Beginning the week of March 18, West Virginia Public Broadcasting will air a news segment produced by students at Morgantown High School.
The story is part of a series entitled “Opportunities in America.” PBS is challenging its Student Reporting Labs around the country to answer this question: What does opportunity mean to you?
For the Morgantown High students, the lack of opportunities in West Virginia became their angle. Kristy Choi, associate producer for PBS in Washington, D.C., worked with the students to arrive at their central question.
The question was whether the explosion of high-paying jobs associated with the Atlantic Coastal Pipeline is a good thing or a bad thing for West Virginia’s young people. The crew traveled to the company’s worksite in Buckhannon and filmed workers welding the pipes. They interviewed pipeline workers and management personnel.
The students found that although the jobs do pay extremely well — one welder said he made $5,600 per week — those jobs will be gone once the pipeline is finished. Then the total work crews for the company will go from 4,000 jobs to around 20. The students also discovered that many of the jobs are filled by out-of-state workers who follow the pipeline around the country.
Professionals from PBS NewsHour's Student Reporting Labs worked with the students to write and edit the piece. They made two trips to Morgantown to train the students in the use of cameras and recording equipment, much of which they provide as part of the SRL program.
Alia King, a senior at Morgantown High, was the student producer of the segment. She interviewed Leah Weeder, a welding student at the local technical center, who intends to forgo college and work on the pipeline. Hannah Criser, another student at Morgantown High who plans to attend college, provided the counterpoint to the notion that high-paying pipeline jobs are a viable alternative to college.
Alia also interviewed economics professor Joshua Hall of West Virginia University, who explained the temporary nature of these types of jobs.
The segment was a collaborative effort, Choi said.
“I can’t say enough about WVPBS news director Jesse Wright,” she said. “He volunteered his time to help the students record voice-overs and provided aerial footage for their piece.”
The WVU School of Journalism also provided support.
Morgantown High applied last summer to be the newest lab in the PBS Student Reporting Lab network. Choi said she was impressed by them from the get-go.
“Their teacher, Tiphani Davis, didn’t really have the production background, but she is a terrific storyteller,” Choi said. “Their pitch for this story was super strong.”
The lab jumped right in last fall to do some pieces on youth voting. More recently, student Kyle Shaw went out and interviewed teachers during the work stoppage.
Choi was impressed. “The sheer will and passion of this group tells me their lab has what it takes to be a success,” she said.
Other students in the Morgantown High lab are Maya Kreuger, Paxton Marner, Carson Mara and Michael Virji. For more information on the “PBS NewsHour” Student Reporting Labs program, visit studentreportinglabs.org.
The segemt will air on West Virginia Broadcasting beginning on March 18. Exact times may vary from one location to the next. A lengthier version of the broadcast piece can be seen online at studentreportinglabs.org/ opportunity-in-america/2019/02 /27/boom-or-bust-stay-or-go.