It’s Monday afternoon and high school students are gathering at Tincan’s office in downtown Spokane. Everyone looks after-school tired, dropping backpacks, cameras and laptops on desks and chairs. They are here to tape a news show, yet the mood is surprisingly laid back.
Peering over computer screens, curled up on the floor and in chairs, the group reviews videos and scripts. Questions flutter around the room: “Do you feel like editing?” “Can you teach me how to use the camera?” “Hey – the old teleprompter software is still on one of the computers.”
A tiny improvised TV studio has been put together right by the door. Black paper covers the tall windows and a backdrop of bright green cloth hangs behind anchor Will Maupin, a junior at Lewis and Clark High School.
“Welcome to eMerge News. I’m Will Maupin reporting from Spokane, Washington …”
Hannah Whitmore heads up the teen-driven news project as media integration coordinator for Tincan. Two years ago, she secured a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant of about $133,000 to fund the program. At the time, there was no regular independent, teen-produced news in Spokane, Whitmore said.
“The goal is to teach youth how to do journalism and to teach them about community journalism,” Whitmore said. “The (high) consolidation levels in media have led to less and less local content on the news, and not a lot of in-depth reporting. We try to refocus students on journalism.”
Tincan is a nonprofit organization started in 1994, partly with a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Tincan hosts programs like the Women’s Business Center and Memories History Project.
In the last six months, eMerge News has caught on, with about a dozen steady participants, most of whom attend Lewis and Clark High School, Whitmore said. Still, “we really want students from all the schools.”
In an effort to reach more students, eMerge News last year moved among the Tech Connections program at Rogers High School, Crosswalk and the Tincan office. Settling at Tincan, in the 800 block of West First avenue, helped produce a more consistent news show, but it meant a loss of contact at some high schools.
“Transportation is a huge issue,” Whitmore said. “Someone from Rogers has to take two buses to come down here after school. It’s easier for the students at LC because it’s right here.”
eMerge News produced its first news features, as well as a few newscasts, in the fall of 2006, posting them on eMergeNews.org and some on KXLY.com. At the time, the goal was to get eMerge News on “real” TV.
“And you know, I’ve come to learn that for us being available online is better than being on regular TV,” Whitmore said. “We serve our audience so much better there.”
On Nov. 1, the group began posting regular newscasts on eMergeNews.org, myspacetv.com and YouTube, every two weeks.
Jordan Main is a regular at the Tincan office. “I come here to hopefully experience my future in the film industry,” said Main, who also interns with a video production company.
His latest eMerge project was a salsa video. “I’m not really sure how that’s going to go,” Main said. “My camera broke. I was in my room fooling around with my dogs and they bumped into my desk and knocked the camera off onto the floor.”
Among stories eMerge News has covered are the Hollywood writers’ strike, the gay and lesbian film festival, the annual ‘zombie walk’ and a way of vaccinating people using tattoos, as well as more serious topics like the presidential race, the Chase Youth Commission’s mock vote prior to the mayoral election; and how to reduce the chance of MRSA infections by cleaning up after wrestling practice.
“We get ideas for stories from all over the place,” said Sophia Lawhead, 18, of Lewis and Clark. “We talk about the ideas, try to figure something out.”
Every show features an “on the street question” and a segment called “Where in the World is Andrew Gutman?” which has Gutman reciting his own poem at familiar locales.
Lexi Bass, 16, attends Rogers High School, but gets on the bus Monday and Thursday to join the crew. “I was there a lot last year, and I just missed it, so I come as often as I can,” Bass said. She’s working on a segment called “Lexi in the Hood.”
“The plan is to go from neighborhood to neighborhood around town and shoot something there,” she said. “I think I’ll start with Hillyard, ‘cause that’s where I live and Hillyard has sort of a bad reputation. There may be more lower-income people there, but really it’s no different than most other neighborhoods.”
After a few retakes, the crew is done taping Maupin and all that remains is final editing.
The stress level – compared with professional newsrooms – remains low.
Whitmore, who has a background in commercial broadcasting, said it’s because teens are remarkably flexible and good at dealing with last minute changes.
“Of course we don’t stress, we’re teens,” Main said. “Give us a WASL test or something like that and we stress out. This? This is fun.”