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Sustaining Democracy in a Digital Age

A Blog from New America's Media Policy Initiative

When student reporters seek broadcaster transparency, it is surprising what they find

Published:  April 27, 2012

Our work at the Media Policy Initiative has been in support of both broadcaster transparency and advancing the idea that journalism schools can be news producers, so we couldn’t have been happier when the two ideas intersected in a piece produced by Kent State University undergraduate and graduate students for an assignment in Professor Idsvoog’s broadcast reporting class. Its honest and straightforward reporting of the barriers the students faced when trying to film themselves collecting records that are required to be made public by statute is compelling. The report makes the case for placing this material online better than many FCC comments do.

I followed up with the students by email. Jake Corcoran evinced surprise that the process was so difficult, since he expected that “of all the organizations to ask for public records, a TV station would be one to fully cooperate,” he wrote to me, and he “came to the discovery that what you see on air at television stations (the trustworthiness of the anchors and reporters) does not translate into the front office and the rest of the employees at a station.”
Matt Jarchow wrote, “These are television stations that seek public records every day. Wouldn't helping student journalists access theirs be in their best interest?”
Megan Moore-Closser, who produced the piece, recounted, “When we were late to Channel 5 we were yelled at… and were told that they were a business and we needed to keep our appointment. We called ahead the week before and were told an appointment was not necessary.”  She followed up in the same email to me that “it was alarming to see that the only campaigns who were funding ads were Obama for America and Romney for President. Basically, the candidates with big pocketbooks had political ad spots at each of the stations. There weren't any ad buys for Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, or Ron Paul. I think that is all the more reason why these ads need to be put online.”
As Shanice Dunning wrote, in a more understated fashion than her colleagues, “The FCC assignment was an eye opening and worthwhile experience.” 
The FCC has a chance to shed a little light on these ad buys without the need for citizens to spend 50 cents per copy, or as Megan wrote to me, “The public has to deal with being bombarded by these political ads all election season. They should have the right to at least know who is funding them.”
We hope the FCC doesn’t waver and that these broadcasting students don’t lose their nerve. Mike Wallace may be gone but these students appear to want to fill his shoes. Moreover, Prof. Idsvoog proved that trainee reporters can play a meaningful role in covering their local communities. We look forward to seeing more reports from Kent State and elsewhere.
Note: Post updated to accurately identify student roles in the piece.

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