FORT MILL — Among the swarm of media outlets from around the world expected to file reports from the Democratic National Convention this week, four Fort Mill teenagers are determined to provide the freshest coverage.
The Fort Mill High School students were invited by PBS to cover part of the convention in Charlotte on Wednesday. Their assignment is to report from the “Leaders of the 21st Century” breakfast, hosted by “PBS NewsHour” anchors Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff.
The teens also plan to file reports for The Buzz, Fort Mill High’s weekly student-produced TV show.
“We’re going to have to be aggressive,” Fort Mill senior Jillian Willard said. “We’re going to be in the same crowd as the BBC, NBC and CNN. We’re going to have to make sure we’re heard.”
The plan: “Be a little different,” senior Colin Quinn said. “We’re not like them. We’re high school students. If we go in being just like them, we won’t stand out.”
Fort Mill High is one of 41 schools across the country in PBS’s network of Student Reporting Labs. The program links students with local PBS stations and broadcast professionals who teach “journalism as a form of learning.”
The project, which includes a news and digital media curriculum as well as online resources, started in 2009 with six schools. It has grown more than six-fold to include several dozen campuses, including York Comprehensive High School.
Since joining, Fort Mill students in Karin McKemey’s television classes have produced segments for PBS about what keeps kids in school, the role fashion plays in politics and whether young people will turn out to vote this year.
It was The Buzz that first caught PBS’s attention.
McKemey’s two upper-level classes produce the weekly show, a mix of news and entertainment that plays like a light-hearted “60 Minutes” by and for high schoolers. Students report from around campus, recording video and audio with professional equipment. They add motion graphics, visual effects and edit digitally using Final Cut software.
McKemey, a former TV producer who worked on WSOC-TV’s evening news, runs the class like a broadcast newsroom.
“We have so much fun,” McKemey said. “It’s an absolute ball.”
McKemey was hired about five years ago to take over Fort Mill High’s audio-visual course. She moved the emphasis away from fictional, dramatic productions to focus more on journalism. She teaches students to strike a balance between entertainment and information.
“I’m trying to teach them there’s a difference between iReporters and journalists,” she said.
One of her biggest challenges is teaching journalism ethics to a generation raised on reality TV and the Web’s constant stream of opinion pieces.
“They’re almost unable to discern which is opinion and which is a reliable source,” McKemey said.
To bring that home, she films the class for a while, then edits the footage in a way that makes it look like there are conflicts and drama.
Students complain that it’s inaccurate.
“I’m like, ‘Hello, that’s what you see every day,’ ” McKemey said.
McKemey’s students have won awards for their projects, including first place in PBS’s first March Media Madness competition.
The class has sparked students’ interest in pursuing broadcast careers.
“We are able to do new things every week,” Quinn said. “That is what journalism is.”
“It excites me,” said senior Victoria Richardson, who’s covering the convention and hopes to become a TV producer. “It’s something I have a passion for.”
Fort Mill High is the only Reporting Lab school covering the convention. Lakewood High in St. Petersburg, Fla., covered the Republican National Convention in Tampa last week.
PBS chose Fort Mill because of its proximity to Charlotte and the program’s reputation.
McKemey “has such a great program, and we were confident in their ability,” said Leah Clapman, a PBS managing editor for education.
The students are thrilled.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see how our government works, and how one party comes together to rally,” said Fort Mill senior Ryan Morrison.
“We’re very honored to have the opportunity to do this,” Willard said. “It’s incredible.”
See for yourself
• Fort Mill High School students produce a weekly TV show called The Buzz. Watch episodes at schsl.tv/fortmill.
• They also produce segments for PBS NewsHour through a program called Student Reporting Labs.
• Watch their reports at studentreportinglabs.com.
Shawn Cetrone 803-329-4072