Wartburg students produce Grant Price documentary

Wartburg students working on the documentary “Grant Price: Setting the Standard” interview Jim Waterbury, retired general manager of KWWL-TV.

Iowa broadcast journalism icon Grant Price is the subject of a new documentary produced by a team of Wartburg College students.

Grant Price

The project was part of the journalism and communication department’s capstone course during the 2019 winter semester. “Grant Price: Setting the Standard” premiered in April at Wartburg and is now available on You Tube.

Watch the documentary.

Before they began work on the documentary, none of the seven students on the production team knew much, if anything, about Price, Madison Bloker, the project manager, said. But, after working for more than 500 hours on the documentary, Bloker said that changed.

“I literally feel like he’s a part of my life because he had such a profound impact on so many people.

“And it felt like we knew him,” she said.

Price had a 50-year career in Iowa radio and TV news, then taught at Wartburg for another 15 years where he started the TV broadcasting program. He died in 2008. (Read Price’s biography.)

The group chose Price as their documentary subject from choices provided by the course’s instructor, Penni Pier. Pier worked with Price at Wartburg for several years.

“I understood inherently his role, not only in the history of Iowa journalism, but how he also contributed to journalistic practices nationwide.” Because of that, she said, it was important to produce a documentary about him. “We are responsible to, and for, history,” Pier said.

Documentary takes shape
At first, Katie Kreis, a digital producer, said the group focused on Price’s impact at Wartburg. But after researching Price’s career and receiving feedback from the department faculty, that changed.

“We realized that he was across the country such an impactful and influential guy. So, we needed to make this even bigger than we thought,” Kreis said.

The students interviewed 30 people for the documentary, including former professional and faculty colleagues, former students, and Price’s two daughters. They traveled to Des Moines, Marion, Iowa City, and Minneapolis, as well as Waverly, to do the interviews.

The documentary includes numerous pictures and film clips, many of them from the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting that Price founded while at Wartburg. Pier says that while the students interviewed lots of people who knew Price, the historical material from the Archives was key.

“A documentary full of talking heads about Grant isn’t the same thing as hearing Grant’s voice and seeing him on the screen,” she said.The first draft of the documentary script and soundbites was 40 minutes, Bloker said. Since the assignment was for a 15-minute documentary, the team rewrote the script eight times, Kreis said.

Bloker said they learned several things about Price that people may not be aware of:

  • He was a leader in diversity in news coverage. He made sure the station’s reporting included minorities, she said.
  • Price hired one of the first black anchors in Iowa (sports director Rick Coleman).
  • Price was one of the first to hire male and female co-anchors (Ron Steele and Liz Mathis).
  • Price was a “stickler for details.” For example, he once sternly corrected Mathis for calling a ship a boat, she said.
  • And, Bloker said along with his deep interest in the news, Price was a devoted family man.

Beloved professor
Kreis said the former students they interviewed all talked lovingly about Price.

Former KWWL General Manager Jim Waterbury told them Price could have easily ended his career in the broadcast journalism field when he retired. But, Waterbury said Price “wanted to take the baton and pass it off to younger, strong writers. And that’s exactly what he did.”

Producing the documentary “was a huge learning experience for all of us,” Kreis said.
Not only did they learn about making a documentary, she said, they also learned a great deal about journalism history.

Bloker echoed that sentiment. “I just feel really grateful the we got the opportunity to learn more about him.”

See the team’s website and their Face Book page.

Wartburg professor wins Shelley Award

Pam Ohrt

Pam Ohrt of Wartburg College is the 2019 Jack Shelley Award winner. She received the award from the Iowa Broadcast News Association at its April 13th convention in Johnston.

The award is named after the long-time WHO news director who later taught at Iowa State University. The Shelley Award is the highest honor an Iowa broadcast journalist can receive.

Watch Ohrt award video.

Ohrt had a 27-year professional career in radio news, most of it at KOEL radio in Oelwein where she served as assistant news director to the legendary Dick Petrik. She became news director when Petrik retired.

 KOEL had a major commitment to news at that time with a news staff of four full-timers and one part-timer. They had a unique operation, making more than 200 daily phone calls in a several county area to police departments, sheriff’s offices, city halls and county courthouses to gather stories.

