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Helmut Schmidt, Published November 28 2013

West Fargo students turn camera’s eye toward school board

WEST FARGO – For Bailey Hurley, Monday’s West Fargo School Board meeting promised to be a newsapalooza.

Supporters of Jim Jonas, a West Fargo high school teacher stripped of his football and basketball coaching duties, showed up en masse to protest the decision by school district administrators.

Hurley, a West Fargo High School broadcast journalism student, thought she had hit the local news jackpot.

“I thought maybe one or two would get up,” to yell at the board, Hurley said.

“I wanted to see some riots. Absolutely!” Hurley said. “I wanted something to keep me going.”

Hurley is one of six students in this year’s broadcast class, taught by English and journalism teacher Jeremy Murphy.

Beyond their coverage of some Packer sporting events and filming school announcement segments, one of the goals of the class is to cover school board meetings and stream them live online on wfhspackertv.com.

By also archiving the webcasts, the students are providing West Fargo School District residents access to how district decisions are made that was never available before.

So far, they’ve covered three board meetings.

Hurley, the executive producer of Packer TV, said covering the school board may not grab the attention of students, but it should be a big help for parents.

“It’s not an ideal way to spend a Monday night,” she said. Still, “it’s worth your time to be there.”

“I am going into this as a career,” Hurley said. “It really changes you as a person to go out there and cover news stories.”

Elsa Bollinger, online editor for the school newspaper The Packer, has learned something about government from the board meetings and picked up some story ideas.

“It’s not like we have to,” Bollinger said of covering the school board. “It’s because we want to.”

School Board President Kay Kiefer said that body hasn’t televised its proceedings before, but it fully supports the initiative.

“It’s one small way we can give students real-world experience,” she said, adding the students have been professional.

“I think we forget they’re there. They’re just doing the job they were sent to do,” Kiefer said.

Murphy keeps his broadcast students busy.

On Tuesday, they learned about green screens and Chroma Key special effects.

On Wednesday, one student was preparing a story on Black Friday shopping.

Sophomore Charley Planteen said even though the class is small, “we make it work. We get kind of stretched, but it gets done.”

This is the second year for the broadcast class.

Murphy said reaction to the students’ coverage has been good. The last couple of webcasts – Monday’s school board meeting and the Nov. 22 school announcements preceding the board meeting – pulled in the highest viewing yet.

Monday’s school board broadcast had 735 hits online. Usually, the broadcasts garner 200 to 300 hits, he said.

“I think attending any kind of government meeting is a valuable experience,” Murphy said. “For those that are going to continue on” in journalism, it’s a valuable component of government reporting.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583