February 28, 2007

River Region Evening Edition wins top honor

by Pete Rosenbery

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CARBONDALE, Ill. — Southern Illinois University Carbondale's broadcast journalism program is continuing its tradition of award-winning hard work.

The Broadcast Education Association judged WSIU-TV 8's River Region Evening Edition newscast the "Best Newscast" in its national competition. In addition, two students received second- and third-place awards in their respective categories.

The Dec. 6, 2006, news broadcast was judged "Best Newscast," finishing ahead of Eastern Illinois University and Elon University. In addition, senior Max Orenstein finished second in best TV feature for "Wheels for Life," a story about a legally blind cyclist, and senior Julie P. Koch was third in best hard news reporting for her piece, "Housing Headaches."

WSIU will receive its awards during the Broadcast Education Association's annual convention, April 18-21, in Las Vegas. The BEA is comprised of universities with broadcasting, radio and television journalism programs throughout the country, and competition includes Arizona State, Brigham Young University, Penn State University, the University of Alabama, and the University of Montana.

The River Region Evening Edition airs on WSIU-TV Monday through Thursday at 5 p.m. There is also a three-minute update at 10:57 p.m. those days. A listing of current stories is available at http://www.siude.com/riverregion/

The Department of Radio & Television is in SIUC's College of Mass Communication and Media Arts.

Dean Manjunath Pendakur noted the hard work that goes into each newscast by students and faculty.

"There are some 35 students who volunteer to be involved in the RREE and they work very hard with faculty and staff to create a half-hour newscast that is actually aired on our PBS stations," he said. "This is a very challenging proposition and a commitment to community service because producing a live television show is enormously difficult. I am very proud of the students and our faculty for what they do on a daily basis, and on top of that they bagged this national award. This achievement clearly shows that SIUC has the very best applied undergraduate program in broadcast journalism, not just in the state of Illinois but in the entire country."

News Director Jim Gee said the award-winning newscast — which featured three investigative stories — is typical of the work being produced. Gee, along with instructor Eileen C. Waldron and lecturer Joey Helleny, both faculty advisers, reviewed newscasts each week and vetted them during the course of several weeks.

"It was a hard choice to figure out which one to send in," Gee said. "This newscast — it's not just a single, extraordinary newscast — I think, is typical of the work that we did at the end of the semester. And I think we are ahead of the curve this semester, too. We've had some pretty solid shows."

An investigative reporting class Waldron began last semester had a "big impact on the quality of journalism that we did for our newscasts," Gee said.

The award-winning newscast led with an investigative story by reporter Gina L. Ford, a graduate student in Mass Communication and Media Arts from Chicago, on a local store's check-cashing policies that asked clerks to write down the race and gender of the person writing a check. Another investigative piece by anchor-reporter Corenna R. Dolce, a sophomore from Carterville, looked at sexual abuse in local nursing homes, and senior Christa L. Stierwalt of Monticello provided a follow-up report on difficulties in obtaining a landlord's reported code violations by interviewing Carbondale mayoral candidates about the issue.

Other newscast members included weather reporter Kalee A. Dionne, a senior from Herscher; show producer Ethan S. Fife, a senior from Harrisburg; assistant news director Rachel L. Gartner, a graduate student in Mass Communication and Media Arts, from Christopher; show director John C. Savage, a graduate student in Mass Communication and Media Arts, from Aurora; anchor-reporter Julie A. Smallheer, a senior from O'Fallon; and sports anchor Andrew W. Waterman, a junior, from Monmouth,

Stierwalt's story was a "good example of not letting a story go … keeping the story alive and continuing the coverage," Waldron said. The investigative reporting class is helping students learn about public records and how to obtain them, Waldron said.

Koch, a senior from Elmhurst who graduates in May, said that her award is a "huge honor and it's humbling," she said. "I'm thankful to everyone who helped me out. I learned a lot – not only with the class, but also in reporting on the piece."

Orenstein, a senior from Minneapolis, Minn., who graduates in December, said he was pleased with how the story turned out and also is grateful for the recognition.

The awards show the results of the college and department investing more into the program by bringing aboard a full-time news director last fall, and adding the investigative reporting class, which "really did add a lot to our curriculum," Helleny said

"It shows that the college is committed to improving what already was a good product, and we continue to look for more ways to keep our curriculum and our newscasts on the cutting edge of what is happening," Helleny said.

It is also a reflection that the department "is getting good students and that they are learning a lot here," Helleny said.

The goal is producing journalists who think responsibly, Gee said.

"We want to give them the tools to where they can not only tell stories responsibly, but they can make responsible decisions about what is news; what isn't news," he said. "We want them to know why we do things the way we do, just not what to do — which is a focus of the entire department."

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Caption: Nationally recognized news broadcast team — Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s WSIU-TV 8 River Region Evening Edition news team will receive the “Best Newscast” award from the Broadcast Education Association in April. The award is for the Dec. 6, 2006, news broadcast. Members of that broadcast are: (seated, left to right) sports anchor Andrew W. Waterman, a junior, from Monmouth; anchor-reporter Julie A. Smallheer, a senior from O’Fallon; Corenna R. Dolce, a sophomore from Carterville, and weather reporter Kalee A. Dionne, a senior from Herscher; (standing, left to right) assistant news director Rachel L. Gartner, a graduate student in Mass Communication and Media Arts, from Christopher; show director John C. Savage, a graduate student in Mass Communication and Media Arts, from Aurora; and Ethan S. Fife, a senior from Harrisburg.

Photo by Jeff Garner

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Caption 2: Award-winning broadcast journalist — Southern Illinois University Carbondale student Julie P. Koch, a senior majoring in Radio-Television from Elmhurst, will receive a third-place award from the Broadcast Education Association for her story, “Housing Headaches.” Koch graduates in May. SIUC’s WSIU-TV 8 River Region Evening Edition news team will also receive “Best Newscast” award from the national organization in April for its Dec. 6, 2006 news broadcast.

Photo by Jeff Garner

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Caption 3: Earning a prestigious honor — Southern Illinois University Carbondale student Max L. Orenstein earned a second-place award for best TV feature from the Broadcast Education Association for his story, “Wheels for Life,” a story about a legally blind cyclist. Orenstein, a senior majoring in Radio-Television from Minneapolis, Minn., graduates in December. SIUC’s WSIU-TV 8 River Region Evening Edition news team will also receive “Best Newscast” award from the national organization in April for its Dec. 6, 2006 news broadcast.

Photo by Jeff Garner