Ohrt brought her professional experience to the classroom during a lengthy teaching career, including the last 13 years at Wartburg College. At Wartburg, she teaches journalism and radio broadcasting, and advises KWAR, the student radio station.

“I absolutely love instilling this passion in students and watching them blossom as they learn how to do radio shows and do their newscasts,” Ohrt said.

“A lot of them will say ‘I didn’t think I was really going to like this, but I absolutely love it,’ and that’s what it’s all about for me,” she said.

Tyler French, a former student and one of the award nominators, currently works in radio. He says Ohrt pushed him to become a better journalist.

“She applies the perfect guiding hand to the students on staff, allowing them to succeed and learn from mistakes, but also making sure things are accomplished and KWAR continues as one of the best college radio stations around,” French said.

See a complete list of Jack Shelley Award winners.

KCCI’s Dave Busiek retires, calling it a ‘great career’

KCCI-TV News Director Dave Busiek retired December 12th after a more than 42 year career as a broadcast journalist. He spent the last 39 years, 29 of those as news director, at KCCI in Des Moines. He worked for three years before that at WHO radio, also in Des Moines.

Busiek talked about his retirement just before his last day, and here is an abridged version of the interview. You can listen to the full interview below.

Why did you stay at KCCI so long? I’d never set foot in the state of Iowa until I moved up here, fresh out of college at the University of Missouri. I thought I’d be here for a couple of years. I’d be off to the network somewhere and off to a bigger market. And the fact of the matter is that what I really like doing is hands on good journalism, daily journalism. I learned that I was fortunate, fortunate enough to be at a really good station here at KCCI. We do journalism at a high level, and we’ve been lucky to have good owners during my 39 and a half years here who’ve always believed in journalism.

I passed on some opportunities to move to bigger markets because I just realized that I had a pretty good thing here. You put roots down in a community that has been really great to us, to our family and we like it here. We plan to stay here throughout retirement as well because we’re just very happy here.

See a photo gallery of Busiek’s career.

What is your greatest accomplishment at KCCI? I don’t know if it’s my greatest accomplishment, or if it is the thing that I’m most proud of, is the staff that we’ve been able to hire here. We really just have a terrific staff of visual storytellers. We have photographers who’ve been here 30 years. We have reporters who have been here that long and they’re really skilled at what they do. We have a good mix of young people as well. But I think the thing I’m most proud of here is to have a good eye for smart, curious, talented journalists and to be able to bring them in here and to be able to do good journalism on a daily basis.

What is the biggest story that you and your staff have covered during your career? When the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers flooded at the same time, in July of 1993, it knocked out power to all of downtown Des Moines, including the station here and it flooded the Des Moines Waterworks, which meant that just about the entire metro area was without drinking water for 12 days. That was a huge crisis. We were on the air for five straight days with wall to wall coverage.

That was probably the biggest and most important story just because we knew that everything we were putting out there, our viewers really needed, really were depending on us for information to protect themselves and their families.

What advice do you have for journalists right now? I’m very concerned about how under attack we are. We are not the enemy of the people. We don’t lie. We tell facts and, and this is just common sense.

We’ve got to be diligent to make sure that the Americans and our viewers here in Iowa, and our readers, know what we do on a daily basis. We have problems in this country and in this world and we’re never going to solve the problems if we can’t agree on what the facts tell us that the problems are.

What are your retirement plans? It’s been a great career, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I’ve absolutely loved it. But being a TV news director these days is harder than it’s ever been.

I’m looking to slow it down a little bit and just enjoy life a little bit. We do have some travel plans. I’m going to play a little bit of tennis. I’ve got a whole bunch of books that I want to read. And, just to try and get in the best shape that I can for an old guy like me. I want to spend some quality time with my wife. I know I’ll get involved in some kind of charitable organization that gives back to the community in some way. I haven’t figured out exactly what that’ll be, but I look forward to that as well.

