Homecoming Day Tribute to Darla Belshe

By Diana Stover

When the U.S. Marines training helicopter caught fire, one of Prof. Darla Belshe’s UPDATE NEWS students just kept on videotaping the harrowing scene.

"From the moment the flames appeared to the moment I exited, I just kept on shooting and zoomed in and out," Kiet Do said of his 42 seconds of footage.

Do’s training in Prof. Belshe’s class kicked in and he knew that "this was the story that would cement my winning the Hearst award."

Prof. Belshe, with her contacts with Bay Area TV stations, was able to get Do a spot on the training mission along with 13 other Bay Area journalists. 

The Vietnam era CH-46 Sea Knight troop transport that had "bullet holes in it" was used to train Marines on how to react in an emergency.

The Marines training also kicked in and, after the helicopter caught fire, it made a hard landing on the flight deck and got the press contingent quickly off to safety.

Do said that "right away I unbuckled and stood up." He exited the plane and escaped the smoke inhalation that some of the reporters suffered. Although there was one other videographer on the helicopter, only Do took footage of the fire. 

He said that, at the time, he didn’t think about the danger.

"It was 1999 and I was 24," he said. "I thought it was cool."

However, the School of Journalism and Mass Communications thought otherwise.

"There were no more helicopter rides for JMC students," Do said.

Do was one of the four hard-working students that Prof. Belshe guided to first place wins in the prestigious, national Hearst competition—one in radio and three in broadcast news.

For more than 25 years from 1977-2002, Prof. Belshe was dedicated to teaching broadcast news students to write, report, produce, and anchor UPDATE NEWS.

The Tribute: Naming the Darla Belshe-Bob Reynolds Television Studio

The School of Journalism and Mass Communications held a Tribute to Darla Belshe on the morning of Homecoming on Oct. 19. Many of Darla’s former students attended the Tribute and took the mike to tell about how she transformed their lives with her teaching.

Prof. Belshe, who died at the age of 79 in May, worked tirelessly to guide and help hundreds of students launch successful careers in television news.

Journalism Professor Bob Rucker — who worked with Prof. Belshe since he joined the faculty in 1990 — told the assembled group, which included former and current UPDATE NEWS students, family members, JMC faculty, and Channel 11, KNTV, co-workers, that the School will be setting up a fund in Prof. Belshe’s name that will support a wide range of student and faculty activities.

Prof. Rucker showed a video of tributes to Prof. Belshe from her former students. He and one of Prof. Belshe’s former students, Chuck Dorcich, the owner of Cutting Edge Productions in San José, produced the video.

Although Prof. Belshe’s journalism students were responsible for the news side of UPDATE News, they could not have put on the program without the help of Bob Reynolds and his ITV and student crew who filmed the weekly live-to-tape program that was broadcast on Channel 54, the local PBS station.

The television studio in JMC will be named the Darla Belshe-Bob Reynolds Television Studio in honor of their teamwork in putting on UPDATE NEWS.

Recollections of Bob Reynolds

Reynolds remembered the exact date when what is now UPDATE NEWS was born—October 18, 1963—because that was the date when his daughter was born. He was scheduled to be the technical director for the first program, then called, SJS Report, but could not be in two places at once so he missed doing it.

"I made the second one and everyone from then on," Reynolds said of the program he spent his Fridays directing. He helped get the program on the air until his retirement in 2004. In addition to being broadcast on Channel 11 and then on Channel 54, he said the program was also broadcast live across campus starting "at 2 p.m. and it was over at 2:28:40" and was later put on the web.

"Prior to going on the air, the two of us worked together," Reynolds said. "She would be making sure that the news was ready to go and I would work with the students on their performances as anchors."

Every semester Reynolds recruited six to seven RTV students to help with the production, explaining that "we were the best live-to-tape program that they could work on."

Since Reynolds had his crew for four hours, he and Prof. Belshe were able to have a second group of students practice their roles. Reynolds taped the practice program, played it back and Prof. Belshe critiqued it.

Reynolds had nothing but praise for the work Prof. Belshe did for UPDATE NEWS.

"She was a one-man band," Reynolds said. "She had to teach the class, produce the show, and guide the students. On top of that, she had all the equipment and scheduling problems. Whatever needed to be done, Darla made it happen—to teach, to check out equipment, and to get equipment fixed."

Reynolds added that "she was also very good at getting everybody to help."

She recruited her husband, Don Belshe, the deep-voiced news anchor at KNTV, Channel 11 in San José, who was known as Don Hayward, to come into her class three to four times during the semester to teach performance skills so that students could improve their on-air abilities as anchors.

"Don came in as a voice coach," Kiet Do said. "He taught us about inflection, how to anchor, and how to read voice scripts and the voice tracts that you record for your packages."

She and Hayward fixed microphones and other equipment that was broken. 

After DBH was renovated in 1989, Prof. Belshe, Hayward, and Reynolds worked to build a recording booth that didn’t sound hollow. Hayward was also the hamburger cook for the annual picnic she had for her students in Vasona Lake County Park.

