The University of Southern Mississippi came up with an interesting idea for its latest recruitment campaign; it gave video cameras to a cross-section of students and asked them to document their lives at the school. The result, USM’s Student Powered Videos (SPV)  program, has been a hit — drawing media buzz  and traffic to the college’s Web site.
But not everyone is happy with the campaign.
In fact, the editorial board of USM’s campus newspaper ripped the SPV campaign for making the university “look bad.” In an editorial this week, student Ashley Bryan wrote:
The university’s new ‘Student Powered Videos’ and commercials have to be the worst advertising campaign I’ve ever seen…
The majority of the commercials look like a small-scale version of “The Blair Witch Project.” The camera bounces and shakes, there’s no point to them at all, and when it’s over the audience has no idea what they just saw…
I’m not trying to bash on the students who spent their time and energy trying to do something to help the university … But wouldn’t it have made more sense to use the students who actually know something about film-making? … If the film department is anything like the photojournalism department, they could seriously use some new equipment. But instead of buying the film department cameras, the university gave cameras to students who don’t need them.
I’ve watched some of the videos and, as a guy who’s been in the marketing game for 20 years, I think they’re pretty good. They’re certainly fresh and have an authentic feel — and I’d expect most high-school seniors to react well to them.
As one USM applicant told the Hattiesburg American, “They really give you a picture of how great the Southern Miss campus is and just how involved you can be as a student.”
And let’s be real here: does anyone — in Hattiesburg or anywhere else — remember USM’s recruitment campaign from last year? I didn’t think so.
So what’s this controversy really about? It’s about fear. Students who are studying photojournalism and video are scared and resentful that their “experience” — as limited as it is — has been deemed unimportant, even irrelevant, by the very university that is training them in these skills.
I see obvious parallels in the pro vs. amateur arguments that rage among photographers online. We saw it most recently in the comments on our Creative Commons post  — where CC is defended by amateurs and attacked by pros. Pros are fearful, and rightfully so, about the low-balling business practices  of hobbyists — and of the corporations that are more than willing to exploit them.
The USM situation, though, also makes clear that the pro vs. amateur debate can become a reductio ad absurdem. Ultimately, the market will decide who to hire and what to pay. The burden is on pros to demonstrate they are worth the prices they expect the market to bear. The burden is also on pros to take Sean Cayton’s advice and identify the opportunities  in the new world in which we find ourselves.
[tags]photojournalism, videography, Southern Miss[/tags]