Fast Forward trains in digital media

UNI’s digital media program hosted its 15th annual Fast Forward workshop on Friday, Oct. 25. College and high school students from across the state heard from nearly 30 industry experts, including keynote speaker and UNI alum Ben Hagarty.

SOFIA LEGASPI, Campus Life Editor | [email protected]

Nearly 30 industry professionals gathered at the 2019 Fast Forward Digital Media Workshop to share tips and tricks with students from UNI and other schools.

The event took place in Lang Hall on Friday, Oct. 25 and concluded with a keynote address and special session with Ben Hagarty, who has worked with several big clients in Los Angeles since graduating from UNI.

Fast Forward is an annual workshop organized through the digital media major in the Department of Communication Studies. Its first iteration was held 15 years ago with about 40 participating students.

According to professor and event director Paul Torre, this year’s event included students not only from UNI, but also Luther College, Hawkeye, Iowa Central and Kirkwood Community Colleges and Marshalltown, Cedar Falls, Dike and Ballard High Schools.

“We are all here because we care about and are interested in media — journalism, television and film production, radio, social media and all the technology that goes along with that,” said Interim Department Head Chris Martin to the crowd as the day began. “And you’re going to be getting a lot of that today.”

Fast Forward attendees were able to select three among 11 different panels to attend throughout the day, ranging from a radio vocalization master class and discussions about news and social media to demonstrations of video and lighting equipment.

One common theme throughout the day was the importance of collaboration, connections and creativity.

In a panel titled “Why Journalism isn’t Dying,” four editors and directors in the news industry discussed challenges faced as journalism shifts from print to digital. Despite continuous changes in technology, panelists agreed the need for journalism was stronger as ever.

“It’s exciting right now really because we’re all trying different things,” said Tony Baranowski, director of local media for Times Citizen Communications. “Some are succeeding and some are getting thrown out the window, and you move on to the next.”

Katie Brumbeloe, news editor for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, agreed adaptability was key.

“It’s important to be able to balance the two,” Brumbeloe said. “Being able to experiment and try things, and being able to let go of the things that don’t work as fast as you can is really important. You’ve got to be willing to be innovative […] And when it doesn’t work, don’t be discouraged. Know that you tried to do it and that you learned to take the next step forward for the next thing you’re gonna take a risk at.”

During another panel about crafting a brand through social media and video, former UNI student Devin Harschnek expressed a similar sentiment regarding the value of failure and resiliency.

“I have done a lot of failing in my career, and I would look at that as a beautiful thing. Look at it as a gift and look at it as a learning opportunity,” said Harschnek, who now works as a photographer and video producer for VGM Forbin. “Because I have not gotten to where I am — I don’t think anyone has gotten to where they are now — without a lot of failure, learning and continuing to improve.”

“The more you can learn and the more you can pull from your strengths and work on your weaknesses [the better]. You just never know what your job is going to entail and where it’s going to lead,” said Michelle Van Dorn, a former journalist who is now UNI’s first social media coordinator.

These themes continued through Hagarty’s keynote address, where he outlined his story from creating videos as a student at UNI, to moving to Los Angeles and sleeping on air mattresses in friends’ homes, to becoming the main videographer for Beyonce & Jay-Z on their world tour.

Hagarty shared three pillars he believed contributed to his success. The first was the concept that it takes 10,000 hours to master a craft.

“I only think about filming and making content 24 hours a day,” Hagarty said. “I literally live to learn, and even though I’ve been out of school for a while […] I consider myself always a student in this game; everything’s always changing […] so you constantly have to be on your toes.”

The second point involved adding value to a project with no expectations in return. Hagarty gave an example of helping director Andrew Sandler with Chris Brown’s documentary, “Welcome to My Life.” After putting a great deal of voluntary time and effort toward the project, Hagarty was eventually given credit as co-editor for the film: the beginning of his snowball into success.

“By finding ways to add value, you create a network,” he said. “And that network will remember the value that you give.”

Hagarty’s third piece of advice was to “exceed all expectations” by searching for gaps and needs and taking the initiative to fill them. The creator related these three points to the importance of meeting people and making connections.

“This is super key in almost every field. Networking, right?” Hagarty said. “If you do something really good and go above and beyond for someone, and the next time someone asks that person if they know someone that does something kind of like what you do, you’re going to be at the top of that list.”

By adhering to his three mantras and making the right connections, Hagarty said, he was able to get his foot in the door and break into the Los Angeles media business — a feat that, for many, takes years to accomplish, if at all.

“I hauled through and I never stopped running,” he said. “I don’t know how to tell you how important it is to take advantage of those opportunities, to seize those moments.”

As a final thought, Hagarty urged his audience to remember the importance of collaboration — a concept he valued so highly that he created “Black with No Cream,” an online community for creators to gather and learn together.

“Collaboration is the most key thing I’ve ever found to really jumpstart any project,” he said.

Those interested in Hagarty’s online community can visit