Reynolds said that Prof. Belshe developed good relationships and had good contacts with all of the local television stations. Before coming to SJSU, she had worked at Channel 11 in San José where she met her husband as well as at KBHK Channel 44 in San Francisco.

"She was the one who had all of the contacts with Channel 54 to keep the show on the air," Reynolds said. "After UPDATE NEWS was filmed, she had a student immediately take the tape to Channel 54."

Reynolds said that the TV studio got equipment that the School couldn’t afford to buy, explaining that Prof. Belshe, along with staff engineers Glen Pensinger and Steve Calhoun, used their contacts to get equipment "mostly from Channel 11 in San José and Channel 7 in San Francisco" but also from Channel 5 in San Francisco and Channel 2 in Oakland.

Reynolds said that students in UPDATE NEWS were just learning how to become professionals in broadcast news and that they often made mistakes. He said that Prof. Belshe was very supportive of students and gave them "clear directions on how to avoid something."

"Where I think Darla was best was in guiding students when they were putting their stories together," Reynolds said. "Without that direction, I think that the stories wouldn’t have had near the impact they had. Because of her TV experience, she was strong in what was good cinematically and was able to help students put stories and packages together that made a lot of sense."

Reynolds added that, at the end of the semester, she was "very good at helping students put together strong tapes" to help them get TV internships and jobs.

He said she was very proud of the fact that the television industry thought well of her students. In one case in which there were 12 interns from all over the country at CNN, the cable news channel sent all of the students except her student to a writing class because it knew that "the student from San José State already knew how to write."

When confronted with questions of journalism ethics or how to cover a story, Reynolds noted that he heard her former students who are now broadcast journalists use the expression, "What would Darla do?" 

Many of her former students told the audience at the Tribute that, as students and professionals, they were guided by that same question as well as by the standards set by Darla and the admonition to "don’t disappoint Darla."

Don’t "Disappoint Darla"

In Darla’s classes, students worked as a team with the stronger students helping those who were struggling. They all tried to do their best and to avoid making mistakes because, as Kiet Do said, they didn’t want to disappoint her.

"The standard Darla reaction to a mistake was the Darla sigh," Do said. "She cocked her head and then she punched the bridge of her nose just above her glasses. She communicated to you that it was not a great story. It was just her facial expression that you didn’t live up to your potential.

"She just kind of closed her eyes and shook her head. You felt horrible about whatever mistake you made. You never wanted to disappoint Darla."

Do said that students appreciated the long hours that Prof. Belshe put in for UPDATE NEWS. On Thursday nights, she typically would stay until 1 a.m. to make sure that all the news packages were ready to go, and she would come back to campus by 11 a.m. on Friday when the program was taped.

Do said that Prof. Belshe assigned the helicopter story to him because she trusted him to do a good job of covering the event.

"Darla single-handedly changed the course of my life by choosing that story and assigning it to me," Do said. "Had she not picked that story for me, I wouldn’t have won the Hearst award."

Do said that Prof. Belshe identified the potential talent of students to make it in the broadcast news business but that "she never gave up on any of her students." He said that one of the poorest performers in the class now has a job as a TV news reporter.

In addition to Kiet Do, who came back home to the Bay Area to be a multimedia journalist at KPIX-5 in San Francisco after stints as a reporter at TV stations in Albuquerque and Atlanta, many of Prof. Belshe’s students have gone on to successful broadcast careers.

For both Will Thomas and Do, getting the Hearst awards led to their first jobs straight out of college at KOAT Action News in Albuquerque, which typically receives the highest ratings of any ABC affiliate in the country. The general manager of the station was a Hearst competition judge who remembered their stories.

Recollections of Will Thomas: Hearst Award Winner

Will Thomas, one of Prof. Belshe’s proteges, also won first place in the Hearst competition. 

"I found my calling," Thomas said of his experience as a student in Prof. Belshe’s UPDATE NEWS classes. "I realized that this is what I wanted to do. I went from being an average student just getting by to being a standout and to being a leader in the Update newsroom. It was all about the team at least for me. I would just pitch in and help them get their stories done."

Thomas, who worked at Fox 5 in Washington D.C. for 20 years, was the anchor for the evening news.

Thomas gained valuable experience in broadcast news while still in school. He commuted more than 50 miles each way to Salinas where he interned and then worked for KCBA Fox 35 and "became one of the anchors before I graduated." He also did a free summer internship, becoming "the first ever intern" at ABC World News in New York. 

Thomas said that, in Salinas, because it was a non-union station, he "could do all the hands-on things that I could not do in New York." At ABC, where it was "more about watching and learning," he ran errands but he also "got to go along on major stories." 

He got his first job at KOAT in Albuquerque. He then moved to Austin, TX where he was weekend anchor for KEYE 42. He got his big break two years later, with the help of a "fancy agent in New York," and went to Fox 5. 

He credits Prof. Belshe with helping him learn the skills that gave him a head start in broadcasting.

