In February, I was at the post-game press conference for a University of Georgia basketball game.
One of our Sports Media Certificate program graduates, now working as a school counselor, was seated near the back of the room with a student from Rockdale Career Academy.
The RCA student and I spoke briefly. She mentioned she was part of RCA’s Sports Broadcast Institute.
That meeting led to a partnership with the Sports Broadcast Institute that, six months later, has our students and theirs elbow to elbow in high school press boxes in Conyers, Ga., learning from and alongside each other while they produce live-stream high school football broadcasts that air on the NFHS Network.
The RCA students, led by their video production teacher, Tom White, handle the technical aspects of the broadcast. Our students, all enrolled in our “Sports Broadcast and Production” course at UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, provide and manage the content through the talent and production roles.
“I see advantages of collaborations like ours for both sides and wish that I had an opportunity like this one while I was in high school,” UGA student Corey Knapp said. “For Mr. White’s class, the students who are interested in the broadcast industry are able to witness and learn from our Grady students pursuing careers in that industry. They can see our thought processes in preparation, watch how we operate, and see how we deliver the content and then interact with each other, giving both praise and constructive criticism.
“For us, we can see how advanced and -- at least, in my case -- how much further along Mr. White’s students are than when I was in high school.”
I worked as a sports journalist for 20 years before joining UGA in 2012. Except for some guest appearances on NBC, CNN and ESPN, my experience did not include broadcast work. I produced print and online content for newspapers, from high school football coverage for The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post at the beginning of my journalism career to Olympics and NFL coverage for USA Today at the end.
As I transitioned into teaching and creating the Grady Sports Media program at UGA (we launched the six-course Sports Media Certificate in Fall 2014), I knew my greatest challenge would be giving our students the broadcast training they so eagerly seek. We accept 35-40 students per year into the Sports Media Certificate program. A third to half of them want to pursue sports broadcast careers.
Our program is grounded in real-world experience. On that February day I met Tom’s student, I was with our “Introduction to Sports Reporting and Writing” students as they covered the UGA basketball game for a class assignment.
I immediately wanted to learn more about RCA’s Sports Broadcast Institute, because we always are looking for avenues to market our certificate program to Georgia high school students. When I met Tom and saw the scope of what he’s doing with the institute -- due to an admirable amount of dedication and expertise on his part -- I knew it could be much more than a recruiting opportunity.
At first, Tom and I talked about collaborating on a few broadcasts this fall. Every time I approached Tom with an expansion of that goal -- from adding an on-site studio show to adding more games to incorporating highlights and sideline reports into the broadcast -- he said yes, and he and his students made it happen.
“His students are incredibly on top of things,” UGA student Cam Gaskins said. “This semester has helped me learn how to collaborate with the entire crew to make a broadcast work. Whether I'm working on-air or as a producer, I've had to rely on Mr. White's students to make the show look good.”
UGA’s Kennington Smith said of the RCA students: “In a lot of ways, they’re teaching us.”
With Tom and his students handling the technical side of the broadcast, my co-instructor, president of the Georgia Association of Broadcasters president Bob Houghton, and I have been able to teach much more effectively than we would otherwise. We can give the students up-to-the minute critiques. We can direct and redirect the content, from the live-event broadcast to the studio show to social media, as it’s being produced.
The content of our broadcasts is much more sophisticated and multifaceted than it was for this same class last year, when all we had to work with was our own basic two-camera kit.
“They show us how certain equipment and programs work,” Knapp said of the RCA students, “which allows us to have a well-rounded understanding of how the entire broadcast works from start to finish, and what elements and preparation are necessary for efficiency and success.”
The real-world learning makes our lectures, our textbook and online readings, and our guest-speaker presentations much more relevant and resonant. We’re seeing marked improvement in our students’ prep work, content production and delivery, and performance every week.
Even the inevitable hiccups of producing a live broadcast have proved invaluable to the learning process.
“This experience collaborating with Mr. White's class has really made me appreciate all of the different facets that go on in a live sports broadcast,” Gaskins said.
Already, Tom and I are talking about how we can be even more ambitious next year. This collaboration will continue to help us push all our students to a richer learning experience and wider horizons.
“Working with these younger students has affected me by giving me a renewed appreciation for what I'm striving for,” UGA student Jared Sweat said. “It has allowed me to take away every little bit I can from this experience because it reminds me of when I was first starting out. I take away everything I can.”
Vicki Michaelis is the John Huland Carmical Chair of Sports Journalism and Society at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. After working as a sports journalist for two decades, including 12 years as USA Today’s lead Olympics reporter, she directs the Grady Sports Media program.