Student broadcast replaces newspaper at Illinois school

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Sauk Valley News

ROCK FALLS, Ill. -- The anchors don't sit at a desk, and the reporters don't mind humiliating themselves for the sake of a story.

If it doesn't sound like the kind of newscast you might watch at 5, 6 or 10 p.m. on your favorite network or local station, don't worry. It's not. It's "Rocket Update," the student-produced television newscast at Rock Falls High School.

"We try to get the point across while having fun," said junior John Metzler, who co-anchors the program with sophomore Allyson Wetzell.

Their job is to do transitions between stories and keep the program flowing. Sometimes that might mean wearing a beret or a sombrero to introduce a story about the foreign language department, or even re-enacting a scene from "Titanic." They also perform other sorts of stunts "to keep the students interested," Wetzell said.

"Rocket Update" serves as the high school's main news medium. When it started up about seven years ago, the TV newscast replaced the old school newspaper, said faculty adviser Kelly Akers. The 15-minute newscast airs every other Friday during study halls. Each edition contains certain set features.

"Every week we try to highlight a sports team, or a club, or a teacher or the Student of the Month," said senior Aaron Pinkston. "We try to get five stories a week."

Pinkston is a senior reporter for "Rocket Update," which means he is assigned a feature story for each broadcast. Recently he rode in a plane for a story about a corn maze -- the aerial perspective, after all, being the only way to see the overall pattern of the maze.

"People asked about the corn maze," Pinkston said. "People would say, 'That's really cool; how was that?' You do realize that people are watching."

On another story, Pinkston interviewed two members of the Rock Falls golf team.

"I decided to take a shot on the course. Dirt was flying ..." he said of his divot. "The point was to show these students how much better they are than me."

"Rocket Update" currently has a staff of 17 students, some in front of the camera and some behind it, Akers said. She said that when students sign up for the activity, they choose whether they will be on-camera or do behind-the-scenes work.

The show is student-produced by Metzler, which means he helps to run the staff meetings and chooses the order in which the stories will run, Akers said.

She said Metzler has also helped teach her things, even though she is the teacher.

"When we first started, we had a mixer, and I was like, 'What's a mixer?"' Akers said. "Every year, I've had to learn new things. I had no background in this. John has been a tremendous help. He had a bigger background than I had."

Metzler, Wetzell, and another staff member, Jessica Dowd, all had experience with a student news broadcast in middle school. They all thought being part of "Rocket Update" would be fun. They also all participate in drama, which helps their on-camera presence.

As the program begins and ends, Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" plays in the background.

"We have a theme song now," Pinkston said. "I've been pushing for a theme song for four years."

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