What you didn’t see on television

My colleagues and I have spent the past week or more putting the finishing touches on the last installment of our reporting from New Orleans and the Recovery School District there. In all, PBS NewsHour will have aired 12 segments about Paul Vallas and the RSD, and we also produced three other post-Katrina (pre-Vallas) segments. (Watch the full Paul Vallas series here.)

Paul Vallas in New OrleansThat’s 15 segments, each 8-10 minutes in length, a total of 2 hours of television, roughly.
You might be interested to know what went into creating those two hours. Each piece generally entailed three days of shooting, perhaps 6 hours of videotape each day. That 6 (hours) X 3 (days) X 15 (segments) = 270 hours in all.

Our monumental task–15 times over–was to then take that raw material and edit and shape it into a short segment that would tell some part of the story of the effort to transform what was easily one of the worst school districts in the nation.

We produced more than our reports for PBS NewsHour: Each piece was accompanied by as many as four podcasts, usually longer interviews with Vallas, State Superintendent Paul Pastorek, various Teach for America teachers, parents, and so on. (Listen to the podcasts here.)

We’ve been doing the same job in Washington, DC, chronicling the efforts of Michelle Rhee to reform the schools there. We’ve made as many trips, shot as many hours of video, and spent as many weeks editing. We’ll present our final chapter from that city later this summer.

Did we get it right? Journalism is merely the first draft of history, and I hope I am around long enough to see what parts of the story we got right, and what we missed.

Meantime, I am considering what to do with the hours and hours of unedited video, because at Learning Matters we don’t throw anything away. I believe our archive, which now includes about 80,000 hours of unedited video and about 400 of my NPR documentaries, is a historical treasure for anyone interested in American public education from 1974 to the present. Among the tapes are unedited interviews with the guiding lights of education, including most U.S. Secretaries of Education, Albert Shanker, Debbie Meier, Ted Sizer, Frank Newman, James Comer, Linda Darling-Hammond, Checker Finn and on and on.

What do you think we should do with our archive? Please share your ideas in the comments below…I’m interested in your thoughts.

(I want to give a quick shout out to the foundations that believed in the importance of this work: the Wallace Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Annenberg Foundation. They made it happen, and we appreciate their support.)

One thought on “What you didn’t see on television

  1. Having produced video for nearly 30 years, I can tell you that the MOST POWERFUL segments have been when I’ve returned to the same young people over the course of their childhood and then into their teens and then again as 20 something’s. If you can get the funding, I can’t imagine a better way to utilize the footage you already have. To see a sample of what I’m talking about watch the video at http://www.projectmorry.org. I’d love to have the opportunity to someday work with you. Lisa Clarkson (Hattie’s very good friend since the mid-sixties)


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