Turn on any on-campus television to Channel 35, and you will see the meager fruit of what has been a particularly dry season for USFtv, USF’s student-run television station. Part of the content repeating on a loop is new, but most of it is old. The station, founded in 2006, has seen its productivity and success waver this year, leading to intermittent periods of creative stagnancy. However, just as USFtv wraps up its production season with new programming coming out May 4, change is on the way. USFtv advisers David Silver and Melinda Stone, both recently-tenured media studies professors, have announced that they will not be returning to advise the station next year, prompting the USFtv executive board to reassess the station’s leadership and production process.
Their decision comes at the end of what has been a rocky path ever since the graduation of USFtv founders Dave Binegar and James Kilton in the spring ’08.
“This year has been a difficult year,” said Silver. “Ultimately, I believed, and Professor Stone believed, that something needed to change within USFtv to correct it – either the process or the station’s leadership or the faculty advisors. Because I had already put in three years to USFtv, I thought that perhaps it was time for me to let someone else give it a shot.”
In the 2007-’08 year, Stone said, “USFtv hit its stride – programming was strong and consistent. It is difficult to say exactly what is the cause of the drastic shift from last year to this year.”
One of the more obvious reasons for this shift is the transition away from the leadership of USFtv’s founders, who had directed the station for three years.
“This was the first year that we’ve had without our founding fathers as part of the station,” said Chris Begley, a junior media studies major who will be taking the position of executive producer at USFtv next year, “and this has been a difficult transition because those guys started the station. They knew how to run it, they had a good idea about how things should go, and when we put new leadership into place, things just kind of stopped running the way that we were used to.”
Alex Platt, a junior media studies major and USFtv’s technical programming director, agreed. “We are all incredibly dedicated to the station, and want to make sure it stays alive and successful, but we underestimated the transition,” she said. “It took a little longer than we thought to get our feet back under us.”
Most of the difficulties in the transition manifested themselves in the amount of content produced at the station. While, as Begley said, the commonly-made assumption that “USFtv hasn’t been doing anything all year” is untrue, the new content that has come out of USFtv is sporadic and its production process troubled.
Some weeks, said Silver, the station would broadcast full-length episodes with “great content.” Other weeks, there was virtually no programming being created. “This happened over and over and over again,” he said.
David Burgis, a senior media studies major and the current executive producer at USFtv, said, “There got to be a lot less programming. [People] weren’t as committed, there were hiccups in the process.”
“We called it the Year of the Trailer,” said Stone. “There were many trailers for interesting looking shows but we only saw one follow up show for two of the trailers. It is this kind of mishandling of production schedules and miscommunication between producers that is currently plaguing the station.”
During this time, Silver and Stone were almost forced to abandon their policy of “laissez-faire” advising.
“USFtv is a student TV station – for and by USF students. For that reason, Melinda Stone and I have taken a hands-off approach and in the past it always worked – each week, students would miraculously produce a ton of interesting, engaging content. But this year was different,” said Silver.
“This year had its ups and downs,” Burgis said. “The advisors started to put in more of an active role because they were worried about that—but at the same time, they were going through the whole tenure process.”
Begley added, “I think that put a lot of stress on them. I think they deserve the break. They’re not getting paid for this, they’re doing it out of the kindness of their hearts.”
Silver cited this pressure as a secondary factor in his decision to step down. “It’s frustrating to see so little content each week and it’s even more frustrating to not see any significant changes to correct this problem.”
As the conflict grew, the advisers took action. Stone and Silver decided not to approve USFtv stipends until a full account of what was actually produced at USFtv was given. “We believed and continue to believe that if students produced no work, they should receive no stipends,” Silver said.
While the advisers’ requests have remained unmet as of press time and the stipends continue to be withheld, Begley said, “One thing that I found out was that USFtv’s students don’t really care about their stipends, and the money really doesn’t matter. We’d rather have someone tell us that we’re doing a good job than get paid for doing a good job. If someone gives us praise or tells me that what I’m doing really makes a difference and really is something to be proud about, I’d rather hear that than get paid.”
It is this desire not for compensation but for excellence, said Burgis, that must be harnessed to revive the station. “That’s the real struggle, to find a way to show the passion,” he said. “Everyone involved in the station devotes many hours, clearly there’s the passion there, the problem is translating that.”
Translating passion into programming is one of the station’s goals for next year as the USFtv board bids farewell to its advisers and looks ahead.
“It’s sort of sad because Melinda [Stone] and David [Silver] have been there forever. It’s going to be strange, and whoever takes over won’t be the same. At some level, in [the station’s] DNA, there’s Melinda,” said Burgis. “At the same time, it’s good for them. And there’s definitely a way that it could even be good for the station, because, while they’ve been there for three years and it’s been great, it’ll be interesting to see what will happen with someone else. It’s not really a replacement…it’s more like an addition.”
USFtv’s staff shares Burgis’ optimistic outlook for next year.
“All of us are really excited about the station, and taking it to a new level of college programming. We all feed off of each other’s enthusiasm, so I’m predicting that next year is going to be the best yet for USFtv,” said Platt.
Interactive Content Coordinator Bharat Sharma agreed. He, too, is ready for change.
“Advisers come and go, and I’m really grateful for Professors Silver and Stone over the last two years that I’ve been part of USFtv; they’ve brought a lot to the club,” said Sharma, a sophomore media studies major who has been working at USFtv since the spring of 2007. “It’s a natural transition, now they’re just ready to focus on new things and we’re also ready to take the club in a new direction.” This new direction, he said, involves focusing simply on the core of USFtv: news, USFtalks, sports, and cultural programming.
Also, he said, USFtv members need to determine how to deal with time issues. “[Working with video] is labor-intensive. In Film 101 class back in high school they told us it takes an hour of editing for every minute of content you produce, so it’s just time-consuming and not all of us have that time anymore. It’s just a matter of changing the way we do things.”
Although his specialty lies outside television and video, “I have enjoyed working with USFtv and have learned so much,” said Silver. “I’ve seen first year students blossom into experienced and creative media makers. I’ve seen juniors develop their skills over the years, graduate, and land excellent jobs making media. Working with USFtv for the last three years has been one of the most exciting parts of my job here at USF.”
For the upcoming years, Silver has plans of his own. “I plan to continue my teaching and research interests in digital media as well as my budding teaching and research interests in sustainable living,” he said. “But most of all, I hope to fuse these two interests – participatory media and sustainable living – into a new teaching and research field that some of us like to call green media.”
Stone, too, will be pursuing green media as the faculty adviser of Back to Da Roots and the co-director of the Garden Project. “This fulfilling pursuit is taking [Prof. Silver’s and my] full attention at the moment.”
As for the station, said Platt, it is seeking a new adviser from within the media studies department. The USFtv team will also be spending the rest of the year seeking new direction.
“I hope we can have some kind of end-of-the-year meetup where we can come together and celebrate what USFtv has accomplished, talk about what needs work, and dream collectively about what USFtv’s future will look like,” said Silver. “What I’m most excited about is watching what USFtv makes next year.”
For now, Sharma said, “I think our main goal is to produce more content. Quality is important, but at this point we just need our TV screens to be playing something.”
In keeping with this goal, the TV screens will be playing new content on May 4, when USFtv will be broadcasting one last episode. This episode, which Begley described as a “programming bash where we’ll have programming from every show” will be available on any main-campus TV screen, channel 35; it can also be accessed on the Internet through USFtv’s Youtube page at youtube.com/usftv and the Foghorn Online website.