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A 60-minute semester: Students in '60 Minutes' master class receiving experiential education

Sometimes an idea will form and all of the pieces will fit together perfectly. And according to associate professor of communications Rich Landesberg, one of his ideas fell into place as he began creating the "60 Minutes" Master Class that’s being offered this spring semester.

Students in the '60 Minutes' Master Class spent their spring break in New York touring news organizations and meeting with producers and on-air talent.

“It was one of those odd things where we batted around ideas with the senior executive producer of ‘60 Minutes’ and with dean of the School of Communications Paul Parsons,” Landesberg said. “We thought about how to create a class that takes advantage of our ‘60 Minutes’ relationship that students couldn’t get in any other class or at any other university, and it all just fell into place.”

The senior executive producer, Michael Radutzky, is on the School of Communications National Advisory Board and has a daughter who attends Elon. The university has also had several students intern at “60 Minutes.”

Three students who previously interned at “60 Minutes” are currently enrolled in the class, which is structured like workshop where students got a lot of experience creating a product. The class also participates in question-and-answer sessions over Skype with professionals throughout the semester.

“I've learned a lot about journalism from the Skype sessions, but a lot about multimedia's role in news and about career paths in this industry,” said junior Sam Baranowski. “We're lucky to have video chatted with people working in all aspects of the ‘60 Minutes’ machine.”

The knowledge that has been gained during these Skype sessions is being put to use in the process of creating their own shows.

“We are calling our show “30 Minutes” because we hope it is half as good as the real show,” Landesberg said.

During spring break, Landesberg took most of the class to New York, where students met with on-air talent and producers at “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams,” CNN, FoxNews, CBS News and “60 Minutes,” where they spent two days.

“It was great to shake hands with people we’ve only talked to on Skype,” Landesberg said. “Talk about making the classroom really come alive. We got to see the show get put together and then we get to apply that knowledge to the creation of our own show.”

The class is a small one, with only 10 students, all of whom had to apply in order to enroll.

It has been challenging for students because everyone has had to leave their comfort zone, including junior Olivia Dubendorf, who’s a Media Arts & Entertainment major interested in producing documentaries.

“Blending documentary and hard news was challenging at first, but now it's become a blessing,” said junior Olivia Dubendorf. “We get to tell beautiful stories in a cinematic fashion. It's definitely more investigative and briefer than the documentaries I'm used to making, but it's getting easier. I think that, in the future, this class will have served me incredibly well."

There are five students with a background in news and five students with a background in production. Students who are used to making 30-minute documentaries are learning to shorten their production time and students who are used to making two-minute news segments are figuring out how to increase their production times.

“It's been so great having a mix of journalism and broadcast students, so I not only work on my reporting, but learn so much from talented shooters about the aesthetic side of broadcast news,” Baranowski said. “That's not something I've ever been taught before. This class has to continue in the future. It's not just about “60 Minutes”—it’s about multi-tasking many stories at once, working all the roles from producing to reporting and developing characters and plot lines more than a quick one-minute news package.”

Students are broken up in to teams during the class to work on different segments for their shows. Because the students have different production experiences, teams are created to match different skill sets together. Students are normally split up so there is a student focused on cinema with a student focused on broadcast news.

“When you take the students with a great mind for hard news and students who have a great mind for aesthetics what you produce, we hope, is art,” Landesberg said.

-- by Rebecca Smith, '12

Colin Donohue,
4/4/2011 8:06 PM