‘Whatever the students want it to be’: Alt News going strong in 19th season on air


Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz

Alt.news 26:46 equipment manager Jeff Haney, a senior studying cinema and photography from Deerfield, films a skit Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, in Studio A of the Communications Building. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

By Kitt Fresa

Everyone is welcome at Alt.News 26:46, a student-run sketch comedy and short film show.

Established in 1998, Alt News has accumulated 31 regional Emmys. It airs on Saturdays at 10:30 p.m. and runs for 26 minutes and 46 seconds. This year marks its 19th season, and around 30 members are currently in the group.

Regardless of what they study, any student with an idea is free to participate, Ben Giles, one of the show’s executive producers, said.


“If somebody has the drive and the actual initiative to want to make something then I’m always down.” Giles said. 

Stephen Greene, the other executive producer, said he and Giles have the last say in what eventually airs on television.

Alt.news 26:46 executive producer Ben Giles, left, freshman Danny Damian, and equipment manager Jeff Haney review footage Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, in alt.news 26:46’s workroom in the Communications Building. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

The group is separated into staff and crew, with staff members making the big-picture show decisions and the crew pitching ideas and helping to film, Greene said.

“We do a lot of documentary shorts that are around five to seven minutes, and then we fill the space in between those with one-to-two minute shorts, usually with comedy sketches.” Greene said.

Alt News helps students get jobs when they graduate, Giles said.

“Classes are super important, and you need to learn the rules of filming, but if you never apply those things, if you never have an opportunity to actually do any of that, then you’re never really going to get good, you’re never going to have the experience you need to get a job,” Giles said. “I think Alt News results in a lot of people getting work after.”

Alt.news 26:46 executive producer Ben Giles, a junior from Paducah, Kentucky, studying radio, television and digital media difuses a hotlight Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, in Studio A of the Communications Building. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

Julianna Johnson, one of the show’s senior producers, said Alt News changes every year when new students take over.


Johnson said she been part of the group since she was a senior in high school because the faculty advisor at the time invited her to be on the show. Next year will mark her fifth year with Alt News.

“Alt News is whatever the students want it to be,” Johnson said. “It changes each and every year because a new group of students handle it every year.”

This year, Johnson said the show is focused on aesthetic, documentary shorts and comedy sketches.

“Sometimes you can fall into standards and structures for those things, but this has been a really good year because all the people on staff this season want to break some of those rules, and we’re making more interesting things because of it,” Johnson said.

Because they are not affiliated with the university, Greene said they have “total freedom.”

“We’re not an RSO, we’re property of WSIU,” Greene said.

The group follows PBS guidelines for the content broadcasted on live television. Anything that goes outside of those guidelines gets posted to the Alt News website.

“The creative freedom, that’s one of the best things about Alt News, is that it really is what you want to make it,” Giles said. “While we have ideas for what we want to do, we always accept people coming in saying, ‘Hey I want to make this,’ that’s like, ‘Awesome I’m glad you want to make that with us,’ and we make a concerted effort to make sure that it does get made.”

Alt.news 26:46 executive producer Stephen Greene, a senior studying radio, television and digital media of El Paso, watches as skits are filmed Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, in Studio A of the Communications Building. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

Alt News lost its status as a Registered Student Organization a few years ago when it won five regional Emmys in a single season. Other creative groups in competition with Alt News complained that it wasn’t fair because the show was funded by SIU, and Alt News responded by cutting itself off from the university and switching to fundraising.

Occasionally the show will rent from the Mass Communications and Media Arts equipment locker, but only if it’s to rent something specific or of a higher quality. Otherwise as an organization, they have their own equipment.

Filming all the content for a season takes up to two months, Greene said, which often includes traveling. Traveling for Alt News isn’t always regional. For example, last year the show took a week-long trip over spring break to Colorado and filmed an entire episode’s worth of content.

Greene said, he doesn’t think people fully understand how much time is put into creating Alt News.

“On average, we shoot three separate things each week. That’s a lot of work and a lot of shooting to do,” Greene said.

Staff writer Kitt Fresa can be reached at [email protected]. 

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