Topic: College of Communication Information and Media

April 22, 2010

A broadcast news report on the potential to revitalize economically depressed Gary, Ind., has won top honors for two Ball State University students in the seventh annual Fox News Channel College Challenge.

Junior telecommunications majors Zachary Perlinski and Michael Konopasek will split $10,000 for claiming first prize in the nationwide competition for undergraduate students. The university's Department of  Telecommunications also will receive $10,000.

The Fox News Channel College Challenge requires student teams to research, write, produce and submit an objective broadcast news story. A panel from Fox News Channel judged the entries. 

"Gary, Indiana: Hopes of Revitalization" is a three-minute news story developed by Perlinski and Konopasek to shed light on how far the once economically vibrant Gary has fallen since the demise of its steel industry in the 1970s.

The students, both 21, are familiar with the economic fortunes of the area abutting the southern shore of Lake Michigan, since they were raised in nearby Munster, Ind.

"We wanted to do the story on Gary because we've always found the history of the community to be very interesting," explained Konopasek. "At one time, Gary was among America's great industrial cities, but it is now in desperate need of revitalization. The city has a lot of national appeal, so people from around the country should be interested in our story."

The project was researched in late 2009 and filmed in January. During production, the two explored the extent of Gary's urban decay.

"The city served as a creative palette for our endeavors," said Perlinski, who next will intern for "The Late Show with David Letterman" — hosted by Ball State's most prominent graduate — during summer 2010. "From the historic Gary Union Station to the empty storefronts of Fifth Avenue, we probed all corners of the magnificent city. Through time spent in the community, we also were able meet a handful of individuals very passionate about its future." 

Terry Heifetz, a telecommunications instructor and former producer for the Weather Channel and CNBC, served as the students' mentor. He will accompany the students to Fox News studios in New York on May 5 to talk about the winning entry and the group's experience.

"If I was still in network news, I'd run this piece because it is a terrific example of how to tell a strong, compelling story," Heifetz said. "Zachary and Michael are clearly among the best students here in the program. For this project, I pretty much got out of their way and let them move it forward."

The award from Fox News is further evidence that Ball State's College of Communication, Media, and Information (CCIM) appeals to high achieving students interested in augmenting already inquisitive minds with the skills and knowledge for a successful career, said CCIM Dean Roger Lavery.  

"The recent Fox News competition was won by students who were innovative and entrepreneurial in their approach to the assignment," he said. "The college provides engaging interdisciplinary instruction and state-of-the-art equipment and labs; however, ultimately it's our students who make the difference. "

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