Assemblies? Board meetings? Musical Performances?
When asked - we try to accommodate as much as possible!
What jobs do the kids do? Do the kids rotate through on-air talent and crew positions or are they “hired” for a specific task?
You must try out for on-air anchor positions but everyone who wants the opportunity to be an on-air reporter or a social media reporter is welcome to let their star shine! If they are on camera they must be dressed professionally (no sweatshirts, t-shirts allowed), hair done, no distracting jewelry and make-up on (yes - even the guys need a little powder for that shine!) We call it “camera ready” and they all know what that means!
Do students audition for on-air positions?
Only main anchors- however reporters will work on camera presence, voice, body language etc. throughout the year.
Do they write the content?
Yes - we work very hard on “broadcast writing” (and hopefully it shows) I tell the kids that as former news producer - I spent a LOT of time writing scripts, VO’s, segue’s and teases so I have some serious pet peeves when it comes to cliches. They are not allowed to use “we sat down with”, “we went around the school to”, “Christmas is right around the corner….(ugh)) Trying to write “actively” and writing to the sound bite and above all… No “witty banter” that is fake or forced- that drives me bonkers - if you can ad-lib or “fill” - do it, otherwise - don’t even try.
How long does the show run?
We are under contract with the city of Fort Mill and the city of Tega Cay to provide a 15 minute show to run on their cable stations - sometimes it runs long, but that is usually with outtakes (which the kids love) and credits so it can easily be cut down to time.
Do you submit programming to independent contest such as those sponsored by STN, SkillsUSA, NATAS or others?
We actively participate in STN as well as SIPA (Southeastern Interscholastic Press
Association) our regional organization and the Southeast Chapter of NATAS. We do not participate in Skills or JEA
Can your broadcast be viewed outside the school? District-wide? Local cable access? On your school/district web-site?
Local cable access on two channels, our school district tweets out a link to our show, and our Principal provides a link in his weekly email to parents. We also post it on Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook and on our fmhsthebuzztv.com website.
Where do you post programming? YouTube? Vimeo? SchoolTube? SVN-TV? Other?
YouTube: TheBuzzTVFM Twitter: @fmbuzztv
Do you have an equipment list you can share with our readers?
Not really - it’s a complete hodgepodge!
Have any quick start tips!
Get student buy-in to your vision by providing the one thing that all teenagers want - a place to belong, feel successful and cared about. Ask them what kind of show they want and then give them the tools and guidance to make it happen. Don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t be afraid to make your own mistakes. I’m horrible at lighting, struggle with sound and I always feel three steps behind all the other broadcast teachers out there that actually know what they are doing… don’t ask me for lesson plans because I’m winging it 99% of the time. I always say- my students are successful in spite of me not because of me! Every year is diﬀerent, every class needs adjustments, every student needs to be handled in a diﬀerent way- but if you go in passionate and loving what you do - the kids pick up on that passion.
Bottom line - we are storytellers and we are guiding the next generation of storytellers - if we go out and give these kids a voice, ignite some curiosity and then provide them with the tools to talk about the world around them in a fair and unbiased way - then regardless of all the accolades and awards - we’ve done our job.. and it’s a pretty rewarding one at that!