ESPNU Campus Connection Brings Georgia Students Behind The Scenes, Into The Booth

By Carolyn Braff

The University of Georgia’s Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communication teaches students the ins and outs of news broadcasting, but on May 3, those news-savvy students were thrown knee-deep into sports production. As part of ESPNU’s Campus Connection program, 13 undergraduate students assisted in the network broadcast of a top-25 collegiate baseball game – and hit a home run in the process.

Campus Connection rolled onto Georgia’s campus on May 2 and immediately put the Grady students to work preparing for May 3’s showdown between the University of Mississippi (then ranked No. 25) and Georgia (No. 13). The volunteers, who were all involved with student-run television station News Source 15, filled a variety of production roles, from camera operator to play-by-play announcer, learning the nuances of sports in the process.

“We were in the middle of finals that week, but they all showed up anxious to get into the experience,” says Alan Thomas, associate athletic director for external affairs. “All of the students involved were in either our broadcast news or telecommunications program.”

To find interested volunteers, Thomas approached the students involved with News Source 15, which produces a live 30-minute news show Monday-Thursday and a sports show on Friday. The News Source 15 course, required for broadcast news majors, focuses on developing and producing news stories, but the students found those skills are easily transferable to sports applications.

“We teach them the fundamentals of television, which is storytelling,” explains Stephen Smith, a lecturer in the Grady College. “We run it like a newsroom, so they’re used to the pressures that come with that.”

“These kids are already pretty enthusiastically involved in sports,” explains Michael Castengera, senior lecturer in broadcast news, “so jumping into the ESPNU broadcast was easy for them.”

On game day, the students got the crew call at 9 a.m. and went to work.

“In News Source 15, we work with getting the stories,” explains Jo Anna Cofer, Grady College class of 2008. “It was very cool to be able to see what goes on with sports coverage because it is so much different from standard news.”

Although Cofer was the designated stage manager on the baseball broadcast, she also stepped into the box with the on-air talent for a few innings, as students were able to rotate positions according to their interests.

“We really tried to find a niche for each student,” explains Meg Reintjes, coordinating producer of Olympic sports for ESPNU. “Some specialized in editing, some liked to do camerawork, some wanted to be on air, so we tried to put them in positions that would hit true to what they were studying.”

Students had a hand in all aspects of the production, from setting up and running cameras to pulling cable, producing full half-inning segments, building in-game graphics, editing packages and delivering on-air reports. One student play-by-play announcer even called the bottom of the third and top of the eighth inning himself.

For News Source 15, students shoot on Panasonic and Sony digital cameras, with video download into a 3TB server and edited on Apple Final Cut Pro, so their learning curve on the ESPNU equipment was far faster than the professionals expected.

“These schools have so much advanced technology that these kids seem to know more than we do,” Reintjes says. “They were teaching us how to do some things on the Avid.”

But there is no substitute for working on a live, in-game sports broadcast.

“To do live editing that’s going in instantaneously, that was different for them,” Reintjes says. “None had ever worked on an EVS before, so it was exciting for them to learn that, and none of them had ever done editing to hit live air.”

Working on a six-camera broadcast was also a brand new experience for the students, who are used to three-camera shoots in the newsroom.

The ESPNU crew, both above and below the line, also spent time before the broadcast speaking with the students, answering questions and explaining that the business they have chosen is not an easy one to break into.

“We were very honest with them,” Reintjes says. “We told them about the struggles that we’ve all had from the beginning, but if you persevere and you want to do it, it will certainly work out for them. It was really exciting for them to be able to be there and ask questions.”

In the end, the teachers learned just as much as the students and Campus Connection already has several more collaborative broadcasts lined up – just as soon as the students return to campus.

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