Student television program lacks funding, support

USI graduate Lauren Leslie painted the yellow backdrop that coats the current SETV12 “Access USI” studio more than six years ago.

Today, the same dried paint and background pictures of campus assembled by Leslie, and other former students, has been utilized by many radio and television program students.

Megan Thorne
USI graduate Lauren Leslie painted the yellow backdrop that coats the current SETV12 “Access USI” studio more than six years ago.

The 2012 radio and television graduate said she always knew she wanted to be a television news anchor.

That dream became a reality in March when Leslie was named anchor of the Evansville CBS and FOX affiliate Channel 44 WEVV-TV News at Noon, 5 and 6 p.m. She served as a reporter for three years prior.

Leslie vividly remembers her two and a half years working at Access USI which began when she went to her first meeting in fall of 2009.

“That’s when I got involved,” Leslie said. “I did it my sophomore, junior and most of my senior year, but I didn’t feel like I was getting what I needed out of it, an internship at that point made more sense.”

Leslie faced a few obstacles while working at Access USI.

She said SETV12’s Program Director David Black takes a very laissez-faire approach when working with the program.

“He is very hands off, (he) let the students do what they want to do, (and) that can be a good thing and can also be a challenging thing because he should act as the news director in my opinion,” Leslie said.

Leslie said Black’s hands-off approach “absolutely” affected the production of the show.

“Everything fell on me, it was up to me to come up with what we were covering,” she said. “But you really have to want to be a reporter, and I think in a lot of ways Dr. Black allows students to do that, but should he be more involved? Absolutely.”

Leslie said she thinks the program needs an overhaul.

The problem

Leslie said USI prepared her for her future career.

“But you have to equip your students to become the best journalists they can be, and I’m not sure where the ball is being missed there, because I think Dr. Black knows a lot about what he is doing, but he has got to be in the studio more that’s the bottom line,” Leslie said.

She said that Black is simply an old-school guy.

“The kids that are coming in now are all millennials and you learn in a different way and do things in a different way,” she said.

Leslie said that young journalists need someone who is going to fire them up.

“When you have an educator that inspires you that’s one thing, but Dr. Black didn’t do that, it was very much fade to black… God bless him,” she said. “But you have to get the right person in the seat.”

Senior Travis Onyett has worked at Access USI since 2017 and currently serves as the technical director for the program.

The radio and television major said he was always told to get as much experience as possible which led him to USI’s campus television station.

Onyett said he has seen a “couple” issues where the switcher would not work and they could not run a show.

“We have a server in the playback room that crashes a lot if it’s not exported in the right format,” he said.

Onyett said the software is very old but does work for the most part.

He said he also takes issue with a somewhat absent adviser to the program.

“I do think that’s because of (Dr. Black’s) lack of knowledge in some aspects of the TV side,” he said.

Onyett said overall Black does a good job just maintaining the station.

“I would just say that he needs to be more directly involved,” Onyett said. “I think he does a good job making sure people know what there doing, but then it just falls on the students to do everything.”

He said he understands that funding is only part of the issue.

“There could be better equipment and stuff, but it also just takes a strong leader because John Morris does a good job keeping everyone focused and on task at (95.7) The Spin,” Onyett said. “It starts from the top.”

Senior Ann Powell prepares herself every Wednesday to produce, anchor and edit Access USI.

The radio and television and journalism major has worked at SETV since she was a freshman.

Powell said she could be receiving much more experience.

“We need much better equipment,” she said. “We are lucky to have stuff that is functional for the most part.”

Powell said an issue with equipment arises about once a month or less.

On top of dated equipment, she said there is another underlying problem with the program.

“I think a more involved adviser would be very helpful,” Powell said. “(Dr. Black) hasn’t talked to us about a show in weeks, I always feel like I am on my own.”

Powell said that equipment is the main issue.

“I think (SETV) is preparing me for when all hell breaks loose,” Powell said. “When something malfunctions, when I’m at a camera for whichever station I’m working for, this has taught me how to get through future chaos.”

Senior John Simone said that SETV12 has prepared him for the future.

The radio and television major and operations and show director for SETV12 said based on conversations with Black, many of these improvements are not that far away.

“It seems as though Dr. Black is aware of most these issues and how they can potentially be fixed. The cost of updates is simply too expensive,” he said. “Dr. Black and I have had conversations about potentially having the playback server replaced because the current one can be unreliable.”

Simone said he has also learned a lot about how to manage and motivate people.

“I can’t say I have ever had a student involved at (SETV12) that has been explicit to me that they aren’t able to do something because the equipment does not work,” Black said. “If they are, I haven’t heard it.”

The background and response

Access USI is one of just two designated public forums on campus, meaning it is free from administrative control.

Black has been with the university since 1998 and advising Access USI since it was created.

The assistant professor of radio and television said SETV was originally located in the old technology center before the communications department moved into the current Liberal Arts Center after its completion in 1999.

“We did not have money for equipment, so we stayed (in the technology center) until we found it, and so we found the funding to get this facility equipped, but that was going to take a five year period or so as far as the money being given out,” Black said.

He said the quality of the old setup was not good.

“We had a camera on a tripod and a monitor on a chair and that’s the way you would operate,” he said. “It only had a one video edit system and it was just no good.”

Black said he knew they would not end up moving all of the older equipment into the new LA.

