Chad Curtis knows his newsroom is intense, but he also knows the reward is worth the stress.
Curtis is the full-time news director for BYU’s ElevenNEWS, which was awarded Mark of Excellence honors from the Society of Professional Journalists. In a national competition among university broadcast programs, the society named ElevenNEWS at Noon the Best All-Around Television Newscast.
Producing the newscast is an elaborate effort. Students start work at 6 a.m. to be ready for the daily broadcast.
“When you are behind the scenes of media, everything that the people at home take for granted you don’t get to,” Curtis said. “The writing, the producing, the editing, the formatting, the tweaking, the polishing … has to go into a very intense four-hour period in order to get it to the point where we feel comfortable putting it out on Channel 11 at noon.”
During a semester, Curtis instructs approximately 75 students. A typical broadcast requires a crew of 14 or 15 members, each with a unique role in generating the final product.
“It’s a very hectic room,” Curtis said. “Dealing with pressure — dealing with a hectic, intense situation — is part of learning to be a professional in this field.”
Brenna Donnelly of Fishers, Ind., recently graduated from the program. She emphasized the level of familiarity gained through early hands-on experience.
“From day one in the program, you’re writing for a newscast,” Donnelly said. “You’re working with your superiors, you’re with the upperclassmen and you are live on air. Sometimes that means you’re a deer in the headlights, but most of the time it means the learning curve is very sharp. So by senior year in the program, you are very comfortable with the process of news.”
Mentors facilitate rapid growth by providing students with timely, direct correction. Donnelly said some students struggle with the criticism.
“It’s an emotional, tough, hard thing,” Donnelly said. “Brother Curtis sets the bar very high and says, ‘Jump over it.’ Sometimes you stumble a little bit and he’ll let you know, but it’s all for your good. Sometimes we students laugh and say that he’s the toughest news director we’ll ever have because he treats us as professionals while we’re still just students.”
Curtis knows the students aren’t always ready for his bluntness.
“I never critique to be mean,” Curtis said. “If you’re telling me this is what you’re majoring in because this is how you want to feed your family someday, I’m going to be straightforward with you. I’m going to get you to be the best you can be before you leave here.”
For many graduates, experience at ElevenNEWS results in a seamless transition to the profession. Some have landed jobs with major networks such as Fox News, CBS and ESPN. They work in broadcast markets across the country.
Dale Green works as the show’s full-time technical adviser and has supervised many of the award-winning students.
“There’s not a college or a university anywhere for the price that you pay, for the hands-on experience that you get and for the equipment that you get to work with, that compares to BYU,” Green said. “It shows because of the awards the students get while they’re here and where they go when they leave here.”
Curtis spoke warmly about his students. He keeps in touch with many of them, even after they graduate.
“Working in this newsroom is intense,” Curtis said. “But as hard as we work, we also play. We enjoy being with each other. We have great times in here, and a lot of lifelong friendships.”