NBC Teaches TV Tyros to Take Over Local News

“We are planning to expand the program both overseas and domestically,” Jon Banner, the executive producer of ABC’s World News With Charles Gibson, told The Observer. “This model has worked quite well for us, and it’s something we would like to replicate.”

At their flagship station in New York, WNBC-4, NBC executives have dismantled the traditional newsroom (and much of its traditional news staff) to make room for a digital “content center,” which will eventually employ a pack of digital “content producers.”

Recently, the old-school broadcasters at NBC have grown accustomed to the sight of the young DJ students toting laptops around 30 Rock and soaking up their institutional knowledge. On election night, Ms. Porges took all of her students on a field trip to the NBC News studios. And, every Tuesday, her second-semester students pair up, head over to 30 Rock and spend the day shadowing an employee at NBC News or MSNBC. Does that sound menacing?

Ms. Porges said that while the vast majority of NBC News veterans have been incredibly hospitable toward her students, some hard feelings are perhaps inevitable, given the recent widespread personnel cuts at NBC News, MSNBC and WNBC-4.

“We’re asking people to help us who, in some cases, feel we’re training people to take their jobs,” said Ms. Porges. “One thing that concerns me about the change in the business is, can we really train people to do all these jobs and have the quality not be affected? And the answer is no.”

The important thing was not to sacrifice the quality of the journalism.

“Where we should not be compromising is on researching, writing and telling a story and being fair and being objective,” she said.

“I can’t promise jobs to anybody,” she said. “But we would like to reap the benefit of what we’ve taught them. So we’d like to place them in NBC in some format. Our affiliates have expressed to us, ‘Please let us know when you have students who have completed the course. They are exactly what we are looking for.’”

 

Three days after Mr. O’Rourke’s presentation, Mac Bishop, the 32-year-old student with a background in print, spent several hours in a voice-training class, worked on a package about small businesses coping with the economic downturn and took an editing class.

He had been accepted to law school when he decided to enroll in the program, to give journalism one more chance. When he started the program back in January, he hadn’t known the first thing about cameras. Now, just six weeks later, he felt confident (“maybe overconfident” he joked) that he could shoot and produce a broadcast-quality newscast.

Not long ago, Mara Schiavocampo, a young, go-getter correspondent for NBC’s Nightly News, visited Mr. Bishop’s class. Ms. Schiavocampo told the students about how years earlier, she had ditched the traditional slow-moving career path in broadcast news, bought a digital camera, traveled overseas, shot some stories, returned to the states and landed a great job, becoming NBC News’ first ever “digital correspondent.” Along the way, she had become the network’s poster child for the future of TV news.

Mr. Bishop now wondered if he really needed a second semester of school. For less than the cost of tuition, Mr. Bishop estimated, he could buy his own digital equipment—including an HD camera—and start shooting stories on his own.

The idea was appealing. Then again, if he stuck around, he might have more time to network with the NBC News folks and maybe land a job.

But who knows? In the modern media business, nothing seemed certain. Maybe someday he would work for CNN or Al Jazeera or the BBC. Or maybe he would take his new technical skills and go to work for a “newspaper.”

Recently, Mr. Bishop attended a journalism forum during which managers at the New York Times and Washington Post video units had spoken of the future importance of the same tools he was now learning. If you compared the Web sites for CNN and The Washington Post, with every passing day, they seemed to look more alike.

“To me, it’s not really about becoming a one-man band for broadcast journalism,” said Mr. Bishop on Monday night. “It’s really just about surviving as a journalist in the future.”

fgillette@observer.com