When UNLV Libraries and the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs launched a series confronting racism in fall 2020, the team behind the series figured out how to socially distance staff, ensure the safety of the faculty and community experts in the studio, produce guest interviews remotely, and livestream the series - all the while keeping those masks on. The We Need to Talk Series opened the door to confronting the nation’s racial disparities and how to have the difficult conversations to find solutions.
UNLV-TV is housed in the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies. We wanted to know how the studio staff prepared to produce the program.
UNLV-TV has been filming shows for the community and UNLV units since the beginning of the pandemic last March. What lessons did you impart on students as social distancing protocols were enacted?
Jennifer Ream, Executive Producer, UNLV-TV: We had to make adjustments to our normal operations. We typically like to include as many students as possible in our productions. Social distancing prevented us from operating with full production crews. In many instances, our students have been filling multiple roles and positions. It has been wonderful to see them step up and do what it takes to get the job done. They have been extremely grateful to be able to learn and work under these circumstances when so many other opportunities have been impacted.
This past year has reminded everyone of the importance of communication and staying connected. Our students have appreciated the small role that they have played in allowing important public conversations and programs to continue despite the pandemic.
UNLV TV provides students with the opportunity to gain valuable television production experience while working in paid positions. The We Need To Talk series was so popular with our students that I had a waiting list of students wanting to work on the show.
Why did you decide to volunteer to work on the show?
Maria Dibut Galera, journalism major, junior: I decided to join UNLV TV at the beginning of this spring semester and the first show I was scheduled to work for was the We Need to Talk series. At first, I had no idea what the show was about and then when we filmed the first episode I was completely impressed with the show and the idea behind it. From that moment on I was so grateful to be part of it. It definitely was one of the best experiences I've had in my college career so far.
How did you help guests on the shows understand the protocols? What steps did you take to ensure their safety?
Ream: The health and safety of our staff, students and guests has been a top priority. We have complied with all COVID-19 safety protocols. We provided participants the option to join the panel discussion virtually or to pre-record their remarks. We limited the number of individuals allowed in the studio, cleaned surfaces regularly, provided hand sanitizer, and required masks. We are fortunate to have a large studio, which allowed us to easily space the guests apart and ensure social distancing.
What social distancing and cleaning procedures did you put in place?
Ryan Thorp, Visiting Lecturer, journalism and media studies, production manager UNLV-TV: In the studio, microphones are regularly wiped down following each use. The size of our studio was very beneficial for maintaining social distancing because all the guests can easily be spread out with more than six feet between them. Cameras are also wiped down by the student using them. The control room is treated the same way with each operator responsible for wiping down their station and comm unit.
Ream: All of our student workers completed a self-assessment prior to working any shift. On a few occasions, students were unable to work due to COVID protocols. We were prepared to cancel the production at any time if there was a concern about the health or the safety of anyone. In fact, we made the decision to postpone several shows last fall when the number of COVID-19 cases was increasing locally.
There’s a new social-distancing studio format.
Richard Reyes, Media Operations Engineer, UNLV-TV: We are fortunate to have a large 2,200 sq. ft. TV studio at Greenspun Hall in which to film the We Need to Talk series. Our TV control room at 655 sq. ft. was large enough to accommodate our production team in most areas. We had a plexiglass barrier installed in the room where social distancing was not possible due to proximity between the director and technical director.
Ream: Our student workers were set up to work in individual editing rooms, so social distancing was not a concern.
UNLV-TV filmed segments of the show in outdoor locations to accommodate guests.
Thorp: Using our field equipment was generally no different from any other time we have needed to shoot on location for productions. This is a standard practice for the majority of studio productions. We did need to implement additional sanitation measures which would require us to bring our own cleaning materials. More planning would also go into shooting on location to maintain social distancing.
The We Need to Talk series was live-streamed on YouTube and Facebook. What technology methods did your students learn?
Reyes: All of the We Need to Talk episodes were streamed to YouTube with live closed captioning. To enable panelist participation from home, we used the Blackmagic Web Presenter to send our program feed from the Greenspun Hall media facility through Google Meet to the remote panelist, which facilitated real time interaction to and from the studio.
Is it hard to hear each other over your masks, or gather like you used to?
Thorp: Guests of the show are required to wear their mask until it is show time. Pre and post-production meetings have moved from the control room to the studio to keep social distancing.
The biggest challenge we faced was recognizing that there were some things that we couldn’t do as normal. This included the way that shots were framed, making adjustments to our set, and combining the roles of some crew positions to limit the number of individuals in the studio and control room. I was impressed with the way our students adapted to these changes and implemented the policies we established.
What were your favorite moments behind the scenes?
Claytee White, Director of the UNLV Libraries Oral History Research Center, host of the We Need to Talk series: I loved the in-studio energy, exchange, and interaction. My favorite moments were at the end of the show when we knew that we had all done our best. We could breathe and smile. By the energy in the studio, I mean the nervousness, the joy, the tingling sensation that permeated the air as we anticipated a meaningful show. The energy was as evident as the students, the staff, and the guests as we each entered with our own aura, our own spirit, our own mental readiness and awareness. We were all there to do a day's work and we wanted it done properly, to get the word out, to have this needed talk be listened to.
What was it like to take cues and direction from students?
White: I loved working with the students. I admire their work and following their direction was easy. I respect them. I work with students often and I learn from them. Following the orders of the students was easy for me because I see students, working in certain roles, as professionals. I learn technical skills from students all the time. I expect them to know computers, software, all kinds of social media to a greater depth than I do so I listen to them when I ask questions. In the studio, I know nothing so I listen and follow their directions. Students learn rapidly and retain facts and knowledge so I can trust them when I can't trust myself. When I teach students to conduct oral interviews and then watch them conduct an interview; I learn from what they add to the process, what they think is important, and what they delete that I think is important. I plan to work more so I need to know what knowledge students want to learn and retain.
Did the topics of the show encourage you to want to volunteer to work on it?
Galara: The topics the show covered not only encouraged me to volunteer to work on it but it also made me start having conversations with the people closest to me about them. Every Thursday after the show I'd come back home and talk to my family and best friend about the things the show covered. When we did the episode covering the education system here in Nevada, that day after the show I saw a friend who's studying to be a teacher and is currently getting her certification to become a substitute teacher and we had an hour-long conversation about the things I learned from the show and the guests. I feel like now I am far more conscious about local/university issues and I want to reach out to more people to see in which ways I can volunteer and make a difference.
How did filming the show help you in gaining studio and tv production experience? What were some of your responsibilities?
Galara: Like I mentioned before, the series was my first hands-on experience working in a professional production. I was very nervous at the beginning because it's very different practicing in class than doing live shows. Working this show was a great stepping stone for me to feel comfortable and have a basic knowledge of how studio and tv production works. My responsibilities for most of the series were working cameras, checking mics, and making sure the studio was organized after every show.