MARSHALL - For more than two decades, the Southwest Minnesota State University chapter of the National Broadcasting Society has made a name for itself among the nation's best.
Twice, SMSU adviser Mike McHugh said, the club has earned national "Chapter of the Year" honors. Many of those awards are hung on the "Wall of Honor" outside of McHugh's office.
"The (SMSU chapter of) NBS has competed regionally and nationally," he said. "In 1995, we were 'Chapter of the Year' in the nation. The second-place runner-up was Penn State University. In 2002, we also won it."
In addition to two national titles, the SMSU chapter, which fluctuates between 12 and 18 members, has also claimed "Regional of the Year" awards eight times. Along with multiple individual honors throughout the years, McHugh said the NBS chapter has been recognized as a "Model Chapter" 75 percent of the time.
"Basically, in all different categories, our students have been very competitive nation-wide," McHugh said. "Typically, around the country there's only about eight schools that get the 'Model Chapter' award. Every year, we pretty much achieve that level because our students are very, very active with what we do."
One of those activities includes participation at the national convention. McHugh and four SMSU NBS members - David Legnani, Toni Harms, Liz Nix and Bobby Sue Fenske - recently returned from the 2012 national convention, which marked the 70th annual, in New York.
"It was a very rewarding experience," said Legnani, who is currently serving as chapter president. "We got to network with many individuals from the media industry. It was a very worthwhile experience. It wasn't my first time going to New York, but it was my first time going to the National Broadcasting Society convention."
Nix was attending her second national convention, having traveled to the 2011 convention in Los Angeles, Calif.
"I liked it a lot," Nix said of the 2012 convention experience. "I got to learn a bunch of new experiences, everything from leadership skills to what will help me in my future career and just my future in life as a person. You learn so much from these conventions, talking to other people and to professionals."
Nix estimated that close to 500 students from various schools attended the New York convention.
"That's just the students," she said. "That's not including all the advisers and board members, plus all the professionals who came to talk with us."
While in New York, McHugh and the SMSU students toured ABC News, NBC News, Bloomberg News and the Major League Baseball Network. They also attended the "Today Show," "Good Morning America" and the "Anderson Cooper 360" show.
"We did a lot of networking with a bunch of other organizations, so it was definitely a good way to learn what they want as a job prospect," Harms said. "The Anderson Cooper show was definitely a highlight. It was during the Trayvon Martin case, which was a really good topic to be at. It was really cool."
While enjoying the experience, Harms was somewhat surprised at the actual production process.
"It really got your eyes open to how they actually produce a show and what all goes on," she said. "I went on the assumption that it was a live show, but we actually taped three different shows within that hour and a half we were there. It was very interesting to see how that really worked and what all goes on behind the scenes."
While SMSU started its NBS chapter in 1991, the national organization has been around since 1943. In that time, countless speakers have helped educate aspiring broadcasters, including legendary news anchor Walter Cronkite and sportscaster Bob Costas.
"Gordon Jump, who portrayed Mr. Carlson on 'WKRP in Cincinnati,' but has since passed on, was student president around 1946," McHugh said. "He came back to us in the '80s and early '90s as guest speaker."
Former radio-television majors, who have since graduated from SMSU, have also spoke at various conventions.
"The NBS emphasizes excellence in broadcasting, professionalism among students and a small school like us, we're very active and hands-on and we compete with the big dogs I guess you might say," McHugh said. "It really adds to the students' education, going to the conventions and competing."
SMSU senior Kyle Erickson didn't join the group to New York, but he did attend national conventions in Los Angeles and Dallas, Texas.
"I've also been to the regional conventions in St. Louis and the Quad Cities," Erickson said. "I would've liked to have gone this year, but the money wasn't there. I'm guessing it was a pretty good professional experience because you get to talk with congressionals at special sessions. Anytime I go there, I collect a bunch of business cards."
While the students do an annual fundraiser that involves a takeover on KKCK, McHugh said the trips are often hard to afford. The experience, he said, however, is tremendous. In March of 2013, the national convention will be held in Washington, D.C.
"The students always represent Southwest, our program and our region very well," McHugh said. "We have name recognition because they've been competitive. We're a small school on the prairie, but we try to do it right."
BROADCASTING AS A CAREER
Erickson thoroughly enjoys what he does and can't wait to make it a career.
"I like the combination of it being a creative outlet, but it's also actually work," Erickson said. "There's jobs you can have in business where you don't get to be creative. You're just working. Whereas, here, it's just open-ended. There's just so many ways you can produce a show or produce any kind of production."
On campus, the radio-television broadcast students learn hands-on how to do a number of tasks, including the management of the KSSU radio station and KSSU, the student-managed campus television station.
"One the things I noticed, just being in this major and also going to this convention, is that people really rely on you for their information," Nix said. "It really feels good to be able to give people the information they need, when they need it and as easy and as soon as possible. To be able to provide that is amazing."
It's about reaching out to more than just your neighbor or just your community, Nix said. It's about connecting with everyone, even people you don't know. With that too, Legnani said, comes responsibility. There's always the question of how a person goes about every story.
"If it's very touchy to the Marshall community, what angle do you want to put the story so it'll be most effective for its citizens without offending someone?" he said. "That's not our job. Our job is to report the news. With all work in news, it's about responsibility and ethics."
Even in light of difficult situations, Legnani said a person has to question what his or her personal ethics are.
"What integrity do you have as a person and as a news reporter?" he said. "Those are the questions you have to answer. Sometimes, it's not doing what's popular, but doing what's responsible and right."
Harms appreciates that there's always something new every day, especially in the new industry.
"You're not going to have the same story twice, unless it's a continuing story," Harms said. "News is changing every day, so it's something that keeps me on my feet and constantly awake."
A week ago, a group of SMSU broadcasting students got to tour a variety of facilities in Sioux Falls, S.D., including five media outlets and all three television stations.
"We sat in on the KELO-TV noon newscast, sat in on the 5 p.m. KSFY-TV newscast, visited KDLT-TV and toured five radio stations at Backyard Broadcasting," McHugh said. "We also toured Nichols Media video production house."
While at KELO-TV, the SMSU students were able to watch a newscast and talk with reporter/anchor Shawn Neisteadt, an SMSU graduate.
Earlier in the semester, SMSU students aired the Clapper Iron Chef competition for the first time. The two-hour broadcast proved to be successful.
"(SMSU culinology professor) Michael Cheng and I kicked around the idea of televising it," McHugh said. "A lot of planning went in, but the students did an outstanding production."