The young man sitting behind the large, glossy desk—hair disheveled, tie askew, khaki sport coat mildly rumpled—doesn’t look like your typical news anchor. With a polished grin, he begins his report: “Professor Larry Sabato stated that Democrats and Republicans looked like they were from two different planets.” The anchor pauses, then adds wryly, “Sabato is thinking about writing a new book about it, called Democrats are from Mars, Republicans are from Venus. It’s funny now, but politics majors, you’ll have to buy the book next spring.”
Welcome to The Hoos News Show, a comical newscast created by Josh Cincinnati (Col ’07) and Mostafa Abdelkarim (Col ’07). Hosted by Cincinnati, it broadcasts almost weekly over the Internet, covering national and UVA news with a satirical edge.
Hoos News discusses major University headlines, like the Living Wage Campaign, but also lighter fare, such as a male correspondent’s attempt to audition for a role in The Vagina Monologues. “We try to develop a balance between really important news and stuff people may not think about as much,” says Abdelkarim, the show’s senior correspondent.
“We like to show the ridiculousness of certain things,” adds Cincinnati. “We have serious things to say, but we do it in an entertaining way.”
While the idea of a student news broadcast is not new, the comedic slant and Internet distribution of Hoos News make it the first of its kind, according to its creators.
The show was a long time in the making. Inspired by Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show on Comedy Central, Cincinnati, then a second-year student, volunteered to produce a show for UVA’s cable network, WHOO-TV. But faulty equipment and the eventual collapse of the cable network made production of a pilot impossible.
The idea fell to the wayside until months later, when Abdel-karim suggested a solution to the distribution problem: put the show online. “We really got into it when the Internet was emerging as a new way of communicating video,” says Cincinnati, who put together a rough Web site for the project (www.hoosnews.com).
The two set out to write and produce a pilot episode in the summer of 2005. “We thought it would be hilarious to do onsite reporting from the new [Observatory Hill] dining hall,” Abdelkarim recollects, “so we brought in the camera and just started filming. At first we were like, ‘Do we have permission to do this?’ We didn’t know how far we could take this, just filming wherever we want.”
Along with their on-camera roles, the two served as videographers and editors. They learned a complicated video editing program and spent about 50 hours in the library piecing together the pilot. “We effectively destroyed his iBook,” says Abdelkarim.
When the first show was posted online, the response was overwhelmingly positive and the duo began assembling a team to produce more episodes. Now in their second season, the co-creators estimate they’ve received 80,000 site hits since they began. “It allows UVA to get to know UVA better,” says Abdelkarim. “We hoped Hoos News could become a vehicle for students to express what they feel is important around Grounds.”
New episodes are also available on Google Video and for download on iTunes, allowing them to reach an audience beyond Grounds. “We’ve had a lot of people contacting us from other schools,” says Abdelkarim. “It’s about college life. Students at all schools can relate.”
Last fall, Hoos News was declared an official student organization. The staff has grown to 19, with auditions held once a year. The demands of the now-weekly show have created new challenges. “It’s still very much in development,” says Cincinnati. “It’s a labor of love. But it is a labor.”
“The first two weeks were hell for us,” says Abdelkarim. “Now when we go around filming, people are like, ‘Oh, Hoos News.’” The recognition has been validating. “Hearing people say ‘Keep it up,’ that they enjoyed an episode and appreciate all the work we put into it, that’s the most defining and memorable aspect of producing the show,” says Cincinnati.
Both founders graduate this year. Cincinnati, who interviewed at The Daily Show, opted to attend graduate school at Stanford next fall. Abdelkarim hopes to get a legal job in D.C. They’ve worked to ensure a future for Hoos News, electing a new host, producers and head writer. Both are reluctant to leave the show behind. “We just have a lot of fun doing it,” says Cincinnati.