What’s new in Lower Merion schools? Tune in to Ricky Reports

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It was barely 30 minutes to airtime when Ricky Sayer, director of Harriton High School’s live Ram Report, burst into the studio.

“We have breaking news!” he shouted to the crew. “We have audio of an administrator talking about the barricades in the parking lot” – the cause of morning traffic jams that were the big story all week at the Lower Merion Township school. His 22-second clip needed to be wedged into the top of the newscast.

For the next half-hour, he bounced around the high-tech equipment to download his interview while the script was frantically rewritten.

“This is more chaos than usual,” said Ricky, 18, as the seconds ticked down to the 11:32 a.m. broadcast. “I love the adrenaline!” 

None of the last-minute scramble was apparent to the Ram Report’s student viewers when the red light came on and Ricky flawlessly delivered his latest scoop.

Over the last five years, the tireless student newsman has covered anything and practically everything touching student life in Lower Merion:  enrollment growth, almost every Harriton varsity football game, a gun threat at the school, concerts, plays, even the possibility that  Harriton is haunted.

Arguably the only story in town he hasn’t reported is the incredible one right under his nose: how Ricky Sayer, a self-described middle school “outcast” with few friends and no social life, picked up an iPod touch and a microphone one day and reinvented himself as Ricky Reports, a legend. 

Harriton principal Scott Weinstein marvels at Ricky’s popularity. “We have a pep rally, and all the popular kids — all the athletes, the student government kids — get on the microphone,” Weinstein said. “At some point Ricky picks up the microphone, and when he does, the place goes wild.” 

“He’s the local source of everything Harriton,” said Weinstein. “It’s really impressive. People really respect him.”

To many of the 1,200 students at the Rosemont high school, Ricky’s sign-off – “I am …  Ricky Reports” — is now as iconic as Walter Cronkite’s “That’s the way it is” was for their grandparents’ generation.  

It’s all quite an achievement for a kid who admits he listens to TV news theme songs on his smartphone the way his classmates might tune in the newest download from Kendrick Lamar, and who had WPVI’s Action News jingle as his ringtone.

“He was a different kind of kid,” admits his mom, Melissa Sayer, who makes no effort to conceal her pride in the unique niche her son occupies. “So when he started getting out there in front of the camera, this isn’t your average little preppy-looking, socially adept kid. This is a quirky kid.”

It didn’t feel that way to Ricky when he was in seventh grade. “I think of my life as split into two eras: Before Ricky Reports and after Ricky Reports,” he wrote in his college application essay. In middle school,  “I sat with the kids who watched anime and played videos games, not because I was interested in those topics, but because they were the most accepting people at school.”

Around that time, Sayer agreed to indulge her son’s request for a video camera and a better computer for film editing. The popularity of YouTube and Facebook video streaming offered a natural outlet for Ricky’s work, but his successful reinvention stems largely from an old-school passion:  TV broadcast journalism. It’s safe to say that in 2017, few if any other high school kids are devotees of the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt.

At Welsh Valley Middle School, he first adopted his Ricky Reports persona for a report on the school’s Fun Friday event. Lacking a teleprompter, he put his script on the back of a pizza box. It was broadcast over the school’s morning announcements.

“I knew I had something,” he said. “I didn’t know what it was yet.”

Before long, Ricky had perfected his on-air baritone — though he doesn’t see himself as an anchor. With hair hanging on his forehead and the slightly rumpled air of an old-time newsman, he seems better suited to his dream jobs, investigative reporter or network news producer.

Ricky’s journalism is fueled by his curiosity about practically everything. His first truly newsy report, during freshman year, grew from his fascination with Lower Merion’s rising school enrollments. His mom helped with that one, filming him in front of the district administration building. The 14-minute report got over 500 views on YouTube.

By then, “I had established the Ricky Reports brand,” he said. “People don’t know me as Ricky Sayer.”

He has taken his camera and microphone to events like last summer’s Democratic National Convention, where he interviewed Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. He reported on the 25th anniversary of the 1991 plane crash at Merion Elementary School that killed former Sen. John Heinz, interviewed such newsmakers as U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, and covered the presidential election.  He even got from a source what he reported was an engineering document for a third Comcast tower in Center City. “Others have speculated,” he said, “but mine is the only piece of evidence.”

He has established himself as the go-to source for breaking news at Harriton, taking to Snapchat to report that the school would remain open after a student made a gun threat on social media two weeks ago.  He broke a story on Facebook of a student caught with pot brownies last year, but acquiesced to former principal Scott Eveslage’s request that it not air on the Ram Report. “It wasn’t a big thing,” Ricky said.

Michael Tudor, the faculty adviser for Harriton High School TV, which Ricky started last year and presides over, describes him as “totally authentic about his love for the news. It’s not about putting on show, or putting on airs.”

As Ricky prepares to graduate and head to the acclaimed journalism program at Syracuse University, he leaves Harriton with a legacy: the Ram Report broadcast will be carried on by undergrads who now work with him.

He already is learning that aggressive reporting can put him in the center of controversy. This past week, he got up at 6 a.m. to film his report on the traffic-disrupting barricades. When Ricky’s sources told him the barriers were coming down, an assistant principal claimed his initial report on Facebook was wrong. Some kids even hurled the mantra of 2017 politics: “Fake news!”

But Ricky’s additional reporting, including the interview with the administrator that he aired on the Ram Report, proved he got it right. It was a badge of honor at a moment when journalism, large or small, is under fire.

“Trust is the most important thing,” Ricky said. “I think what I have at Harriton is that everyone trusts me.”

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