The spotlight glowed on MSU's J-School recently as FOX 17 of Grand Rapids featured the broadcast program's students and faculty for its National News Literacy Week coverage.
The Scripps-owned TV station in West Michigan featured two live morning shots and two news packages that aired during the week and on multiple newscasts.
J-School Professor Bob Gould spoke about the importance of accuracy in each student's stories.
"We try and make sure students are good consumers of news and responsible creators of news," Gould said. "We want to make sure students know to be skeptical of everything. Everything they watch, everything they read, has to be checked. It is important that we get it right. We have to get it right."
Gould said teaching the value of journalism is even more essential during such a politically polarized time.
"Good storytelling is critical. We want them to know that journalism matters. It's an important job and it's a hard job because it is an awesome responsibility," Gould said. "We want to make sure they are excited about it even in a time when they get so much scrutiny."
J-School Senior Joe Freihofer was interviewed live on one of the morning shows. He praised the J-School faculty in helping to prepare him for the work world, particularly through the challenges of COVID-19.
"I came to Michjgan State and really fell in love with storytelling," Freihofer said. "Going out into the community and speaking with local business owners and families. That's something I have really come to value since the pandemic hit and our job as journalists of storytelling and taking people there and making them care."
Freihofer also spoke about a bedrock principle of the broadcast program: "It's always important to be correct, not just be first."
Gould said when J-School professors teach the importance of credibility and getting reliable sources, they have always preached that students must always fact-check everything and find to multiple sources confirming what they have learned.
"We want to make them good storytellers, but we also want them to understand journalism matters, and why it's important to the democracy." Gould said. "We aren't here to just be a face on television. Give a voice to the voiceless and hold the powerful accountable."
Freihofer credited MSU's program for promoting the importance of diversity and making that value a part of the curriculum.
"It's something Michigan State has done a fantastic job of, ever since we were really young."
J-School senior Julian Stainback spoke about how rewarding it has been to learn new skills during the pandemic.
"It's a really good feeling to learn new stuff and not just say 'Oh, we can't be in the studio, we're not going to produce a show'," Stainback said. "We actually sat down and talked about ways we can do a show without the professional stuff."
Broadcast Engineer Brian Kusch explained how the Focal Point broadcasts are being produced remotely.
"In a normal Focal Point broadcast there might be eight or 10 people in the control room. We had to get rid of that," Kusch said. "We set up some mini-producer areas in other rooms nearby so it would be one student per room and it got the control room people down to two. We moved the teleprompter function out into the studio which is a much larger room."
Stainback said these pandemic-induced production changes have enabled Focal Point to set up live shots not only from East Lansing but from around the state. Kusch believes this has taught students valuable lessons.
"I think they saw how it was happening out in the real world," Kusch said. "They see that people were reporting from home, they were using Skype and Zoom and Teams, and all of a sudden that became acceptable."
Freihofer expressed how proud the Focal Point team is of never missing a scheduled broadcast even as COVID-19 numbers continued to climb.
"We stayed safe and sanitary and continued to tell the stories that have impact."
By Richard Epps
Follow these links to view all of Fox 17's coverage: