By Eric Seiverling
Students at Mt. Lebanon and Steel Valley high schools were able to get an insider’s view of cable television programming when the public access giant C-SPAN and its 45-foot customized touring motor coach visited the schools on Mon., Dec. 11.
The stop was a partnership with Comcast to allow students, teachers, and community members to experience C-SPAN’s multi-platform public resources.
The visit was the bus’s first appearance in Pittsburgh, and was part of the network’s year-long 50 Capitals Tour, which started in September of 2017.
“We want to make sure we’re establishing close connections in our community,” Comcast Public Relations Manager Josephine Posti said when asked why C-SPAN and Comcast chose to visit the two schools. “Mt. Lebanon and Steel Valley high schools are geographically in two totally different parts of Pittsburgh.”
The tour includes the $1.2 million bus visiting every state capital in the country, including Alaska and Hawaii.
According to C-SPAN Representative Joel Bacon, Pennsylvania is the 13th state the bus has visited.
The bus – also dubbed a studio on wheels – features HD television screens to demonstrate the C-SPAN video library, HD cameras for live television feeds, and the C-SPAN Classroom, a free, interactive educational resource for students.
While onboard the bus, students were given an insider’s view of how the network operates its “gavel to gavel” coverage, which includes non-commercial, editorially-balanced, unbiased coverage of public affairs and political events. The network eschews funding by sponsors or advertisers, and instead is financed by cable subscribers, receiving 6.5 cents per cable subscription.
“We believe people should have access to the news without us getting in the way,” Bacon told the students. “We try to be as non-partisan as possible. We don’t try to sensationalize anything.”
Students were given pocket Constitutions, and were also made aware of C-SPAN’s national documentary competition StudentCam, a contest that allows students to produce a five minute video documentary with the theme The Constitution and You. Students who produce winning documentaries will be awarded $5,000.
The visit at Mt. Lebanon High School also featured appearances by Mt. Lebanon Commissioner Kelly Fraasch and Stacey Reibach, director of community relations for Pennsylvania Senator Guy Reschenthaler.
While at Steel Valley High School, the bus was visited by Joe Costanzo, liaison for Pennsylvania State Senator Jay Costa, and Homestead Mayor Betty Esper.
“I’m a newshound so I’m always watching C-SPAN and the other news channels to find out what’s happening,” Esper said. “Senate votes are very important.”
Jodi Geyer, instructional coach at Steel Valley middle and senior high schools, said the visit coincides with the students’ curriculum in social studies, psychology, and current events classes.
“This definitely falls within what they’re learning in their classes,” Geyer said in between student groups boarding the bus. “Students have a lot of opinions, but I’m not sure they know how to identify bias. Having something like this where they can form their own opinions is very important.”
The C-SPAN Bus community outreach program began in 1993.
During a break from meeting with students, Bacon described his experience on the bus.
“All over the country, students are engaged by our information,” he said. “I’m not surprised by the amount of smart students that we meet.”