Busiek has been recognized by Broadcasting and Cable as News Director of the Year, has been recognized by the Midwest Television Academy of Arts and Sciences with the Silver Circle Award, was recently inducted into the Iowa Broadcasters Hall of Fame and is a Jack Shelley Award Winner from the Iowa Broadcast News Association. Watch his 2003 Shelley acceptance speech here.  

By Cliff Brockman IBNA member, Professor Emeritus Journalism & Communication Wartburg College

Effort underway to save Iowa broadcasting’s past

Amy Moorman in the archives.

Efforts to preserve Iowa’s broadcasting history recently got a boost with three grants totaling more than $218,000 to the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting (AIB) located at Wartburg College.

The money will be used to create an online catalog of more than 28,000 video and audio items in the AIB collection as well as digitize more of the film and tape in the archives. In addition, the money will pay for equipment to monitor the humidity and temperature in the archives storage area, and better containers for preserving the collection’s film.

“The end goal is to provide easier access for people to find and view materials,” Amy Moorman, the college’s archivist, said. “That’s why we keep materials, so people can use them,” she said.

Besides the recordings, the collection also contains old broadcasting equipment, scripts, letters, memos and photographs from various broadcasters and stations around Iowa.

Saima Perveen is one of nine students who work part time in the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting and the Wartburg College archives.

Grant Price, a longtime Iowa broadcast journalist and Wartburg College professor, began collecting material in the 1990s and storing them in his office and other places. When Wartburg’s renovated library opened in the late 90’s it included a space for the broadcasting archives, and the college’s archives.

It’s important to preserve the materials because they are more than broadcasting history, says another long time broadcast journalist Dean Borg, who is co-chair of the archives advisory board. They are the history of Iowa’s issues and events, he said, and the audio and video add an important element.

“Here you’re seeing what radio and television does for you. It brings you the sights and sounds of the news at that time, the facial expressions of the people who were making the news,” he said.

AIB advisory board co-chair David McCartney of the University of Iowa agrees. He foresees researchers using the archives to study issues such as Iowa’s politics and economy.

“There are all kinds of strands of disciplines that are interwoven throughout these magnetic and film media collections,” he said.

Eventually, researchers won’t necessarily have to come to the archives to see the material. Efforts to put materials online are progressing.

Currently about 200 video and audio items are online. But in early November an additional 2,200 video stories and newscasts from KWWL-TV in Waterloo were sent to an outside company for digitization. A number of 16-inch radio transcription discs from WHO radio are also being digitized. It will be many months though before the materials are online, Moorman said.

As for the future, McCartney hopes the researchers will be able to view traditional content, such as paper records from broadcasters and radio and TV stations, online as well as the audio and video recordings.

“I think more and more, we hope that the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting will be recognized as a potential historical research resource to tap into,” McCartney said.

If you have materials to donate to the AIB, contact Moorman at amy.moorman@wartburg.edu.


Following rules is key to avoiding problems in expanded media trials

A judge charged a former KWWL reporter with contempt of court earlier this year for shooting video during a court hearing. The charge was later dismissed. Expanded media rules require a judge’s permission ahead of time to use cameras in court rooms during judicial proceedings.

Despite a few recent problems, the rules for expanded media news coverage (ENMC) of Iowa’s courts continue to work well, according to Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.

Evans says ENMC is effective because of the system of 13 regional media coordinators that handle requests from broadcast and print journalists to cover trials with cameras and microphones.

The system allows a close relationship between judges and journalists to develop, Evans said.

“I think that interaction has stopped problems from becoming even larger on both sides,” he said.

None the less, there have been a few “worrisome occurrences” recently, Evans said. One of the bigger problems, he said, happened in the Chris Soules case. Soules, an Iowa farmer and reality TV star, was charged with leaving the scene of a fatal crash near Aurora in April 2018.

During Soules’ initial court hearing, a former KWWL reporter shot cell phone video of the proceeding without the judge’s permission. The reporter was charged with contempt of court, but the charge was later dropped.

Central Iowa and appellate court media coordinator Jannay Towne of WHO-TV said another recent violation involved the live streaming of a trial in the spring of 2018. TV personnel neglected to mute a microphone and it picked up a conversation between attorneys when court was not in session.

