Video Stories from the Kent State Platypus Workshop

May 4, 1970 seems light years away from the millennial students now taking classes at Kent State University. The history-making killing of four students and wounding of nine in an anti-war confrontationwith the National Guard that day rumbles as an emotional undercurrent, a thread of dissent even today.

But what do the millennial students perceive as the story? Could they visually show their ideas in a video format that was unfamiliar to most of them? That's the question The Digital Journalist team sought to answer in its early April visit to Kent State University's School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

For the past five years, the School has been revamping its curriculum to emphasize convergence, to teach in multimedia platforms and to offer students the opportunity to peer into the future of journalism technology.

The School had been searching for a photojournalist faculty member who could feel comfortable with videography - a platypus, by TDJ definition. The faculty didn't know at the front end that that's the kind of person the School wanted. But after extensive searching, including the NPPA site, they agreed the School needed a strong photojournalist to support the print program - along with someone to look to the future. After all, the university is already pressing the School to define the types of spaces it will need in five years when it moves across campus to its new home.

So, when Dirck Halstead pitched the idea of bringing the Platypus Workshop to Kent, the School's Director Pam Creedon didn't flinch. She'd agree to have the staff visit with the hope that the finished videos would find a home on a news outlet through the negotiations of Halstead. We figured the work would appear on TDJ and also on the Apple Learning Exchange, a worldwide web network of schools.

Two weeks later, the team arrived with Halstead, Rolf Behrens as video editor and Dick Swanson as added support. Instantly, the students were engaged in learning. The 25 had volunteered to learn video from TDJ staff for five to seven days. Notes were sent to all the students' faculty across the university asking for  excused absences. Few students balked at the expected full-time commitment to this type of project.

Faculty support person Barbara Hipsman, an associate professor with a long background in news,  developed teams led by print photography students. Each team also had one print story teller, one broadcast story teller and a support electronic media person as well as one "other" - a younger student generally. Hours passed like minutes as the students worked to learn the storytelling system of Platypus. 

View the QuickTime Video of Rolf Behrens
teaching video to Kent State students.

And finally, the staff and teams began to talk about May 4, 1970. Some teams said they knew a lot. Later, they would admit to not knowing as much as they had thought. A documentary was shown about the incident. Resource persons were available. Late nights brought discussion. The students then were told to come up with a story about May 4 they thought millennial students might be interested in hearing. Could
it be something a little different than what was seen on the airwaves time and time again?

These videos are presented on the Apple Learning Interchange.
They can be viewed with Apple's QuickTime Player.
Click here to download the free QuickTime plug-in from Apple's website.


Project One:
Designing May 4

    When Bridget Commisso was a ittle girl growing up in Akron, Ohio, Don Drumm was just the friendly neighbor living across the street.
    Little did she know that in a matter of a few years, she would talk with him about his artistic presence as a sculptor during one of the must turbulent times in U.S. History.
    Drumm, a sculptor and craftsmen in Akron, was asked to construct a corten steel sculpture in front of Taylor Hall on the Kent State University campus in 1967. A bullet hole soon changed what the piece of art would mean to Drumm and the university.
    On May 4, 1970, National Guardsmen arrived on the Kent State campus while students protested the Vietnam War and the recent invasion of Cambodia.  Unfortunately the guardsmen decided to open fire on the students.
    One of the many bullets fired made its way through Drumm's sculpture and into a crowd of students. Four students were killed that day and a bullet pierced Drumm's sculpture changing it's artistic value forever.
    Today, 30 years after the tragedy - people are still intrigued by the May 4 shootings and its historical and human impact on the nation.
    The event led five Kent State students involved in the Platypus multimedia project  to dig deeper and find the story behind the story of Drumm's sculpture and his reflections on May 4.
    With Bridget Commisso as a photographer and team head; Chris Fulton, an electronic production major, Carl Matzelle, a news photojournalism major, Jad Melki, a graduate student and Rachel Wenger, a news print journalism major, the Brown Team was full of talent and energy.
    After talking intensively with Don Drumm we knew we had found a story that was both visually and journalistically appealing.
    We hope that you will agree that even though Don Drumm may seem like the guy next store - his talents and style are certainly welded in Kent State's history forever.

Drumm team: Bridget Commisso, Platypus shooter, Chris Fulton, Rachel Wenger, Carl Matzelle, Jad Melki

Project Two:
Maintaining May 4

    Rhonda Wilson has several subtle yet interesting connections to the May 4 tragedy. All of them interconnect to form a web of reflection and insight that lenda fascinating angle to May 4.
    Eight years old at the time of the shootings, Rhonda Wilson was living in the area and remembers the build up to and culmination of the tragedy.
     Now, as a full-time Parking Services employee, she frequently works in the parking lot where the four students died.  Her supervisor was actually attending Kent when the shootings occurred; he has shared both his photographs and his memories with Rhonda.
    And, finally, one of Rhonda's classes at Kent is the course specifically dealing with May 4, taught by Tom Hensley and Jerry Lewis, both of whom were on campus May 4, 1970.
    The student team's video follows Rhonda through an average day. She works in the Prentice Hall parking lot, emptying parking meters and performing basic maintenance.
    Rhonda is also seen in class, learning more about May 4, and later, interacting with her supervisor as he shows her his photos and recalls what he experienced on May 4, 1970.
    The things that Rhonda has learned and the discoveries that she has made about May 4 become more than just aspects of her own personality. Throughout the video, as Rhonda "maintains May 4," the impact of the events at Kent State grow on the viewer in the simple yet powerful way that they have grown on Rhonda.
    Rhonda's lesson is a basic one, yet ultimately very powerful.

Shane Roach, Veronica Stensrud, Chris Gianakos, Tim Harrison, Tim Bugansky

Project Three:
Drawing May 4 Memories
includes the musings of Chuck Ayers, cartoonist for the popular strip "Crankshaft."
     Ayers and his partner Tom Batiuk started the Crankshaft May 4 story line just as the teams began to learn to shoot video the first week in April. They initially shot a storyline with Batiuk, but realized that Ayers was actually the artist on this strip...and that they needed better shots. So, they arranged to interview Ayers.
     What emerges is a very personal, poignant look into Ayers' history with Kent State. He talks the viewer through his emotions both from May 4, 1970 and now, as he drew the month-long story line for the strip.
      Ayers was a student photographer in 1970. Batiuk also attended Kent.

Team members: Katie Deuel, videographer, Todd Carson, Michelle Chyatte, Chris Fulton, Rachel Wenger

Project Five:
Dad and Daughter Reflect

    He was one of the Kent Krazies, a group of students adamantly protesting the war in vietnam and the National Guard's appearance on the Kent State campus. John Hartzler along with his future wife, twin brother Jeff, and close friends Alan Canfora, Tom Grace, Jerry Perski, Franky Sedel and Tom Miller felt the burn of tear gass in their eyes and know the pain of witnessing the shootings. 
     Hartzler was a senior education major at the time of the shootings, but he never graduated from Kent after the university sent him a letter saying he had rendered himself unfit to be a teacher. Even though, he has always wanted daughter Emily to receive her higher education at the place where he had so much fun - and learned so much about the world.
     Thirty years later John and Emily will once again be attending the May 4 commemorations. This time, they'll do it together. But for John, he says this will be his last. John says he does not want what happenedon May 4, 1970 to ever be forgotten. But he says he is tired, and everything needs a time to rest.

Orange Team: Justin Casalandra, Platypus shooter, Shane Hoover, Kabir Sanches Bhatia, Dana Pederson, Brenda Culler

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