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FTT majors fear WNDU sale will affect internships

Katie Perry | Tuesday, November 29, 2005

While the University says the sale of WNDU-TV will not negatively impact internship opportunities, some Notre Dame students are concerned about future disconnect between the station and the campus.

“It is a little disappointing to see the direction the University is taking in regards to [the Film, Television and Theatre program],” sophomore Elisabeth Rowley said. “I have heard the department described as the ‘red-headed stepchild of the University.’ It seems like there is already an unfortunate disconnect between broadcast journalism and the University, and selling the station goes along with that trend.”

In a Nov. 23 University statement announcing the agreement with between Gray Television, Inc., Notre Dame Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves said student internships at WNDU-TV will continue in the future.

But Rowley said the sale of WNDU-TV greatly influenced her decision to complete an internship at the station now rather than during her senior year.

“I was advised to go ahead and take [the internship] as long as they were still offering it because the future of the station was so uncertain,” she said. “I didn’t even take the prerequisite for the internship – I just jumped right in as long as I still had the chance.”

For FTT professor Karen Heisler, the wedge was driven not last week, but three years ago.

Heisler said she “doubts” the agreement will influence student accessibility to the station since “the only access students currently have to the station is through internships.”

“I don’t think the sale affects students at all,” she said. “What did affect students interested in the television industry – including broadcast journalism – was the move three years ago to eliminate the teaching mission at the station.”

Heisler, who serves as internship coordinator for FTT students interested in working for WNDU-TV, said the administration under former University President Father Theodore Hesburgh saw the station as a teaching tool for a “very long time.”

WNDU-TV provided academic internships and paid part-time jobs for students, and station employees taught hands-on classes each semester, Heisler said.

“When classes were taught in the WNDU building, at least 30 to 40 students came through WNDU’s doors each semester,” she said. “They learned how to operate the station’s cameras and other production equipment, they interacted with the professionals who worked there on a regular basis, and they became comfortable with the working environment of a television station.”

But the relationship between WNDU-TV and the University began to deteriorate in the late 1990s, Heisler said, when the classroom portion of the station was converted into editing suites.

“WNDU-TV personnel still taught two classes a semester, but in classrooms on campus,” she said. “In one class, students still learned production fundamentals at the station and produced a 15-minute television program as part of the curriculum.”

Heisler said three years ago in 2002, Notre Dame “decided [the station’s] teaching function was no longer essential,” a statement she based on the University’s elimination of two teaching positions.

“The FTT department added the two positions as part-time faculty, but those instructors could no longer use the WNDU-TV facility or its employees to help implement the curriculum,” she said. “Students no longer had access to television production facilities at WNDU.”

Heisler said after 2002, Notre Dame students continued to complete internships at the station, but the relationship between WNDU-TV and the FTT department was not “exclusive.”

“[FTT] no longer ‘placed’ students in internships at WNDU, [and] students had to interview and be accepted by WNDU just as they did at other places of employment,” she said.

Contrary to Heisler’s claim that the shift specifically occurred three years ago, some students interested in broadcast journalism said they have already felt the effects of the recent agreement.

Lisa Goepfrich, a junior who held an internship at WNDU-TV during the summer, said the deal might make getting an internship at the station “more difficult” for students.

Heisler said the number of Notre Dame students interning at the station has dropped “drastically” over the past three years, partially due to the absence of a formal relationship between FTT and WNDU – but this has not deterred most students from other internships.

“Our FTT students participate in internship programs at television stations and networks all across the country,” she said. “I am confident that the new owners will be willing to accept Notre Dame students, as well as students from other colleges and universities, as interns as most other stations in the area are.”

Rowley said she doesn’t doubt that the station will still offer student internships, but thinks the opportunity will likely be less accessible for interested students.

“I heard they will be moving the station off campus, [and] it won’t be available to as many students that way,” she said. “I do not have access to a car, but I have been able to ride my bike to the station each day. If it was off-campus, I would not have been able to apply for this internship.”

A change in location might create “more of a disconnect” between students and WNDU-TV, Rowley said.

Heisler said although it would be “wonderful” if some of the $85 million acquired in the agreement could go towards FTT’s broadcast journalism program, departmental faculty members do a “tremendous job of preparing FTT students … with what [they] have now.”

“We certainly have a ‘wish list’ for what would make our jobs easier, but we’re fully prepared to ‘keep at it’ with the resources that we have,” she said.