Despite the state-of-the-art Media and Public Affairs building and the strong presence of CNN on campus, officials said a viable GW television station similar to other schools’ stations is “not likely.”
School of Media and Public Affairs officials said the University is trying to integrate television production into the curriculum, but a full-time television station would require an extraordinary amount of staffing and funding.
“If you’re talking about 24 hours of programming, we’d need at least a full-time writer/producer, full-time engineer, a staff of 12 (students) willing to work eight hours a day,” said David Liban, director of SMPA’s Electronic Media program.
Liban said the University has never studied the costs of a starting a station during his three-year tenure, but noted that it is “not likely” GW will hire extra staff and find students willing to work enough hours.
Though Liban said he has yet to receive complaints about the lack of a television station, some students said they would like to have one on campus.
“(SMPA) is supposed to be very prestigious and it definitely takes away from that fact,” said senior Jessica Marshall, an electronic media major.
“I think it’s kind of absurd when you compare us to schools that are in our bracket size-wise and have excellent student produced programs. Why aren’t administrators of the EMDA program pressing the Columbian School?” junior major Michael Defusco said. “Why do we pay $1,000 per semester and right now we are not making use of it?”
In lieu of a full-time station, Liban said SMPA offers students a television studio that is widely used in electronic media classes.
“Right now, (the school) exists to teach students, and that means the studio must be available for classes. Anything like (a television station) cannot interfere with the classes that need those facilities,” Liban said.
But, Liban said the television studio is used for one student-produced show, “The Source,” a weekly news magazine broadcast on the campus cable channel.
“It’s a joint effort between electronic media and journalism. Students write, produce and direct the show,” Liban said.
“The Source” has limited viewership because it is only played on the GW campus channel, which usually displays color bars because of a lack of full-time programming. The station is broadcast to most residence halls but is not run by students.
“(A regular station) would complement the impression they’re giving of the School of Media and Public Affairs,” senior Gracie Lhee said. “I’m in a television workshop class and we put together news packages that are pulled together in a studio every week, and the end result is this great product that we can’t even broadcast.”
One alternative to producing 24 hours of original material would be to use a college network that does its own programming, such as Zilo, which provides programming to college students.
“We are a college entertainment company providing 12 hours of programming per week to 245 campuses across the nation,” Zilo communications director Monica Jara said.
Jara said Zilo’s programming is free and offers a wide range of shows from reality-based television to comedy and sports.
“We have been on GW’s campus for some live events in the past and we would like to work with GW in the future as well,” Jara said.
GW used to play tapes from other college networks, but it eventually became a burden, Liban said.
“It became a huge chore to have someone sit there and play tapes,” he said.
Liban also said that students did not express interest in the programming offered.
“When we stopped airing the tapes, no one said a word,” he noted.
Officials from universities that run full-time television stations said a station can be a rewarding experience but also time-consuming and costly. The University of Missouri-Columbia operates its own commercial television station, an NBC affiliate in the area. It is a rare partnership that affords students a unique opportunity.
“We are at the right intersection. We do a full schedule of news and, because it’s a commercial station, that gives us a revenue stream as well,” said Stacey Woelfel, the station’s news director and a university faculty member.
Woelfel said her students also benefit from being in a smaller television market, unlike those in D.C., New York or Chicago, because they are able to report and produce on-air content.
While Woelfel said the station is beneficial for students, she stressed that the cost of starting a station can be enormous.
“We have been with this television station since 1949, so we have the infrastructure here. But if you are just going to start a station, you are looking at tens of millions of dollars,” Woelfel said.
The cost of a television station has forced other universities to look to the Internet to provide programming for students.
“We decided to take advantage of streaming media on the Web and celebrate it for our programs,” said Matt Carvette, general manager of Syracuse University’s UUTV.
UUTV offers a wide range of original programming, including sitcoms, soap operas, talk shows and sports shows, Carvette said.
But he warned that even when using the Internet the cost of production can be high.
“We have a budget of $75,000. That goes to buying new equipment and digital technology, which can be very expensive to do,” Carvette said. “There is never enough money, but we still survive.”
“I’m a tour guide and when I tell prospective electronic media majors, they are surprised that we don’t have a broadcast station,” Marshall said. “They see this building and they’re expecting that at the very least we’re going to have our own television station.”
Liban said the lack of a full-time station has not limited enrollment or attractiveness of the Electronic Media program.
“I don’t think it hurts at all . we are filled to the brim (with interested students),” Liban said.