September 27, 2020

BY RYAN BOWMAN

Since 1968, Conestoga College’s newspaper, Spoke, has been a cornerstone of the school’s journalism program. Now, nearly half a century later, the college is bolstering its brand with the launch of Spoke TV.

Spoke TV is a new component of the journalism broadcast program for students in their final year. The weekly webcast, which will begin airing Oct. 10, will consist of six 90-second news packages produced entirely by the students. The live-to-tape broadcast will be recorded on Tuesdays and uploaded to www.spokeonline.com within 24 hours.

Rachelle Cooper, who has been teaching in Conestoga’s School of Media and Design since 2007, pitched the idea of the webcast to journalism co-ordinator Larry Cornies last spring.

“I always thought the broadcast journalism students were at a bit of a disadvantage,” Cooper said, comparing them to their print program counterparts.

According to Cooper, the opportunity to work on the school newspaper gives the college’s journalism print students not only valuable industry experience, but also a solid portfolio of clippings to present to potential employers. Broadcast students, on the other hand, graduated with lots of radio experience but very little in television.

Cornies agreed, adding that the pressures of working in a newsroom environment better prepares students for careers upon graduation.

“Our journalism broadcast students will get to understand more fully what it means to identify with an audience, work with a producer in tailoring stories for that audience, delivering their product to industry standards, then being responsive to the audience and accountable for their work.”

While other colleges across Ontario have adopted a television component into their journalism programs, Cooper said none are of the quality she envisions for Conestoga.

“A lot of colleges have news shows, but the brand is not very established from year to year. In my research, I couldn’t really find a program of the quality I’m trying to strive for.”

Cooper, who worked as a producer for Canada AM and CTV National News, said she spent much of the summer designing the program. Her first goal as executive producer of Spoke TV is to establish a tone and an image for the newscast.

“The target audience is college students, so we want stories that will appeal to their demographic,” she said. “I don’t want it to be a stuffy newscast, wearing suits and acting formal. I want it to appeal to our demographic so I think the stories will be more fun, the language will be less formal and it will appeal to students.”

The program is structured in a way that will allow students to gain experience in a multitude of roles, including anchor, reporter, videographer, assignment editor, news director, technical producer and online producer. In addition to covering three beats each, the students will rotate positions every week. To give them as real a work experience as possible, the program will also include writing and social media components.

“Eventually they’ll have to tweet about each of their stories,” Cooper said. “I also want them to write small synopses about their stories for the website. Those are both things broadcast journalists are expected to do. You can’t just shoot and edit to tell a story, you’ve got to write about it as well.”

Mike Szeles, a second-year broadcast journalism student, said he is looking forward to taking ownership of the product his class puts online.

“The fact that we really get to make our own newscasts, start to finish, is exciting. We get to play all the different roles and do it all.”

As for the role he’s most excited about?

“Anchor would be fun,” Szeles said, “but I think I’m looking most forward to being news director. I’m a perfectionist and I think I can coax people to do what needs to be done.”

One of the issues in deciding whether or not to launch Spoke TV was whether it could potentially create competition with the print students and their weekly newspaper.

“The answer, of course, is no,” said Cooper. “We have the same mandate, which is to inform the college community about what’s going on in the college. It’s all for the greater good of the college.”

Cornies said the convergence between the print and broadcast programs will both build the Spoke brand and strengthen the online presence of the program as a whole.

“It also reinforces the notion among our students that, in today’s journalistic environment, all journalists must learn to deliver stories using a variety of different tools and techniques,” he added.

As far as objectives for the program go, Cooper expects the experience will give her students a leg up on graduates from other colleges.

“Your portfolio now is so important. It’s what speaks for you,” she said. “If you can say, ‘I was a videographer for Spoke TV’ as opposed to ‘I did stories for my news production class,’ it’s completely different.”

Szeles said there is some pressure being one of Spoke TV’s guinea pigs, but it’s an experience he hopes to embrace rather than fear.

“Hopefully being the first guys doing it we don’t sink the ship before it sets sail,” he said. “I would really like to knock it out of the park and set a hurdle for next year’s class to follow.”