Advanced Online & Visual Media Collaborates with RMPBS to Feature Student Work
In Winter Quarter 2021, Kareem El Damanhoury, PhD’s Advanced Online & Visual Media Course partnered with Rocky Mountain PBS to produce student content on their Colorado Voices series. We spoke with El Damanhoury about the inspiration for the collaboration and with one of the students in the course, Alexandra Welch, to learn about their experiences during the quarter.
Kareem El Damanhoury, PhD:
When I first joined the Media, Film & Journalism Studies department in fall 2019 I found that journalism was the only major that didn't have a capstone. So, I planned on proposing one that would build on what students learn in the courses Newswriting & Reporting and Online & Visual Journalism in order to develop an opportunity for them to work with professional journalists. As a big fan of PBS myself, I reached out to Rocky Mountain PBS and proposed the idea. Since October 2019, I have been in talks with them to develop the idea further, while at the same time going through the DU process of introducing a new course. Winter 2021 (a little over a year later and with a pandemic in place), the capstone was finally offered. The goal was to produce video episodes and digital stories that adhere to Colorado Voices series guidelines on Rocky Mountain PBS and that feature stories of community members.
In the first 3 weeks alone, the students took part in workshops on DSLR cameras, lighting, video editing, drone videography, and newswriting. Each student worked as a solo multimedia journalist to produce a video episode as a warmup. Then, students pitched their big story idea to Rocky Mountain PBS. They also attended guest lectures with producers, news editors, production managers as well as with the Chief Content Officer. Once greenlighted, the students worked for six weeks on their respective projects. By the end of the quarter, Colorado Voices had featured 5 video episodes + digital stories, which meant students not only built on their skills from previous classes, but they also got PBS bylines on their resumes, with a chance of being featured on PBS nationally as well as being showcased on the PBS video app for anyone in Colorado and beyond.
As a journalism studies major focusing on visual media, I could not pass up the opportunity to take an Advanced Online & Visual Journalism class. While at first I was skeptical about the class schedule (once a week, for four hours at a time), I quickly realized that the set up was crucial to the experience.
For the first time, the course had partnered with Rocky Mountain PBS and their Colorado Voices segment, which highlights different voices from Colorado and allows people to tell their story. I have always felt that it is a journalist's responsibility to give a voice to those whose opinions are not often heard, so I was especially inspired by this collaboration. The task in front of us was daunting, though: we had to learn how to use all the equipment, create a solo practice piece, then pitch and create a piece for RMPBS that would hopefully be good enough to be featured on the program.
For our final project, my partner and I decided to focus on a person or organization within the outdoor community. Our first idea was to feature Bluebird Backcountry, a small resort dedicated to teaching beginners how to safely ski out of bounds. RMPBS rejected the idea of this resort when we pitched it to them: they asked us to consider a story more applicable to all Coloradoans.
Based on their advice, we decided to pivot and focus instead on avalanche rescue, which led us to the Alpine Rescue team. This group of volunteers dedicates their time to rescuing or recovering the numerous people who get in trouble in the backcountry. We interviewed Dale Atkins, a member of the rescue team to hear his perspective. Atkins explained to us that he has never found someone who has survived an avalanche burial, but his team continues to try because there is always that possibility. It was difficult for me to comprehend the level of dedication these volunteers had: I could not imagine risking my own life to try to save individuals or, sadly, to retrieve bodies. Talking with Atkins was incredibly inspiring, and we felt it was our job to showcase his team and create a video that would let their voices be heard.
In addition to our other research, the Alpine Rescue team invited my partner and I to attend a media day they were hosting. We didn’t know what to expect, and we were not prepared for the massive scope of the event. Most major news outlets in Colorado were there, and we had to find out how to compete with newspapers like the Denver Post or Fox News for the best shots. I ended up hiking with all my gear into a ravine to get a better shot of the staged rescue the team was hosting. I wasn’t the only new journalist taking part, and it was surreal to watch several others struggling to tote their expensive cameras into the ravine alongside me. As I was trekking through snow that was several feet deep, surrounded by shivering professional journalists, I really got a taste of the career I want to go into. Being able to attend this media day was truly an experience I will never forget and I am so grateful that the Alpine Rescue team and the journalism class gave me that opportunity.
After interviewing two different professionals, collecting B-roll (background footage), and researching the topic, my partner and I started the process of editing the video. It was a painstaking task, and we worked hard to edit every miniscule detail through constant review. Finally showing the finished product to RMBPS was a nerve-wracking experience, as journalists at PBS do not sugarcoat what they think of your video. But that was the point. We had signed up for the class in order to experience what it was like to be professional journalists, which means facing rejection if your piece does not hold up.
After recommending some final changes, Colorado Voices chose to feature our story. It was amazing to see a piece I had spent an entire quarter working on published on a PBS platform. The experience I gained from this class – as well as the opportunity to have my work published on RMPBS – is unmatched by any other class I took at the University of Denver. If you are a journalism major and you want to get real life experience, this is a class you cannot pass up.
One thing that particularly stood out to me throughout the entire process of creating our video was El Damanhoury's dedication to his students. While my partner and I were setting up the lighting and the background for our interview, we were paranoid we would mess something up and have to reshoot the entire clip. We called El Damanhoury, who walked us through every detail of the equipment checkup and made sure our background complemented the piece on video. El Damanhoury went above and beyond by also following us into the mountain to obtain drone shots that added a cinematic element to our piece. He spent countless hours looking at every detail in our video, making sure it was perfect. I have never had a class where the professor was so dedicated to the students and I could not imagine how we could have created this media piece without his help.
Access our students' stories on Colorado Voices: