Journalism students at Florida International University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication have been covering issues related to sea level rise in South Florida for the past year as part of a project funded by the Online News Association. A web series of their work will appear on WPBT2’s web channel this month. (Photo by Tosha Aguirre)
By Pattrik Simmons
Kate MacMillin’s Multimedia Production I and Writing for TV students were in for a treat last semester when, instead of following the typical curriculum for these classes, they were told they would be producing mini-documentaries about sea level rise issues affecting South Florida.
Originally, the students’ mini-documentaries, some of them 3- to 5-minutes long, were produced as part the class requirement. Instead, most of them will now be featured as part of a 30-minute documentary that will air in prime time in April on WPBT2 (Ch. 2), the local PBS affiliate. They will also be uploaded to the channel’s YouTube account as a special series, “Sea Level Rise Impact: An FIU/SJMC Series,” in mid-February.
MacMillin, a veteran TV producer and assistant professor at the SJMC, showed WPBT2’s Max Duke, vice president of content and community partnerships, some of the mini-documentaries. He was so impressed by the students’ work that he requested they become a half-hour documentary that will air on the channel, instead of just opting for the upload-only option for each mini-documentary.
“The work the students produced was very well done, which makes it even easier to create a 30-minute documentary for air,” said Duke. “I’m excited by the project because we get to partner with FIU to talk about an important issue, and we have a chance to help the students learn how to be great storytellers.”
Some of the students in the two classes had never before picked up a camera. And although some were broadcast media or journalism majors, others were PR or advertising students.
“I took 33 students from my two classes and created a production company, and some of them had never done research before,” MacMillin said. “I had hopes for a WPBT collaboration, but starting out, I was trying to be realistic.”
The catalyst for this project was a $35,000 grant from the 2014-2015 Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education, sponsored by the Online News Association, that was awarded to MacMillin and SJMC professors Robert E. Gutsche, Jr., Susan Jacobson, and Juliet Pinto. One of the requirements of the sea level rise-focused grant is to have students produce work regarding the different aspects of sea level rise and its effects in South Florida.
“I’m thrilled to see Prof. MacMillin’s classes get the recognition their work deserves. It’s an honor to have work done by FIU-SJMC students and faculty shown during a premier slot on WPBT2’s schedule,” said Raul Reis, Dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “The quality of the work they produced, together with the urgency of the issue at hand, makes this series of docs a required viewing — and well deserving of a large audience.”
Many of the student-produced mini-documentaries covered hardcore, serious topics, such as the effects of sea level rise on the real estate industry in the Keys, the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in Fort Lauderdale, and the effects of sea level rise on the economy of Alton Road in Miami Beach. Several students also had the opportunity to interview community leaders, including clerk of courts Harvey Ruvin, along with officials from the Everglades.
SJMC student James Profetto was enrolled in MacMillin’s Multimedia Production I class, and his group produced a mini-documentary about the effects of sea level rise on the Everglades National Park.
“The Everglades was no small task. Being able to explore and find our way through the mosquito-filled areas of the national park was exhilarating, albeit a tad annoying with each bug that decided to bite us,” said Profetto, a senior broadcast journalism major.
Abel Fernandez, a TV production major who’s had previous experience reporting on sea level rise in South Florida, is producing the 30-minute documentary.
“This is an issue of the utmost importance for the entire South Florida community, and I think it’s our responsibility as aware journalists to engage the public into this matter by providing them evidence of what’s happening,” said Fernandez.
The documentary is being considered as a follow-up — or Part 2 — to MacMillin and Pinto’s award-winning documentary,“South Florida’s Rising Seas,” which premiered on WPBT2 in January 2014.