General Information Features: SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry - Bronze Medal

Category 14: Electronic Media: General Information Features
SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry – “Nature in Your Backyard”

Contact: Dave White, media relations coordinator, Office of Communications, 122 Bray Hall, Syracuse, N.Y. 13210 Phone: 315-470-6645, e-mail:

Summary and overall objective: “Nature in Your Backyard” is a two-minute television feature produced by SUNY-ESF to help people enjoy and better understand the world around us; give our students a proactive learning environment; and, raise the electronic image of ESF.

Under the supervision of D. Andrew Saunders, Faculty of Environmental Biology, the programs deal with aspects of nature people often overlook. Professor Saunders responded to a request for ideas to raise the electronic profile of ESF. He wanted a means to further engage his students. We wanted another avenue to reach viewers.

Such simple things as attracting certain birds to your yard, why squirrels do what they do, how the leaves change color in the fall, what amphibians live where you least expect them, the migration of the monarch butterflies are the topics of each segment. We felt we could find a way to explain science and nature in an entertaining style.

Planning and program evolution: The first host of NIYB is Emily DeBolt, a SUNY-ESF master’s candidate studying environment interpretation. Emily, under the title of interpretive naturalist, did the basic research, writing and reporting for each segment. After the first eight segments were produced and our process perfected, two new students joined the team working under Emily’s direction: Melissa Misco and Natasha Souter. Graduate student Melissa Henneman took over as producer for 2006-07. Freelance videographer, Mark Nicotra, shoots and edits the segments. Dave White, media relations coordinator for ESF, edits the scripts, supervises taping of each segment, and develops distribution outlets.

Reaching the airwaves was not easy for NIYB. The idea was first pitched to Time-Warner Cable’s Syracuse news channel. In the midst of preliminary discussions, the cable operation retrenched and scaled back local production.

The nature show idea was then re-pitched as an item of “lighter news” to Syracuse’s three commercial broadcast news operations. One responded and arrangements were made for a videographer to meet with one of Professor Saunder’s students.

The student and videographer spent a couple of hours taping. But a mere 10-seconds of video was shown on the evening news as a “nature moment” with no explanation and nothing from or about the student who did all the research. It was very disappointing for a very extensive effort.

We went back to the drawing board. We decided to produce the segments ourselves. We could make sure correct science would be used, the student wouldn’t be shortchanged credit due and, ESF could be properly connected to the project.

Results: The first eight segments aired on Bridge Street, a Monday-through-Friday magazine show on WSYR Channel 9 in Syracuse, N.Y. A total of 16 segments are now in rotation on the Orange Television Network at Syracuse University; while WCNY television in Syracuse, WNED in Buffalo and WPBS in Watertown are using the 16 segments as interstitial programming. Another 16 segments are now in production.

The first 16 segments are now available on YouTube where in one month’s time they’ve been viewed 585 times. We also stream them on our ESF Web site at

We are packaging the segments on DVD and distributing them to New York science teachers in a direct mail campaign. Eventually we will have segments highlighting nature during the fall, winter, spring, and summer.

New segments nearing completion include wading birds, nature journaling, earthworms, invasive plants, backyard criminals (raccoons and skunks), nest boxes, garter snakes, salamanders, composting, slugs/snails, owls, mosses, centipedes, mallards, and creating a nature calendar.

Budget: In the beginning, the cost was minimal. The students volunteer their time, Professor Saunders and Dave White fold production demands into their regular schedule, the video equipment was donated by the Orange Television Network (an exchange for the right to air the finished segments), and the only extra cost was the videographer ($30/hour) and the blank tapes.

Since the initial segments of NIYB were so warmly received and the development of new video ventures (YouTube possibilities, video highlights for our Web site, and a half hour talk show spotlighting ESF faculty and students), we have invested about $6,000 dollars in video production (camera, tripod, wireless microphone, and editing software).