an inside look at public affairs production from C-SPAN
By Julia Tibbets
C-SPAN and Purdue have teamed up to bring a new
class to communication and political science students.
COM491T/POL491B, offered for the first time this
semester, gave students an inside look at how public affairs are
covered by the C-SPAN television network. It also taught them
how to realize the C-SPAN mission of employing production values
that accurately convey the business of government rather than
distract from it.
Scott Schroeder, instructor of video production
classes in the Communication Department, and Robert Browning,
political science associate professor and director of C-SPAN archives,
worked together to teach students about public affairs reporting
and to help them apply their knowledge to the actual taping of
events in C-SPAN fashion.
"I want the students to understand the big
picture of what C-SPAN is all about.
They need to understand not only what C-SPAN does, but why it
is important," said Schroeder.
founder Brian Lamb videoconferences
There have also been numerous guest lecturers from
C-SPAN's Washington, D.C., headquarters.
Browning, who manages the recording, indexing,
duplication and distribution of C-SPAN video and the licensing
of materials, has been director of the archives since 1997, when
they were moved from Purdue into the new Research Park. He and
Schroeder discussed starting the class when they worked together
on local public affairs programming.
"With my relationship with C-SPAN and Purdue,
this class was a natural," said Browning.
C-SPAN, which is funded by the American cable industry,
was started in 1979 by Purdue Communication graduate Brian Lamb,
who is now chief executive officer. Lamb said he was tired of
the slant put on public affairs by the media.
"I find news today to be not very interesting;
I find it to be for entertainment," Lamb said in a videoconference
lecture with the class.
The idea was to create a news network that would
offer viewers an unbiased view of the news. Lamb wanted to simply
tape events and air them without cuts or commentary to let the
public make up their own minds about the issues.
To cover events this way, it is necessary for the
crew to know how to cover the events in an unbiased way. The course
required students to learn techniques necessary to provide as-objective-as-possible
reporting. It also explored the implications of providing balance,
understanding the goals of politicians and political organizations,
the issues in pool and political event coverage, and the history
of legislatiave coverage.
The students then applied the techniques to the
taping of two events: a large-scale event, which included a Purdue
Student Senate meeting, a University Senate meeting and radio
broadcast of a mayoral debate, and a small-scale event, which
included speeches, interviews or news conferences on campus.
To aid in educating students about the C-SPAN mission
and practices, many classes were lectures and question-and-answer
sessions with C-SPAN employees. Lamb; Susan Swain and Rob Kennedy,
co-chief operating officers; Jack Jackson, vice president of human
relations; and Barry Katz, video assets manager, all participated
in videoconference lectures. C-SPAN includes education in its
mission, sponsoring a C-SPAN bus that tours to American elementary
schools and also participates in a distance learning initiative
with the University of Denver, in addition to the Purdue class.
Elizabeth VanHolt, a senior majoring in public
communication and political science, said the class "is
an interesting opportunity to learn new perspectives." Although
she thinks the technical aspects have been a challenge, she said
she now has a greater appreciation for the media field and the
struggle for objectivity journalists face.
The majority of the class is made up of political
science students, and Schroeder acknowledged the problems that
presented. "I think the first thing that needs to change
is the number of communication students compared to political
science," he said. "The numbers need to be more even."
Both Browning and Schroeder would like to see the
class continue to be offered but will evaluate and make changes
based on this semester. But whatever changes may be made, both
think the subject matter and technical applications of the class
are relevant for communication and political science majors.
"We hope that some of the students in this
class might go on to be effective leaders in politics, communication,
government, and media, and what they learned in this course will
help them achieve those goals," said Browning. "I
have heard from many in C-SPAN that they wish they had an opportunity
to take a course such as this."
"This is the only course we offer that gives
the students an opportunity to gain these skills," said Schroeder.
"They also have the opportunity to speak with professionals
in the field of television production. They can better understand
what these people go through on a regular basis."