"At San José State, I learned how to edit video, produce newscasts, shoot video, write, report, and anchor," he said. "There was not one area in the Update News sequence that we didn’t do."

A year ago, Thomas left TV news to work at Sotheby’s International Reality. The same drive that propelled him to become a successful anchor has resulted in his becoming a successful realtor. He represents multimillion dollar estates and said that in less than one year he has sold over $50 million in properties.

"I think a lot of the success is the foundation that I built at San José State," Thomas said.

Thomas was the second UPDATE NEWS student to win first place in the Hearst national competition in the broadcast news reporting category. 

He said that Prof. Belshe helped him to prepare his entry of three stories, one of which was a story about a little boy who got to go backstage to meet his idol, Luciano Pavarotti. The finals for the award were held in San Francisco. Thomas and two other finalists were told to go to Chinatown and find a story.

Thomas said he won the award for an intergenerational story about a Chinese family living in a very small apartment. He found an elderly Chinese man who was practicing Tai Chi in Portsmouth Park and managed to get himself invited to the couple’s apartment where he did an interview on the challenges of living in such a small space with a parent. He also managed to include an interview with a psychologist who had an office in Chinatown. 

Thomas said the Hearst award "was a feather in her cap because we were competing against the big boys like Columbia."

Thomas said that Prof. Belshe impressed the fact on her students that "broadcast news was a very competitive field."

"Darla was no nonsense," he said. "You get it done. You make your deadlines."

Prof. Belshe also had another side to her. When one of her students, Joanne Nguyen, became very ill and was hospitalized, Prof. Belshe joined her parents at her bedside.

Kris Belshe: Stepson for 50 Years

Kris Belshe, Prof. Belshe’s stepson "for 50 years" said that, after her students graduated, they kept in touch with her by stopping by her office in the School, by phone, by emailing her, and even by coming to Santa Cruz to visit her at her home.

"Her students were everything to her," Belshe said. "Their successes were so important to her. She would listen to their success stories—where they went to work and what they have done. She loved that."

He said she also listened to their stories when they had a bad experience and gave them the advice that "you fail and you go on."

The Belshe family—Kris Belshe and Prof. Belshe’s stepdaughter, Debbie Dorr—as well as many of her six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren are making plans to attend the Tribute.

And, because of the extraordinary life-long relationship that Prof. Belshe had with her students, many, including Kiet Do, are also expected to be there.

For one semester when UPDATE NEWS was without an instructor, Do had the opportunity to "be Darla" when then-School Director Bob Rucker brought him back to teach the course.

"To leave SJSU after 11 years and to take my career to different parts of the country and to teach one class and to get a taste of what it was to be Darla for just one semester helped me to connect with her on a deeper level and to make me feel like my universe had come full circle."

Bob Reynolds: Videographer Who Headed UPDATE NEWS Production Team for 40 Years

For 40 years, Bob Reynolds spent his Fridays in the production studio in DBH that will be named the Darla Belshe-Bob Reynolds Television Studio.

Reynolds was able to combine his love for journalism with drama when he worked with Prof. Darla Belshe on UPDATE News.

When he became a student at San José State in 1959, he "signed in with the initial idea" of majoring in photography in Journalism. In the fall of 1960, he switched to become a TV major in the Drama Department, earning his B.A. in Drama in 1964. While still a student he worked as a cameraman for what was then called the TV Center.

Reynolds was assigned to the School of Journalism and Mass Communications on Fridays to get the program on the air but the rest of the week his job as a videographer was to produce, shoot, direct, and distribute videos about successful SJSU programs and graduates.

From 1978-1995, Reynolds worked with Prof. Wanda Blockhus in the Marketing Department in the College of Business to produce a series of 16-20 minute videos about successful graduates. The first video was of George Coakley, Marketing graduate and inventor of the "Pet Rock" who was a lecturer in JMC for many years.

In all, Reynolds produced 23 videos, including ones on Don Lucas, Peter Ueberroth and Jessica McClintock as well as on other successful business graduates. In 1988, he and Prof. Blockhus went to Hong Kong where he did videos of Robert Newton, the vice president of Lex Electronics, Inc. and Ken Shimazaki, co-owner of Pacific Design Group in Hong Kong.

After his retirement in 2004, Reynolds free-lanced as a videographer. For one of his assignments, he videotaped a back operation.

Reynolds was an avid bicyclist who travelled more than 10,000 miles on his bicycle without incident. In 2012, when riding back home to Mill Valley after having lunch in Tiberon, he had a bicycle accident.

"I was coming down a slight hill that was steep enough that I crossed the road and fell into a ditch," Reynolds said.

His bicycle fell on top of him and he came out of it as a paraplegic.

"My days of flying around the world are over," said Reynolds who is "pretty much" confined to his home now.

However, Reynolds never lost his sense of humor. He said he had a running gag with his doctors at Marin General Hospital that, when they operated on him, he knew what they would do to him since he had freelanced for the company that manufactured "the screws that went into the guys back."

"I was literally in the room that was just a foot away from the surgery that I had after my accident," Reynolds said.