Sign The Guestbook
View The Guestbook
Archived Guestbook
Submit An Article
Staff List
Privacy Policy


APTRA Academy
By Nancy LeMay
APTRA Academy Mentor

Whenever you do anything for the first time, you naturally have nothing to compare the experience with. So it was with last fall's first APTRA Academy; not only was it the very first Academy, but it was unique both in what it attempted and what it accomplished.

Hal Eisner's concept was straightforward: to give people the opportunity to 'try on' the experience of putting together a news story from beginning to end, in a real life, in-the-field workshop. This seemingly simple idea is really rather radical: it takes students, (as well as pros contemplating a move into major market TV), removes them from the lab atmosphere of the classroom and puts them through the entire story cycle in real time.

The faculty created a story for the students to report: a brush fire which was being fought in Malibu Canyon. We had all the details of the firefighting effort, we had victims for the reporters to interview (including my husband, Harry, and myself). We had crews, live trucks, the LA Fire Department's PIO, LA reporters and producers, great file footage of local brush fires being fought, we had graphics. We had a great success.

What struck me about this experience is how quickly it came to feel like the real thing. The students, who ranged from high school age to folks in their 30's, were immersed from the moment they arrived at Cottontail Ranch in the motion and urgency of a developing story. The force of 'deadline' was real; all of the faculty were news veterans for whom getting to air is the daily job. So 'what if' gave way quickly to the actual crafting of the story. A briefing from the PIO, then go out and report.

When Harry and I were pressed into service to portray a fire 'victims', we got another perspective on how real this all became. As we were being interviewed by the students, telling each of them our stories, it became clear how completely 'in the moment' they all were. The professional reporters were standing by to offer tips of the "don't forget to...' variety; their shooters were pointing out the best camera angles, suggesting establishing shots, and offering 'do's and don'ts' of their own. And what we heard over and over again from the professional mentors was "be compassionate... remember, these folks have lost their homes, their belongings...". The students listened, sincerely interested in the real-life insights. Writing, editing, standups, and unscheduled cut-ins were all done, too, as the workshop progressed.

A map of the area, and a full-screen showing the major details of the fire had been made and were available on tape; I explained why graphics are important to a story like this, and how to order them. The graphics were then cut into the pieces by the editors, using Beta and DVC Pro decks. The hubbub, confusion, shouted questions and answers, the glancing at watches, the endless inquiry of the newsroom were all there, recreated in a rec. center nestled in a quiet little canyon belonging to Pepperdine University. All of this worked for several important reasons. To begin with, professionals said "yes, this is a good idea", and provided the time, the energy and the gear required to do it.

The concept itself was something fresh and new. Careful planning and coordination on the part of the Academy's organizers helped to make the 'story' seem real. But just as important, students let their imaginations loose and put themselves into the story. Some discovered they were comfortable in front of the camera, and others were amazed how their hearts pounded when they went 'live' with breaking news. They knew they had to get it right; it was great to watch the students get these important lessons.

The Second APTRA Academy this Fall will offer the chance for students to find out what it really is like to be in the news business. Plans are to make it bigger and better than last year, but it will again be, clearly, a really special experience for everyone. It was a gratifying and enjoyable experience for my husband and myself; I suggest you take the opportunity to join us this Fall.

NANCY LeMAY is a freelance graphic designer currently working for KNBC in Burbank. She has worked for 14 years as a broadcast designer and art director in New York and in Los Angeles. Her resume includes an alphabet soup of corporate and academic initials. She has won five LA Area Emmys, three awards from The Broadcast Designer's Association and four awards from The Associated Press. Her work can be seen in the book "White Graphics", published by Rockport Publishers. She is a member of the Television Academy in Los Angeles, and can be reached online at this address