Hey, can you make me a free video?
Gather a room full of student media advisors together and sooner or later the topic of “value” comes up. From what we teach to how we teach it, it seems many inside and outside of education do not consider media a discipline equal to similar pedagogies with practical experience like music, nursing, education and social work, just to name a few.
In my experience both as a K12 and higher education media educator and advisor, the value of what we teach students, the unique instruction and the accompanying practical experience as an academic pursuit are largely undervalued if not outright overlooked as “not academic enough,” especially at the higher education level.
Yet, all of my fellow media advisors have fielded phone calls like this:
Adviser: “Hello…” [Insert name of media department and advisor name.]
Caller: “Hello, my name is [insert name of colleague, administrator, community member, local business owner]. The reason for my call is I have a really cool [insert name of event/project] in a couple of days and was hoping one of your students could, ‘shoot it.’”
Adviser: “Hi, well… [Having taken hundreds of these solicitations I go for the jugular straight away …] what’s your budget for the project?
Caller: “Oh …[nervous giggle] I don’t have a budget but I was hoping that you … well … might have a student, maybe even one of your more experienced students, who would be available to shoot my [beloved, special, traditional, important …] event … you know … for the experience?”
Adviser: “What are your plans for the footage? Will the project require editing?”
Caller: “The event takes place over three days from roughly 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and there will be singers and dancers on two stages and I was hoping to have all of the performances shot and also shoot interviews of the participants and the five event organizers … and then, I was hoping they could edit that into an hourlong program.”
Adviser: [Trying mightily not to sound incredulous.] “Anything else?”
Caller: “Well, it would be really great if the student could make a hundred or so DVDs for all of the performers and organizers … would that be possible? The event is next week.”
Adviser: [Extremely long pause designed to make the caller sweat.] “Hmmm … well … that’s a rather large project indeed … and I appreciate you thinking of us, but as I tell all the folks who call asking about media services, our academic department doesn’t do media services, we do media in support of our academic mission.”
Caller: “Yes, but I thought maybe since my event is [beloved, special, traditional, important …] that maybe one of your students would like to do it for extra credit … you know … for the experience.”
Adviser: “With our five production classes per semester each generating three or four projects, plus eight to 10 print editions of our newspaper as well as bi-weekly online editions, plus our two 24/7/365 student-powered television and radio broadcast media outlets, we offer plenty of experiential learning opportunities to support our classes. We keep our students pretty busy.”
What’s it Worth to You?
I average roughly five calls a month seeking free media services. The craziest request I ever received was a call from one of our university’s alumni asking if my students would be interested in shooting her wedding, “you know, for the experience!” While crazy wedding video requests from alumni are one thing, it is these same requests for free video services from the many administrative departments at my own institution that sting even more.
What is the value of a quality media education that balances rigorous coursework and authentic hands-on experiences taught to today’s media industry standards by faculty who actually worked in media? Is a media education that requires kinesthetic learning and critical thinking in myriad collaborative environments worth paying for? If media students can produce quality content for a client because of what they have learned in a properly administered media program, what is that worth?
From my perspective it’s worth a lot. I believe one of the most important skills we media advisors teach our students — be they journalism majors or media production majors — is not just developing ideas, writing, shooting, software and media aesthetics, but also the critical understanding that 95 percent of what they will produce in their career will be for someone else, be it a client or a boss.
Finally, while I strongly believe working on outside projects in certain mitigated environments provides valuable experience for media students, just don’t ask them to give away what they know. Indeed, the biggest reason I bristle at requests for “free” video is because it sends my students the wrong message, whether you’re looking to have your wedding shot, or a marketing tape produced for a college department. By asking media students to work for “free,” the message sent is that all they have learned (paid good money to learn!) is not even worthy enough to pay for.
For this veteran media educator, indeed, the price of “free” is way too high.