‘College Challenge’ inspires students to aspire
Junior journalism major Julia Skrobak was sitting in class when she got the text.
A fellow journalism junior Shannon Ferry kept calling her, and she didn’t know why until she read the message.
“It said: ‘We won!’” Skrobak said. “I just walked out of class.”
She ran across Hofstra University’s Long Island campus to the Dempster Hall College Communications building where she celebrated with her teammates Ferry and Megan Corcoran, a senior TV, video and film major.
After weeks of hard work and waiting, the team won Fox News Channel’s annual “College Challenge” by producing a “fair and balanced” short news video. They earned a $10,000 scholarship for their team, a $10,000 grant for their school and a priceless appearance on “Fox and Friends” on the morning of May 3 to talk about their work and accept two Ed McMahon-sized checks from co-anchor Steve Doocy.
“Being here, being interviewed on Fox, who gets to do that?” Ferry said, still starry-eyed from the win.
Ferry learned about “College Challenge” while searching for internships online earlier this year. An aspiring reporter, she rallied Skrobak, a hopeful TV news producer, and Corcoran, an editor and post-production worker, to help her produce a three-minute story package for the contest.
Although the girls knew they wanted their story to be about a controversial, current issue unique to New York City, they weren’t sure what topic to choose until Skrobak suggested the animal rights of horses that pull carriages in Central Park.
She’d seen billboards reading “Stop Carriage Horse Abuse” and PETA posters plastered around town, but she thought of it as more of a joke until she started researching. Then she realized just how complicated the issue was.
“I found out there was so much more to it than just a bunch of animal rights activists trying to get the horses off the streets,” Julia said. “There were economic issues. There were political issues involved in it. There were a lot of different elements to it.”
Skrobak and Ferry researched the idea, and when they had the rundown ready, they worked with Corcoran to choose a day to film near the end of February and the beginning of March. The girls could only coordinate one day in their busy schedules, so they knew they had to shoot all of their interviews and b-roll efficiently to make it work.
“It was a real world experience,” Skrobak said. “If this was our job, we would be going out and shooting a story in one day—producing it and everything. So it was exciting to do that.”
Since the issue of whether or not horses should be pulling carriages at Central Park was controversial on many levels, the team wanted to make sure they gave everyone who had a stake in the story a fair chance to have their say.
“Something I learned was how to ask the right questions,” Ferry said. “We knew we needed to show, ‘This is what these people think,’ and ‘This is what these people think’ . . . . It was important for me to think, in terms of asking questions, ‘What’s the sort of response I want?’”
Ultimately, the girls were able to film everything they needed to represent the story fully and fairly. In one of the following weekends, Corcoran spent 10-15 hours in front of the computer cutting and splicing their footage to visually represent the story. She even had to cut one word out of Ferry’s standup in the middle of the piece, and the team agrees, she did it flawlessly.
Now that the competition is over, the girls have simple plans for their prize money: tuition and student loans. But beyond the fortune and fame of winning, they agree that one of the best parts was spending one-on-one time with Fox News Channel employees, such as personality Mike Huckabee who worked his way up from the bottom of the totem pole to earn a position at America’s most-watched news channel.
“That was inspiring to us because we see how difficult it is to get into the business and to get to such a high position,” Ferry said. “We’re so grateful . . . . Everyone here is so nice and friendly and encouraging. People we meet in the hallways are giving us little bits of advice.”
“Thank you to everyone at Fox,” Skrobak said.