“We started equipping (the new facility) and at the time high definition was established in broadcasting but it wasn’t really covered across the country. It was still developing and spreading out so we couldn’t afford that, and there was really no reason to do it in the sense that our outlet was going to be channel 12,” Black said.

The first scheduled date for an Access USI show was in 2001. Black said he used his advanced studio production class to get the program moving.

“I had the students come up with a name and that’s how ‘Access USI’ came about,” he said. “It started off as more of a general variety show, it had music, interviewing and a little news segment.”

Black said he does not remember why, but at some point, he made the decision to change the format to a full newscast.

“I said let’s just go full news because that’s the most practical thing students can learn. If they are going to get into broadcasting television, they go to news,” he said. “So that’s what we did we changed it to a full newscast, a handful of years after the start.”

Black said when it comes to technology, there are many different directions about what there could be or ought to be.

“I think the first thing is should (Access USI) be in high definition,” he said. “I don’t know if from a student standpoint there is a concern about being in high definition, there may be, but I have not heard about it.”

SETV is broadcast in standard definition, but the technical environment has been made to support a digital output.

“Still now channel 12 on campus is not high definition,” Black said.  “So that’s not something that pushes this, but what could push it is the fact that we can stream, we can upload video in high definition, so now there is more of a case to create a high definition facility.”

Black said SETV converted its standard definition aspect from a 4×3 ratio to a 16×9 format, which meant purchasing new monitors and equipment.

“That was really big, but now that there is streaming and online presence there is a need for high definition,” he said.

He said the issue at hand for going high definition would simply be the funding, but he has yet to propose going HD because other purchases must be made first.

“We have field cameras that we need to get and we are getting into mobile video so we’ll have to buy equipment for that,” Black said.

He said he plans on having a proposal by the end of the semester.

“That would be for fall 2019, but won’t include high definition,” he said.

Black said the 360 playback server will need to be repurchased at some point.

Black has a program director release for managing the studio and other video-related needs. Among his many duties, he is responsible for coordinating the programming of SETV12 and acting as adviser for Access USI and managing other productions as they develop.

“As far as my expectations from USI, the administration has been responsive to my requests,” he said.  “We are at a place where we do have needs due to a greater use of our facilities and new directions in technology and our curriculum, but I don’t expect all of those to materialize at once.”

The funding

The Scripps-Howard Video Complex has a total budget of $6,500 in 2017-2018 according to the university’s annual operating budget. There was a $2,525 drop in funding for personal expenses from the 2016-2017 approved budget.

The Spin’s 2017-2018 budget of more than $84,000 is 13 times larger than SETV’s, and The Shield’s 2017-2018 budget of $67,412 is more than 10 times larger.

Those funds are far less than the two other campus media outlets, the student-run radio station WSWI 95.7 The Spin and the university’s student publication, The Shield.

The Spin’s 2017-2018 budget of more than $84,000 is 13 times larger than SETV’s, and The Shield’s 2017-2018 budget of $67,412 is more than 10 times larger.

The budget differences are reflective of other items and certain distinctions in the budget for The Spin and The Shield. The Spin, which is licensed to the university’s Board of Trustees, must comply with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines in addition to being an on-air broadcast station regulated by the FCC.

The Shield’s main funding goes toward printing the publication and payroll according to student publications adviser Erin Gibson. Workers at The Shield gain experience with compensation. Writers make $10 per story, while editors make $50 per week.

Chair of the Communications Department Sally Vogl-Bauer declined to comment on the matter deferring any further questions regarding funding to Black.

No major changes have been made to the Access studio in its 20-year history.

“Those who have been with USI longer than I don’t recall any significant changes to the SETV space since (the) LA was built in 1999,” Director of Facilities Operations and Planning Jim Wolfe said.

The future of SETV

Black said he believes the two other campus media outlets, 95.7 The Spin and The Shield, do a good job with news coverage. He said, however, that there is a difference with Access USI in that it’s one program that is part of a larger operation of Channel 12.

“The studio facility is a lab for students and it’s also a cable channel that goes out,” he said. “Then its a place for students to produce video content, so in that sense, we have students on payroll that manage the office, and they are paid to deal with students needing to help with equipment.”

Black said Access USI does not encompass the same function the other student media outlets on campus provide.

“We need to expand,” he said. “We need to expand the number of cameras that we use now, and I think the main thing involved with the studio is whether it could go high definition that’s the biggest thing.”

Black said he has been in touch with his engineer about a streaming system, but there is currently no permanent solution.

“I want to get into online streaming for our live program by buying additional cameras,” Black said. “We will see what kind of money is available.”

Black said the current studio cameras are HD, but the mainstay studio would need to make the jump into the updated setting.

He said it is important to get a streaming capability started especially with the advancement of technology.

“Students aren’t really watching television that much, so I think the idea of sending it out on Channel 12 is a good thing. It prepares students for when they work for broadcasting, but as the broadcasting industry is changing, do we have to change?” Black said. “So that’s the importance of streaming. if we are going to have an audience for students, that’s where it’s going to be more than it will be on Channel 12.”

Channel 12, which broadcasts in standard definition, has been Access USI’s primary form of transmission. 

“(Access USI) serves as a teaching platform for students to be creative and learn even outside the classroom,” he said. “But I start off every semester asking students, ‘we have this program but there are other things that we can always do.’”