By Jim Newell
Seven may be the proverbial lucky number but, for a select group of Lake Orion High School students, nine is the number in which dreams come to fruition
The LOHS Television Production Workshop (TPW) class and Dragon Broadcasting program achieved the long-coveted aspiration of winning a ninth Spartan Award in the last 10 years.
That ninth win also earned the program induction into the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association (MIPA) Hall of Fame on April 23 at the Lansing Center in Lansing.
Each year, MIPA awards the Spartan to high school programs that demonstrate excellence in their field. To be eligible for the hall of fame, a school must win nine Spartans within a ten-year period.
If Lake Orion had not won the Spartan Award this year they would have had to begin the process again, going back to the last year that the program did not win a Spartan and begin counting from that time.
Oddly enough, no one seems to remember the year the Dragons didn’t win the Spartan.
Lake Orion is only the second school, after Davison High School, to be inducted into the MIPA Hall of Fame in the video/broadcast division. The Spartans are awarded in newspaper, yearbook and video/broadcast divisions.
Roger Smith teaches the TPW class and has done so for the past 16 years. TPW students – usually juniors and seniors – cover events, write stories, edit video footage and produce news and feature stories for the LO-AM in-school news program.
The Dragon Yearbook entered the MIPA Hall of Fame in 2002. TPW began entering the Spartan Awards in 2004-05, Smith said.
Students also cover and live-stream after-school sports, concerts, ceremonies and news.
“We try to cover other events in southeastern Michigan and tie them to our primary audience, which are students,” Smith said. “We do get over 100 live viewers or on-demand viewers within the first 24 hours of the show – some are parents or people outside the schools.”
The LO-AM program and after-school events are live-streamed from dragonbroadcasting.org and the classes’ Vimeo page. Orion Neighborhood Television, orionontv.org, also runs the LO-AM broadcast on its channels, Smith said.
The program is student-run, with each student learning all aspects of producing a broadcast show, from audio control to on-air news anchoring and reporting.
“I try to treat this class, the advanced class, as a professional newsroom,” Smith said, adding the class has between 22-30 kids each year. “Every one of them has a beat, a specific thing to cover. They have those responsibilities plus finding additional stories on their own.”
The TPW program submits its three best shows to MIPA, which evaluates the students’ writing, camerawork, audio, editing, live production skills and on-air talent.
“Winning awards is not our goal. Our goal is to produce the best news program that we can for our audience,” Smith said. “I tell (the students), if you produce good programming, you practice good editing techniques, good sound recording then you’re going to get those awards, you’re going to be up for scholarships or whatever the case may be.
“Hopefully, it’s a validation that I’m teaching them the right techniques, the best practices and as a result a lot of them get opportunities like winning the Spartan.”
The TPW students were ecstatic to win the Spartan Award, knowing a win would also earn the program induction into the MIPA Hall of Fame.
Still, the current students know they have previous TPW classes to thank for beginning the successful tradition that they know carry on, and refer to the TPW as a family when talking about the current and former classes.
Senior Brian Farstvedt is in his second year of TPW and while he enjoys being in front of the camera, his real passion is behind the scenes.
He is constantly writing stories, both for the class and for his own projects and likes to direct. He wrote the short film, The Good Death, which has won several awards at area film festivals, including a first-place award in the student category at ONTV’s annual short film contest last fall.
“I for one am more of a filmmaker. I really enjoy writing scripts for my own short films, narrative films,” Farstvedt said. “I’ve really gotten more into broadcasting in the last two years.
“There is not one certain thing you do in this class, but rather an array of things you have to do keep up your level productivity,” Farstvedt said.
“I have no idea what anyone else did. I know I jumped out of my seat, threw myself into the air and I think I kicked my chair so hard it fell on its side. I made sure that I was one of the people that went up and received the Spartan,” Farstvedt said, adding he walked up to Smith – one of the MIPA judges who was “supposed to be all professional.” – “I couldn’t help it, I just walked up to him and gave him a high-five.”
Farstvedt plans to go to Bowling Green to study film production and become a director/screenwriter/editor. “I’m just so intrigued by specifically writing and editing. It’s like being able to create your own work and watch it and have other people see it – it’s incredible.”
Senior Ian Gilmour won the 2018 All MIPA Journalism award (aka, best broadcast student in the state). He was judged on a website he created himself, posting his resume and half a dozen examples of his work – on-air, a talent compilation, a commentating compilation, sports and news/feature stories.
“The website and all the work that goes into it, there was just so much work, so many hours spent after school. It just felt so good just to have it all payoff,” he said.
“TPW has been really great, being in this all year I’ve learned so much,” Gilmour said. “There’s so many jobs that go into (creating) a live show everyday and you’re able to learn each one. You learn how to put a story together and see what elements of a story there are.”
Gilmour, a goalie for the LOHS soccer team, was on the sidelines covering the football state playoffs at Ford Field but said covering the soccer state finals was the next best thing to playing in game. “TPW awards you so many opportunities.”
Gilmour plans to attend Michigan State to major in broadcasting/journalism. “Honestly, if I could pick a dream job I’d want to be the next Jim Nance. That’s the goal.”
Senior Micah Williams has been in TPW for two years and works primarily in the sports department, but also likes to help others and do behind-the-scenes work.
“I’m kind of the person to have my hand in everybody’s pot,” he said. “We do Faces here, which is an in-depth look into someone’s life that you may not necessarily know.”
Williams says he has a flare for the artistic – he’s also a musician and has acted in student films with Farstvedt – and likes to incorporate artistic shots into his coverage. “I love being in front of the camera and also I love being behind the scenes because you’re able to show off your creativity in both ways,” he said.
“This class has definitely taught me a lot. I’d have to say that it is my favorite class that I’ve ever had in my life,” Williams said. “You’re held accountable, not only to Mr. Smith, but your peers as well because if you mess up it’s kind of on everyone else, too. It’s not just one person, it’s everybody that in the spotlight for that.
“It’s definitely taught me to step up my game in general, and I’ve learned so many things about the video industry and the news industry as well. If I want to pursue a career in that, which I’m hoping to, I feel like I have an edge over a lot of people because Mr. Smith has taught us so well. You can see by all the awards that he’s doing something right.”
When he found out that TPW had won the Spartan Award, Williams says, laughing, his first thought was, “It’s about time. We had been waiting so long for this.”
Williams’s dream job is to pursue a music career but said the broadcast industry was another option with which he’d be happy to follow.
Several TPW students won individual awards at the MIPA conference, including 11 first-place honors out of 24 categories against 20 other schools in the Dragon’s division, Smith said.
Talia Summerville took first place in the Animated Opener category, and the TPW staff took first place for our Live Sports Production.
Brian Farstvedt, Tyler Battershell, John Balian and Talia Summerville won first place in the Humor category for their film “A Good Death.” Brian Farstvedt also took first for his School Promo.
Ian Gilmour took first in the Newscast Anchor and Live Sports Announcer categories.
RJ Key and Jenna Gaylord took first place in Informative Feature for part 1 of their Vaping story. Tyler Battershell and Brian Farstvedt took first in Environmental News with their Recycling story.
Individual video categories: Illyria Kalaj, Courtney Kaiser, Jenna Gaylord and Eli Fallon took first in the Diversity Coverage category for their “LO Around the World: Italy” story.