Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
February 21, 2006
DeKalb — NTC News Tonight, a full-length 10 p.m. news broadcast created by Northern Illinois University journalism students, has made its debut on Comcast Channel 74.
The commercial-free, 20-minute newscast airs Monday through Thursday with next-day repeats at noon Tuesday through Friday. Cable subscribers in the Rochelle area can view the newscast on Comcast Channel 20.
Monday's official launch marked not only a return of the long-missing 10 p.m. newscast but also solved a mystery: whether NIU broadcast journalism students would ever return to the local “airwaves.”
“When this started,” said Allen May, the general broadcast manager, “we thought it was the end of the world.”
May is referring to a move last fall by Comcast officials to replace NIU's occasional five-minute local news segments during CNN Headline News breaks with its own content. Northern Television Center students had filled those slots for a decade; May's predecessor brokered the deal – the first such between Turner Broadcasting System and a university, he said – after the previous cable provider to DeKalb yanked NIU off Channel 8.
The CNN Headline News inserts became “all this little department had,” May said.
But Comcast then “pulled the plug without telling us, apparently unaware we were still doing this. Nobody realized they were knocking us off the air after 10 years,” he said. “Since last fall, we've been working with the Comcast folks to find a home. We're now, after more than a decade, able to reach greater DeKalb and Ogle counties with a full-length newscast, covering the news you won't see in Rockford and Chicago.”
“It's a great opportunity for our students, and that's the primary value: that our students' work is now aired, and it's aired regionally,” said Steven Ralston, chair of the NIU Department of Communication, where the journalism program is housed. “It's great for the department and the institution to provide that with our partner, Comcast. They worked with Allen for several months to get that done, and they got it done for us. They're a great partner.”
May promises local viewers will find “meaningful” news in the nightly broadcasts, produced “top to bottom” by students.
Each night includes a full weather forecast, prepared and delivered by students in NIU's meteorology program who have TV aspirations, and a full sports report that spotlights the NIU Huskies and nearby high school teams.
Enrollment in NIU's broadcast journalism program has tripled in recent years. A “staff” of 60 students at NTC learns the ropes of being reporters, camera operators, producers, directors, anchors and writers through their upper-level coursework.
The department and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences have supported the program with a new and professional news writing and production system, a fully digital editing system and a sophisticated system for automated graphics that rivals those of other Illinois schools.
“It means we're able to give people in the whole community credible and relevant news and information that will help them stay in touch with themselves. It's about the connections we make in a community, to our government, our organizations and each other,” May said. “This is the only TV coverage on a day-to-day basis for our area, and it's getting our students out of the classroom to really learn journalism, out in the trenches where it's really happening. And our students are fully conscious that when they're on the air, people out in the community see it.”
“Community folks will see what NIU is producing, both in terms of the students' quality, and the students' work, and that's a point of pride,” Ralston added. “Plus, the community folks will see some interesting work you won't see every day.”
Comcast also benefits, May said.
“They recognize that a successful broadcast journalism program is certainly something they can proudly say they facilitated,” he said. “Cable operators like Comcast are becoming more directly involved, not just in distribution of programming but in creation of programming, especially in news and public affairs.”
May, who came to NIU in 2000 after a long career in TV news in Milwaukee, ultimately hopes to gain a permanent home for NTC on an “educational access” channel. The City of DeKalb has allowed the students to broadcast on its government access channel, and NTC will share Comcast Channel 74 with the Chicago Wolves, whose contests might preempt the news.
He also wants to begin airing additional types of programming, including documentaries made by Department of Communication film students and other pieces that promote agencies and services in the community.
“This is a remarkable victory,” he said, “and a remarkable opportunity.”
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