By Amy Chapman
When he graduates from college in two years, James Piccirillo of Greenwood plans on a career in live television broadcasting. The 2012 Telstar High School graduate is already well on his way: his work in television news has just been honored with an Associated Press award.
In addition to making time for classes at Emerson College in Boston, where he is a sophomore studio television production major, Piccirillo is involved in numerous industry-related extra-curricular activities.
He is currently preparing to help broadcast the largest student-produced live awards show in the nation. He just returned from a week in Las Vegas as an intern for Sony USA at the annual National Association of Broadcasters Show.
And he is the technical executive producer of a weekly live news show that was recently honored by the AP’s Massachusetts/Rhode Island division as the Best College Broadcast.
As a freshman at Telstar, Piccirillo worked on lighting for school drama productions. His interest and expertise quickly expanded to other aspects of production, and before long he was serving as technical director for the Helen C. Berry Auditorium, handling all of the technical aspects of production for school and community events.
Piccirillo started working for EIV (Emerson Independent Video) during his freshman year as an associate director, worked on a couple of different programs as an associate producer, then stepped into the role of technical executive producer for the station’s News at 9.
He is one of two executive producers for the program. He and the editorial executive producer, journalism major Erin Farley, are responsible for all of the show’s content and all aspects of production.
“My job is making sure we have the appropriate interviews, and making sure that any video we want to have shown over our anchors or over our stories is available to us,” Piccirillo said.
To prepare for the 30-minute broadcast, the executive producers each spend about 18-20 hours a week working on the show, assisted by a crew of about 30 other students. All of the jobs at EIV are held by Emerson College students, and are unpaid positions that students take on to gain experience in television journalism and studio production.
The Massachusetts/Rhode Island AP accepts contest submissions each year from all of the colleges in those states that have student-run live news programs. Only shows that are broadcast live are eligible.
The competition is made more intense by the fact that news crews from different schools often cover the same stories and events. “And in a lot of ways, Emerson is in competition with itself. Emerson has three separate news programs that are considered nightly news programming,” Piccirillo said.
“I was on a story a couple of weeks ago, running down the lead, and I looked over, and there was the guy from Boston University, trying to get the same lead as I was,” he said. “You’re covering the same material as some of the other colleges, especially during weekday shows.
So how did Piccirillo and his crew ensure that their broadcast would stand out?
“We pride ourselves on getting very fresh content,” he said. “A lot of news programming, especially at the collegiate level, will be stuck in content that is 24 hours old. Erin and I were very concerned with making sure that we always had up to date stories, so even if something broke 15 minutes before the start of the show, we would make sure that the story got on the air.”
Besides stories that are relevant, factual, and fresh, Piccirillo said the technical quality of the programming also sets EIV News at 9 apart.
“Our goal, every episode, was, if we had a story—and we averaged 30 to 40 stories per program—every single one of those had some sort of video over the top of it,” he said. “I would send shooters into the field to go on location, or we would get video from other, outside sources.”
“[When you watch the news] you don’t really want to just watch two guys talking about a story. You want to see what they’re talking about. If they’re talking about a house fire, you want to see the house fire.”
The episode chosen for the award was broadcast on November 19, 2013, and included up-to-the-minute local and regional news stories, sports, and weather.
In addition to his duties at EIV News at 9, Piccirillo is also the manager of the broadcast technical division for this year’s EVVY Awards, to be held May 9 at the Cutler Majestic Theatre at Emerson. Modeled after awards shows like the Emmys and the Oscars, the EVVYs have gained national recognition, receiving a first place award from the National Association of College Broadcasters and two national Telly Awards.
It will be Piccirillo’s job to make sure all the production equipment is up and running before the show, and to troubleshoot any problems that arise during the broadcast.
He acknowledged that live broadcasting, especially when it takes place outside of a newsroom, is stressful—“very, very, very stressful. You go wherever something happens. You’re setting up in a facility that’s not necessarily designed to be a broadcast facility, so who knows what can happen?”
Despite the stress, it’s an atmosphere he thrives in. He plans to stay in Boston this summer to work in the industry, and he is set on the field of live broadcasting after college.
“After I graduate, I’ll go straight into the work force,” Piccirillo said. “There are graduate programs available, but I’m looking to work, not to become a professor.”
“Television is one of those industries where it’s the quality of your work that gets you noticed,” rather than the number of degrees you obtain, he said. “The industry is all about the quality of what you’re producing.”
Asked where he sees himself living in a few years, Piccirillo said, “Realistically, Boston, New York, or Los Angeles. That’s probably where I’ll be based, because that’s where the major media hubs are. Geographically, it depends on what I get for a job. Wherever there’s work available when I graduate is where I’ll end up going.”