Students learn hands-on at KENW

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers

PORTALES — It’s 3:15 p.m. on Monday, and it’s just like any other Monday in the newsroom for News 3 New Mexico at the KENW television station in Portales.

Jennifer Best has a concern for news director John Kirby. The Eastern New Mexico University senior is typing a story on allergy season and she wonders if “decongestants” is the easiest word to pronounce for the on-air anchor that day. Kirby suggests the longer but more easily pronounced “over-the-counter medications.”

It’s a small ordeal for Kirby and the student staff of the four-days-a-week news broadcast, but maybe the biggest of the day.

“I expect an awful lot of these kids and they have delivered,” said Kirby. “The kids who have been here for a year don’t need me around anymore — they are that good — and now I just help them with the little things.”

Kirby said his job, to “make sure we get on the air every day with a first-rate news product,” has gotten easier and easier over the two years he has worked as the News 3 New Mexico news director and as a communications instructor at ENMU.

“This is the practical application of what they learn in the classroom,” Kirby said. “Without it, the classroom work is worthless. This and the classroom work must complement each other.”

While they’re working at the station, the students can end up doing several duties, from camera work to graphics to producing to being an on-air anchor. When they’re not on the air, anchors usually act in some other capacity. Best, who usually anchors on Tuesdays and Thursdays, reports on Monday.

“Every day when I’m reporting, either I prepare a story on my own or I work with the director and producer on a story,” Best said. “It’s a neat feeling when it’s your story (on the air) and you put it together.”

Chris Sturgess is one of the people responsible for making sure those stories get on the air. The ENMU senior is working as a director today.

“We get the rundown from the producer of how the show’s going to go,” said Sturgess, who will be doing Thursday’s sports segment. “The director tries to make sure that’s what happens.”

That means making sure each script is into a teleprompter, in the correct order, for anchors to read through while on camera. Anchors also have hard copies of their scripts and spend as much time as possible before the newscast practicing their scripts in case of a teleprompter error.

Sturgess estimated that each day will include 25-30 stories, all fit into a 30-minute time slot.

“If one of our reporters does a package it may be longer,” Sturgess said, “but most stories top out at 30 seconds.”

Kirby estimates that many of his students put in 20-30 hours a week on top of a full class schedule.

Without it, though, the students doubt they’d be getting a full education. They view the news as a job, but also as a method to help them get a job in the industry.

“This helps because the classwork will never give you the hands-on experience that TV does,” Best said. “It will never teach you what it’s like to make the calls and … go out with a camera and log your tape and pick which sound bites to use.”

Senior Kris Nation agreed with Best’s sentiments. His shifts as a weather anchor allow him some time to help out the rest of the crew with many small things, and he feels that’s given him a well-rounded experience. Nation, a senior, said he’s been on a few interviews already and interviewers have been surprised with how much practical knowledge he already has.

“Without news,” Nation said, “the degree would be kind of worthless because of the real-world experience.”