Students in instructor Susan Edens’ Backpack Journalism class at University of the Ozarks are gaining real-world video production experience this semester thanks to a collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service.
The Radio-Television-Video (RTV) students are working on an eight-part video mini-series titled, “Bridging the Past and Future: The Mulberry,” that officials with the Ouachita & Ozark-St. Francis National Forests plan to use on their website and in other media outlets, both regionally and nationally, to promote the Mulberry River and surrounding area.
The project is in conjunction with the recent establishment of the Mulberry River Interpretive Driving Tour by the forest service and several other state and federal agencies. The tour follows Highway 215 as it parallels the river through Franklin and Johnson counties.
The students have been working with forest service officials on the video series most of the semester and the project is in its final stages. The students hope to have it completed by early January.
“We’ve been extremely impressed with the students and very pleased with how the project is turning out,” said C.J. Norvell, a public affairs specialist with the forest service. “The thing that has impressed me the most is that the students not only get the nuts and bolts of the project, but they are truly getting the intent of what we want. They’re not just out there shooting video, they’ve keyed in on what we’re trying to accomplish and they are bringing some great ideas and concepts to the project.”
Each of the videos are approximately four minutes long and cover a variety of topics, ranging from recreational opportunities in the area, to jobs and careers in the forest service, to historic communities in the Mulberry region, to ecosystem management. The students are given the latitude to put their own creative touch on their productions.
“We really threw some complex concepts at them, such as ecosystem management, and let them come up with some of their own ideas and angles, and they’ve done a wonderful job,” said Dr. Mary Brennan, an archeologist with the Ouachita & Ozark-St. Francis National Forests. “They’ve really been able to incorporate a fresh, younger perspective into the videos, and that’s exactly the age demographics that we want to reach.”
Backpack journalism is an emerging form of journalism that requires a journalist to be a reporter, photographer, and videographer, as well as an editor and producer of stories. Edens, director of broadcasting, said the forest service project is an ideal scenario for her students.
“This class develops existing reporting and technical skills and focuses on feature-type, long-form stories that are character-driven and presented in a mini-documentary style,” Edens said. “These are the type of projects that students will be working on when they graduate, so it’s ideal training. I am very proud to be part of a multi-media production program that has external clients on a state and national level. We continue to work on improving the quality of our product, while at the same time, asking the provocative question every innovative organization should constantly ask… ‘What if?’”
Sophomore RTV major David Estrada said the project has helped students understand better what to expect after they graduate.
“It’s a great opportunity for the RTV students to get the experience of a real-work environment,” he said. “Working for somebody else, in this case the forest service, has challenged our skills and forced us to shape our work based on the needs of this government agency.”
Brennan said the video project will be an important component of the grand opening of the Mulberry River Interpretive Driving Trail in Spring 2015.
“We’ve been talking about wanting to do videos for a year or more, but we didn’t have anyone on our staff with those skills,” Brennan said. “When we found out that this partnership with the University might be a possibility, we got very excited. We’re getting something we really need and the students are getting great experience. The stars aligned for us and we’ve been very pleased with how it has turned out.”
Estrada said he has relished playing a role in chronicling the rich history of the Mulberry River region.
“This project is an opportunity for the communities along the Mulberry River to tell their stories nationwide,” he said. “We have been able to work on documentaries about different places like cemeteries, stores, and the forest itself. Having those stories documented means a lot to the people in this area. That makes the project even more challenging, but also more rewarding.”