Jan Thompson

Jan Thompson with actor Robert Wagner.

July 19, 2013

Jan Thompson helps transform students' lives

If you have never watched the student-produced “alt.news 26:46,” I hope you will when it returns to WSIU-TV this fall. As the students who produce the alternative news magazine like to say, it’s not your five o’clock news. I appreciate their hard work, talent, and creativity.

So do the industry’s professionals. In its 14-year history, “alt.news 26:46” – named for the 26 minutes, 46 seconds of stories that air during each episode – has won 30 Professional Regional Emmy Awards and six National College Television Awards. No other student-produced program in the country can match that success.

Jan Thompson, a professor in our Department of Radio, Television, and Digital Media, has served as the program’s advisor since 2001. She invests significant time and effort in helping the students learn and grow. In the process, she continues building a family among alt.news staffers, current and former students who stay in touch with her and each other, and who help each other.

"I believe in building families,” she said. “When they come to us out of high school, students are just entering the next stage of their lives. Parents worry, and students frequently aren’t talking to their parents. It has always been important to me to be there for the students.”

A 28-year broadcast veteran and three-time Emmy-award winning documentary producer and writer, Jan joined our faculty in 2000. She enjoys what she describes as the “freshness and optimism” of our students.

"I love seeing students start with very few skills and then see what they are able to do,” she said. “I want them to have the skill-set to compete in the industry, but more importantly I want them to develop self-confidence. It’s a transformation. For me, some of it involves being stern. They know when they’re in trouble with me, and that generally is because they are being lazy. Everyone has a talent. It’s a matter of finding that gold mine and tapping it.”

Jan’s students benefit from her dedication to her craft. She continues to earn significant recognition as she chronicles the plight of veterans held as Japanese prisoners of war during World War II. Jan’s late father was a POW who was captured on Corregidor in 1942. Over the past 22 years, she has traveled throughout the United States, Europe and Australia, collecting the stories of the men she affectionately calls “my guys.”

Her award-winning 2011 documentary, "The Tragedy of Bataan," featured accounts of more than 20 Bataan Death March survivors. Actor Alec Baldwin was the narrator.

Jan’s newest documentary, “Never The Same: The Prisoner of War Experience,” features narration by actress Loretta Swit, and the vocal talents of Baldwin, Ed Asner, Jamie Farr, Mike Farrell, Robert Loggia, Kathleen Turner, Robert Wagner, Sam Waterston, and others. The actors dramatize entries from diaries, along with poems and songs.

The documentary’s Los Angeles premiere is set for Aug. 15 -- the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in 1945 -- at The Museum of Tolerance, which is a Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum.

"The museum invited me to do this, because it is a film about human rights and survival,” she said.

Jan has much to share with her students and with the rest of us, especially passion and commitment.