GNAT rakes in national awards

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SUNDERLAND — Greater Northshire Access Television has won a national award for overall excellence in community media programming, and three of its shows and their hosts and producers have also earned national honors.

The Alliance for Community Media, a group representing more than 3,000 public, educational and government television outlets nationwide, gives out its Hometown Media Awards yearly, dividing them by station budget. GNAT won in the category for stations with budgets of $300,000 to $650,000. They were part of a strong Southern Vermont showing, as Brattleboro Community Television won in the $300,000-and-

under division.

The Overall Excellence Award is a professional award recognizing the effectiveness and value of GNAT's on-air content and services provided to the community. The judging criteria include use of emerging media and communication tools, variety and technical quality of the productions, and how those programs serve community needs and concerns.

"I love it when our volunteers are recognized for their work," GNAT executive director Tammie Reilly said. "It's really important to us and special, especially gaining recognition from outside of our own community."

Fifth-graders Joe Nicholson, Levi Jones and Thomas Sheldon and GNAT youth producer Ann Hammerle won for their show "Kids on Sports;" Shawn Harrington, and GNAT production manager Hoss Wuerslin won for their local history show "Time Stamp;" and Steve Dunning and Jeff Linebeck won for their show "Mono," which features contemporary poetry.

Winning the award was "a total surprise," said Harrington, the director of the Manchester Historical Society.

He said that producing a program for public access, rather than commercial TV, allows him freedom to follow stories where they lead and spend more time on subjects.

"We've done long episodes, we've done short episodes — that's one nice part about being at a smaller station," Harrington said.

Dunning, who considers the win for "Mono" as "a dream come true," is hoping to leverage the award to expand viewership of his show, which is now seen in Vermont and Massachusetts.

"The ACM's Hometown Media Awards recognize shows that challenge conventional commercial television formats and move viewers to experience television in a different way. From the very beginning, I've tried to create a television show that was not based on anything that I've ever seen before," Dunning said.

While Riley is thrilled for all of her volunteers, she's particularly proud of how "Kids on Sports" proved what GNAT can do for local schools as an educational resource and growth opportunity for children and young adults. The organization has long focused on building relationships with schools, teachers and parents and promoting the use of public access television as an educational resource, she said.

"Using TV and video as a way to teach kids how to tell their stories is really meaningful," Riley said. "It builds confidence they can use throughout their life. I've seen it first hand with these kids."

For the young hosts of "Kids on Sports," talking about the games they watch on TV has been part of their regular routine at Manchester Elementary-Middle School.

But things changed when Joe Nicholson's project for the "Power of Words" last fall at MEMS was a speech about how he and his friends gather to talk about sports. Hammerle heard about Joe's presentation and got in touch with his mom, MEMS fifth-grade teacher Anna Nicholson, and the rest is TV history.

Well, not quite. There were growing pains as the three friends learned how to present a successful TV sports talk show the old fashioned way — by getting in front of the camera and actually doing it.

"It was not the best episode," Joe Nicholson said of their first attempt. "It was kind of weird at first. For me it was the feeling that everybody was watching."

"For me it's not freezing up," Sheldon said. That and the scripts he had written for football segments were too long.

"But now we're getting pretty good about that," Jones added.

They improved their game by doing what their sports heroes do: They watched the tape and critiqued their own performance.

"When we watched it we're starting to know what we need do better," Thomas said.

"We watched it and did what we needed to work on," Nicholson added. "By the fourth episode we were pretty good about it."

As they got their feet wet, Nicholson, Sheldon and Jones added guest interviews to their show, including Burr and Burton Academy hockey player Julia Martin and BBA ultimate Frisbee coach Tom von Allmen. They presented special topics on March Madness and the Super Bowl, and in-depth discussions about topics such as post-touchdown celebrations, the best or funniest college mascots, and team dynamics. As they got accustomed to the format, their natural chemistry as three friends who like to talk about sports started to shine through.

And now, they're thinking about careers in sports and sports media.

"If I could have a job that has to do with sports I would really love that," Nicholson said.

"It's a good thing to have while you're in school because it could get you into college," Thomas added.

For Anna Nicholson, wearing two hats — as a mom and as a teacher — she's proud to see how her son and his classmates have come into their own and grown comfortable in front of the camera.

"I've seen so much growth with all three of them. From the beginning they were married to their scripts, they were very robotic," Nicholson said. "Once they moved on and learned how to make proper notes, get in jokes to engage the audience, and get some guests on their show, it just blossomed from there."

All of the award winning programs will air Saturdays throughout the month of June starting at 10 a.m.on GNAT's Comcast Channels 15 & 8, and anytime online at www.gnat.tv.

Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at gsukiennik@manchesterjournal.com or at 802-490-6000.

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