When covering court proceedings, journalists should make sure they are familiar with ENMC rules, Towne said.

“It’s definitely a privilege that we have in Iowa and there’s a lot of things journalists need to do so that we keep that privilege,” Towne said.

Download a guide to Iowa’s Expanded News Media Coverage Rules

Of course, there were no cell phones, or live streaming when the original ENMC rules were developed in the late 1970s. But that does not mean the rules have been static.

“I tip my hat to the Iowa Supreme Court for sitting down four years ago and looking at what changes needed to be made in the expanded media coverage rules because of the changing nature of the news reporting business as well as the changing technology that journalists use,” Evans said.

Journalists are now allowed to use laptops and tablets for note taking and live blogging, and cell phones for texting and tweeting when court is in session. Journalists must wear an ID badge however, so judges know they are permitted to use the technology. Towne, who handles filings for up to 100 court proceedings a year, said not wearing an ID is one of the biggest complaints she hears from judges.

Evans says journalists with questions about ENMC should contact him at 515-745-0041 or IowaFOICouncil@gmail.com, or any of the regional media coordinators.

“We’re here to help journalists navigate the requirements of the court system and still get the kind of video and still photos, and coverage that will better help inform the people of Iowa,” Evans said.

Shelley Winner Says Media Not A Public Enemy

KTIV anchor Matt Breen interviews Rachelle Karstens the new president of Briar Cliff University in Sioux City.

President Trump is too extreme in his criticism of the news media, says Matt Breen, the 2018 Jack Shelley Award winner.

“I understand the First Amendment allows him to speak about us just as it allows us to have freedom to report,” Breen, KTIV anchor and reporter in Sioux City, said. “But to call us an enemy of the people goes too far.”

The president, Breen says, has millions of supporters who will believe what he says even without any evidence.

Local stations across the country have been fair and accurate in their reporting, Breen said. It’s a small number of news outlets “from the fringes of our industry who sort of shout into the wind to get attention” that have biased reporting, he said. He’s always tried to be objective in his 23 years of reporting, and hasn’t worked with any journalists who don’t follow the basic tenets of accuracy and fairness, Breen said.

Those are reasons that led KTIV News Director Keith Bliven to nominate Breen for the Jack Shelley Award. Bliven says Breen is also a mentor. “He takes time to help the young journalists at KTIV get better.  Not just by showing them their mistakes but how to keep from making them in the future, thereby helping them grow.”

 Breen received the Shelley Award at the 2018 IBNA convention for “outstanding contributions to the field of broadcast journalism.” The award is the highest honor a broadcast journalist in Iowa can receive and has been presented annually since 1972 by the association. (See a full list of past winners.)

The name of the winner is kept secret until the announcement at the annual banquet. Breen said he was “in utter shock and disbelief” when he heard his name. He says he is  honored to receive the award named after Iowa’s legendary newsman. “If there was a Mt. Rushmore for Iowa journalists, Jack Shelley would be the first likeness on it,” he said.

Breen says journalists make a difference in people’s lives and are “absolutely essential.” Citing coverage of the 2011 Missouri River flood as an example, Breen said news outlets, including KTIV, provided invaluable information to people displaced by the flood. It was a major commitment to reporting as the flood and clean-up went on for two and a half months that summer. It was by far the biggest story he has covered, Breen said.

Breen’s commitment has often come at a “great sacrifice to his family,” Bliven wrote in his nomination of Breen for the award. “He has missed ballgames and many other important dates in his family’s lives to be at work to make sure the news was delivered,” Bliven said.

Somehow he balances it all though. “Matt is a family man, husband and dad,” Bliven says. “He is the type of father I would like to be someday.”

While Breen is a serious journalist, his career has had its lighter moments. Early in his career, Breen was a weatherman as well as a reporter at KTTC in Rochester, Minnesota. He recalled a letter from a viewer who said she appreciated his weather reports, but thought he delivered them with a bit too much enthusiasm.

“You look like one of those wind-up monkey toys,” she wrote. “I’ll never forget that, he chuckled. “I might have toned it down since then.”

Watch a tribute video to Matt Breen.