The 60-minute special edition hosted by Diane Sawyer is the first national broadcast company’s investigative journalism piece to include Southeast student talent and is scheduled to air tomorrow, April 20 at 9 p.m., central time.
Dr. Jim Dufek, professor and TV & Film operations manager in the Department of Mass Media, was contacted in January by a 20/20 producer who needed additional footage to supplement the episode’s main shots and interviews.
“It was a great opportunity for our students to work on a project at a national level and caliber,” he said.
Dufek asked Cusack of Ballwin, Missouri, and McGruder of East Prairie, Missouri, both senior mass communication majors, TV and film option, to take the lead on the project because of their dedication to quality work and their outstanding accomplishments at Southeast.
Over the next three months, Cusack and McGruder were tasked with shooting b-roll for five separate assignments, including capturing footage showcasing the Dexter and Sikeston, Missouri, areas and the Glen Carbon, Illinois, area, and one of the episode’s featured subjects in her home and on the job.
For each shoot, the goal was to paint a picture for the audience and give them an understanding of the local landscape of each specific location and the environment in which the featured subjects work and live, Cusack said.
“20/20 wanted a sense of the area, including railroad tracks, farm land, water towers, churches and various signage and identifiable markings,” he said. “We wanted to also show these are real people and real stories. There were no special effects. Everything was real and natural.”
Projects like this take a lot of time, effort and people to develop and turn into great stories, Cusack added.
To accomplish this, Cusack, McGruder and Dufek spent an extensive amount of time planning each shoot.
“We had to prepare the right opportunities to film the requested shot while finding the best possible way to get them done,” McGruder said. “We had to battle weather conditions and travel to remote locations to get exactly what we needed.”
To be asked to contribute to a national recognized program is an impressive acknowledgement of the University, the mass media program and its students, Dufek said.
“20/20 was very happy with the quality of our work, so much so they asked us to complete multiple requests,” he said. “It’s truly a testament to the students and our program.”
Because of the program’s focus on combining academia with experiential learning opportunities, Cusack and McGruder both felt they had the tools and abilities to tackle this ambitious project and be successful.
Working on a national project wasn’t much different from the process of working on an academic or local project, McGruder said.
“While there were definitely additional steps and planning we had to do to get the exact footage the 20/20 team was looking for, their planning process and actions for achieving those set goals were very similar to what we do here for productions at Southeast,” he said.
This was an excellent opportunity for the students to see how broadcast is still relevant and can produce quality journalism, especially with so many streaming and online options, Dufek said.
“Everyday news happens so fast. It’s here today and gone tomorrow,” Cusack said “But stories like this, the ones that make a real impact, take more time and I’m honored to have been a small part of it.”
Cusack and McGruder are looking forward to watching the finalized episode.
“It was a great feeling to see three of our shots in the promo, and we’re really excited to see how much of our work collectively makes it in to the final edit,” Cusack said.
Photo Caption: From left to right are Southeast Missouri State University students Branson Cusack and Spencer McGruder.