With an Assist from the Foundation, Journalism Students Launch the Tam Broadcast Network

 

When Tam senior Randy Shapiro was five, he wanted to be a sportscaster.  When he was six, he wanted to be a sportscaster.  And when he was nine.  And twelve.  And sixteen.

When he was seventeen, he became a sportscaster.

This didn’t surprise Randy, or anyone who knows him, because Randy is a determined young man who generally does the things he sets out to do.  What did surprise him was that, along the way, he created an entire broadcast network.

The Tam Broadcast Network (TBN) launched this year under the auspices of the Tam News, offering – and this is just for starters – live broadcasts of Tam sporting events.  The story of how Randy Shapiro made this happen is a story of entrepreneurship and personal initiative, but also of how an exceptional teacher and a supportive community can make a profound difference in the lives of our students.

When Randy was a junior in the journalism program, he was a sports writer.  The Tam News had only one video camera, which he and a friend used to film Tam basketball games.  They edited the footage into a three-minute “top plays” montage that they posted on the Tam News website, and that was as close as Randy could come to realizing his broadcasting dream.

Then, that summer, he took a course on broadcasting through the Community Media Center of Marin, the public access channel that broadcasts the Pacifics baseball games.  This, plus an internship at the radio station that covered the games, taught him how to use video broadcasting equipment and the basics of sports coverage.

Naturally he wanted to bring that skill set to the Tam News sports department, but, like every other high school journalism program in the area, it lacked the proper equipment to support live sports broadcasts.  “The big obstacle was money,” he says, “because all of this equipment is really expensive.”

That’s where journalism teacher Jonah Steinhart stepped in.  His mentor, who runs the extraordinary journalism program at Palo Alto High, taught him that building a sophisticated program doesn’t mean building it yourself, “it means putting the opportunities in front of the kids, and letting them run with it.  So, as soon as the kids show the interest and the drive to do something, I go and find the right resources to make that happen.”

In just a few months, Steinhart, Randy, and several other students raised enough money to buy three SONY NX5-U HD video cameras and the other equipment needed to support live broadcasts.  This fall, the Tam Broadcast Network debuted its sports coverage, broadcasting the Homecoming football game, a water polo match, and several boys’ and girls’ basketball games so far.  With professional-grade cameras, three camera angles, graphics, and a play-by-play and color commentator, the productions offer everything you’ll find on ESPN – except, Randy notes, instant replay.  Which, of course, he hopes to add soon.

TBN is also evolving to include other forms of video journalism.  For example, in November it launched a monthly news roundup show, with two anchors and roving reporters who interview newsmakers.  Tam News print reporters also are requesting the cameras to record their interviews, so that in addition to writing an article, they may produce a video feature.  The process is one of trial-and-error, which Steinhart encourages:  “The great thing about the journalism program is that kids get to do what they want to do.”

One of the more exciting opportunities TBN offers is the ability to broadcast events that are of interest to the larger Tam community, like graduation, which TBN will broadcast this year.  “Imagine somebody’s grandmother in Maine who’s too sick to travel being able to watch her grandchild’s graduation on her computer,” Steinhart says.  He also envisions broadcasting guest speakers who visit individual classes, CTE performances, and parent education speakers.

Although Randy will graduate this year, he’s training his younger classmates in the skills he learned in his summer program so TBN can continue after he’s gone.  It’s been surprisingly easy, he’s found, as Tam students are extremely technology savvy.  Indeed, he’s already found his successor:  junior Riley Kuffner.  The head of Tam’s Young Entrepreneur Club, Riley is “very interested in startups, in founding something and creating something that benefits the community.”  He’s also a journalism student who loves video, and he picked up the skills Randy taught him quickly enough to produce the recent broadcast of the Tam-Drake varsity boys’ basketball game on his own.

In all, there are about twenty-five kids who are involved with TBN’s sports broadcasts —  doing the commentating, operating the cameras, and directing the transitions between video feeds — so the network Randy started is in good hands.  Steinhart says that someday, there may even be a separate elective class devoted to the network.  If the interest is there, he will also apply for grants to send more kids to CMCM for training or for guest instructors.  “It blows me away how many resources are available in this community.”

The Tam Broadcast Network is not only unique among high schools in the area, it’s rare in the country.  “There are a lot of programs that are running around with video cameras and then posting the footage on their websites,” Randy says, “but few have our capabilities to do live broadcasts, or the high level of production.”

For him, and for others interested in broadcast journalism as a career, this is a huge boon, one that Steinhart embraces.  “I have a complex philosophy on the importance of a liberal arts education, and doing things because they are intellectually stimulating, not just to prepare kids for a job,” he says.  “At the same time, it’s really nice when the professional skills and academic skills overlap, and you don’t have to sacrifice academic skills to get the professional ones.”  In today’s journalism, multimedia training is critical:  collegiate journalism programs are training students in technology similar to Tam’s because, with shrinking newsrooms, those skills are increasingly marketable.

But none of this means that the print arm of the Tam News is on the wane.   To the contrary, Steinhart has been struck by “how badly these kids want to hang on to a print magazine.  Even with the website and social media, most kids are still getting their Tam news through the magazine.”

Moreover, Steinhart notes, a recent study by Dutch psychologist Martjin Meeter found that people remember news events better when they read about them in a newspaper than when they learn about them from a news program.  For that reason alone, writing will always be critical to journalism.  But a live broadcast is tough to beat for something like sports coverage, where immediacy is critical.  And, in general, “putting people in the room listening and watching something, and having those sights and sounds is really powerful.”

The great thing, of course, is that, like the New York Times and the Washington Post, “We don’t have to choose; we can do both,” Steinhart says.  But “we wouldn’t be doing it at all without the efforts of students like Randy and Riley.  I could not be more proud of them.”

As for Randy, he’s thrilled to be doing what he’s wanted to do since he was five.  “It’s just the most fun thing in the world to do something that no one in the area is doing, that you can see yourself doing in the future.  For me, sitting at a basketball game in a nice shirt and tie and commentating on a game is just an unbelievable joy.”

The Tam Foundation is proud to have provided funds to help purchase TBN’s HD cameras.  The Foundation’s mission is to support exactly the sort of innovative and cutting edge opportunities that TBN represents, and teachers like Jonah Steinhart, who guide their students in the pursuit of their passions with such unflagging energy.