Monday, January 9, 2012

Time for the Rochester media to step up

Thousands of high school kids from throughout upstate NY show up for an event featuring science, technology, engineering and math.  It's an event as exciting as the first NASCAR race of the year, or the first baseball thrown out at the beginning of the season for these kids, and their mentors.  In fact, it's filled with even more suspense because unlike those events in this event they'll discover the challenge they're going to try to tackle for the next 6 weeks as they build a FIRST Robotics Challenge robot to compete for glory.
Over the next 6 weeks kids from these teams will be working on their robots as much as 3 evenings a week, plus all day on each weekend day, putting hundreds of hours in - all while maintaining excellent grades in school.  At the end of the 6 weeks they'll be delivering the robots to compete at a regional event, and hopefully an international one.  These regionals are every bit as exciting and engrossing as a great basketball game or football game, featuring both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

In the meantime they'll have learned programming, design, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, physics, math, science, embedded systems, how to run a lathe and a drill press, how to work as a team and collaborate, as well as leadership, public relations, marketing, and team spirit. After a 4 year experience in FIRST 85% and more of graduates go on to college, and 70% of them go into much needed engineering fields.  FIRST Robotics offers millions in scholarships to FIRST Robotics Alumni at major technical colleges all over the US.

Doesn't this sound like something that our community and culture should be promoting at every opportunity?  Doesn't it sound important enough to warrant television, newspaper and online media coverage?  Pictures? Video?  Profiles of the teams and individual superstars on those teams? It does to me.  Apparently not to those who actually run and prioritize media stories however.  They seem to think that it's much more important to post stories about who is the best baseball, football, basketball, - heck even water polo is covered in more detail than FIRST Robotics.  In fact recently the Democrat and Chronicle posted a 36 page special on the best individual athletes in traditional sports - on the same day that they completely failed to cover the event mentioned above.  Apparently "Driver ticketed for 2 car crash" and "Local swimsuit model competes" is more important than "Thousands of High School kids get an opportunity to be professional engineers".

Our culture today promotes sports and our high schools spend millions on sporting equipment, fields, and infrastructure.  Think what a change we could make in our society if we instead spent those dollars and that effort on promoting academic challenges.  Think what a difference it could make for urban kids if all of them had the opportunity to participate in one-on-one mentoring and building a possible career, instead of sports where maybe one or two out of thousands of participants might someday go professional.

I hereby challenge the Rochester Media to step up this year.  Go select a couple of FIRST Robotics teams - Email me if you need some leads - and give them the same coverage you would give a high school sports teams.  Don't just cover the FIRST Regional event in March from the point of view of a "bunch of geeks getting together" - post the scores the next day.  Post the winners.  Tell us who won what awards.  Highlight where they're going and follow them if they move on to Championships or compete in other regionals.  Follow a couple FIRST high school seniors and see where they end up in terms of colleges. Let's make academic challenge just as important as athletic challenges.  We need to in order to survive and compete as a community.  And you don't have to stop with FIRST teams - other great challenges like Science Olympiad and Odyssey of the Mind are also deserving of your coverage, recognition etc.  Those kids deserve to have their success documented like every athlete in your 36 page athletic section do.  This means YOU Rochester Democrat and Chronical, and ALL of you in the news media (WHEC, WHAM, WROC, etc).

Some say that the media should just follow culture - I say that you can have a positive effect on the Rochester region by highlighting not just our athletic successes but our academic ones as well.  Do something good for your community.  And don't just stick us in the back of a local section - do feature stories.  For the good of Rochester.