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NUR School of Journalism
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Lee Pitts


Lee Pitt's Notes From the Field

September 23, 2007 — First week down, time for a quiz

The first week of classes are over. And they went well.

On the first day, I started class by telling them about TV reporting, and the importance of pictures for TV news. Then, the basics of TV - wide, medium and close-up shots. And I couldn't stress enough how important it was to hold each shot for 10-15 seconds, to make sure they end up with a shot they can actually use. By the second day, I had students practising with the camera in class. Occasionally, I'd review with them. Plus I emailed handouts to them. These students are smart. Its clear they're paying attention, listening and learning. When I ask questions, they're giving the right answers - and sometimes, I think, with more clarity than when I first explained it. Its clear some of them are reading the handouts too.

I'm also getting them to think visually. I've been using an exercise where I assign a story, and they need to tell me the pictures they need to tell that story. I'm trying to reinforce the point that they need pictures to tell TV stories. And I want them to start thinking about those pictures before they go into the field.

There was a moment in class when I realized that potential TV reporters everywhere have one thing on their mind - being in front of the camera. Maybe 90 minutes through the first class, one student raised her hand and asked about her stand-up. I realized then that they're going to get this.

Radio people always joke that TV news doesn't care about sound, just the pictures please. They may be joking, but pictures are key to good television news. The debate over pictures versus sound raised its head in my third class. I was reiterating that in TV, you need pictures to tell the story. A student decided that sound was more important to broadcast storytelling. These students have already learned radio and many of them work at Radio Salus in Butare. And in radio, sound is paramount. Its important in TV too, but so are the pictures. It seems the debate of pictures versus sound for TV and radio is a global one, and it rages on.

The first week flew past. Now, its time for a quiz. They'll have their first quiz in week 2 (coming up). I'm told on quiz day, all the students will be in class. So on that day I'll meet some of them for the first time. Even those missing the classes are catching up though - I've emailed handouts, and the students help each other.

They'll start working on the first of two major group projects this week too. The groups have already been assigned. Now those groups can start the leg-work on their first project. Its a video that tells some sort of story, underscored with music. I chose this as the first project, because it'll get the students the technical background they need - they'll get used to working with the camera and digital editing software - without the added pressure of TV writing. Once they have the technical side mastered (and from what I hear, they pick it up quickly), then we can move on to TV writing and TV reporting. That's the final group project. We'll have to be starting work on that by the middle of next week.

And in between, I'll have to start writing more quizzes and in-class assignments.

Writing the first quiz wasn't so bad. Its the math involved in grading them that I'm worried about.


September 16, 2007 — Preparing for class

My Class begins on Tuesday.

I'm excited, but I'm also very nervous. There are 30 students in the second year of the journalism program who have never taken a TV class before. And most, if not all of them, have not grown up with television. This is not a TV nation.

I read a statistic from 2002 that said in all of Rwanda, there's about 1000 TV sets. Now, people here tell me it’s hard to get accurate data like that since regular polls and surveys don't take place. Still, TV is new to them.

I knew I wanted to work in television from the beginning. I grew up with it. I immersed myself in it my entire life, watching it and trying to understand it. So when I started working in it, I felt like I already knew much of it. There were many finer points I had to learn along the way. Still, most of my general knowledge comes from growing up with TV.

These students do not have that advantage. Africa for the most part is a radio nation.

Teaching 30 students with little to no experience of TV is going to be a challenge. This part I know.

I'm hoping once I'm in the class, the roadmap will come to me. But I need a syllabus for day one, and I've spent the four days I've been here so far thinking it over. I've been procrastinating on writing the syllabus until after I've gone through everything, got my thoughts in order, and feel ready to approach this methodically and organized.

I finally forced myself to sit down and write the syllabus. The reward will be a beer and goat meat on skewers at the bar next door when its complete. I think this will work as the initial roadmap, giving them a background in theory, practical experience with shooting and editing, and finally a news item. Of course, as problems arise, this is likely to take on a life of its own. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Attendance 30%

Quizzes/Misc Projects 20%
(5 quizzes/projects)

Field Trip 10%

Project 1
music video 15%

Project 2
TV news report 25%

I've made attendance the biggest one. Attendance includes participation. There's a lot of hands on in this class, so by showing up, students will be taking part. And that's how they're going to learn.


September 13, 2007 — 'Welcome to Africa'

I'm at the house in Butare, southern Rwanda, with my other housemates. I'm just setting in, meeting everyone and aborbing as much of Africa as I can in my first few hours. We're partly talking about my first impressions, and somehow got onto the topic of bats. Before coming here, the nurse who gave me my vaccinations frightened me with stories of bats. Now, I find out there's a bat tree just down the dirt road from our house - a tree where bats hang out, literally. I'll check it out ... but I'll wait for daylight. My fear is finding a bat in the house, and my long-time friend, now housemate, and program coordinator, Shelley is trying to assure me that she's never found a bat in the house. She doesn't finish her sentence before she lets out a vicious, ear-piercing scream. A scream so loud it sends shivers down my spine ... We all react quickly. Shelley flies across the living room and out onto the marble-tiled deck, along with the other housemate, Marc. Jen is already out there. In a heartbeat, I'm on top of the couch, paralyzed with fear.

It wasn't a bat.

It wasn't a cruel joke played on me either.

It was worse.

A tarantula. A giant spider. Its huge, maybe the biggest I've ever seen, and its right on our floor. Its body is bigger than a townie, and very thick. Then its legs reach out, nearly doubling its size.

I had seen an animal in our house already in the two hours since I arrived... a little gecko making its way up the wall while we talked about bats. But this tarantula had everyone shaking.

I didn't know what to do or how to react. So initial fear took over and I hung out on top of the couch. I planned to gauge any further reaction on my housemates. Shelley called for Youssef, our night-time guard, who came, laughed, and took care of the problem.

Its about 6:30 pm local time. Its already pitch black, and the sounds of wild animals and critters suddenly fill the air. Its not putting me at ease. But the spider is gone now, so we can relax. Marc and Shelley make their way back into the living room. Marc is the Radio Canada reporter from Quebec who's been here for two weeks already. He looks at me from across the room and says "Welcome to Africa."



September 23, 2007 — First week down, time for a quiz

September 16, 2007 — Preparing for class

September 13, 2007 — 'Welcome to Africa'





    © 2006 Carleton University School of Journalism and Communication DESIGN: SMDESIGN