The Northern Television Center’s classes and student productions will be relocating to Watson Hall in the fall, according to Mehdi Semati, chair of the Department of Communication. The dedicated NTC building, 123 Stadium Drive, will not be used to teach classes, as it has since the 1970s.
Semati said production classes will be taught out of Watson if they have sufficient enrollment.
Two classes in the fall are scheduled to use the NTC: Journalism 354 and 356. Together, they have 17 students enrolled, according to MyNIU. These classes have previously produced a weekly newscast, a sports broadcast and daily 10 minute news updates.
Semati said the university looks for a minimum enrollment of 15 to 20 students for each class. He plans to continue the three productions if enrollment is sufficient.
Semati said the Watson studio is used for one class and the occasional independent study, leading the department to question whether it was worth maintaining both that space and the NTC. The Watson studio has not been used for live newscasts before.
The department is trying to match journalism trends outside of the university to bolster enrollment, he said. He wants to begin including data journalism and social media in the curriculum.
“If we just let the whole program be defined by the local TV news model at the expense of others, I think that would be a disservice to our students,” he said.
He said the department’s journalism faculty was included in formal meetings discussing the NTC’s relocation.
Beni Enas, general manager of broadcasting at the NTC, had to drop her plans for the fall that included use of the NTC. She had been recruiting students for the NTC before she received an email June 11 from the department indicating her contract would not be renewed.
Journalism 354 and 356 use the NTC and were taught as separate classes before this upcoming fall. Enas spent two years getting the curriculum changed so classes are taught together in a block, starting this fall. She said this made it easier for students to qualify for Journalism 357, another NTC course, since Journalism 354 and 356 are prerequisites, which she hoped would increase enrollment in the spring.
Semati said the general manager position will not remain. A new position for the Watson studio may open and any qualified individuals can apply, he said.
The building that houses the NTC served as the university’s computer center until the 1970s. The Department of Communication converted the building into the production facility it is today. In 2017, WTTW Chicago donated four sets and had an employee redesign NTC’s lighting grid.
Semati said the antiquated building has issues like blackouts, flooding and improper insulation. The Watson space is safer for the equipment, he said.
Semati said the decision will save money, but he did not know the exact amount.
There are no plans to demolish the building.
Enas said the NTC was nominated for an Emmy last year, and she believed they would win this year for their coverage of the Aurora shooting. NTC’s coverage had an exclusive interview with victim Clayton Parks’ family.
“I feel so sad for how much traction we had been making — for students and the program,” she said.
Enas described the location in Watson as a step down from the dedicated facilities at NTC.
Eddie Garcia is a Master’s student with a graduate assistantship in the Department of Communication. He won awards for his undergraduate work at the NTC and was looking forward to teaching classes out of its facilities.
“New students will not have the opportunities previous students who are now working in the industry had,” he said.
Semati said graduate assistants will still teach the same courses and produce the same products, only in the facilities in Watson. If the courses don’t have sufficient enrollment, Semati said students will still produce packages, if not the full newscast they are used to.
Matt Knutson, executive producer of Windy City Live on ABC7 Chicago, graduated from NIU in 2005 and worked at the NTC for two years. He credits the NTC for his success.
“What I learned about NTC is they taught us how to tell stories, the principles of journalism and how to do it on our own,” he said. “When you left the NTC, you had a resumé tape.”
Knutson got a job offer in February of his senior year, but wanted to finish his credits and graduate in May. He got another offer in May for an associate producer position and has worked in the television industry since.
“[NTC] operated like a news room, no matter how many students were in it,” he said.