Students get experience working for Rock Chalk Video and Time Warner Cable SportsChannel

Fall 2015 edition

In the past year, students from the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications have filled nearly 240 spots on crews that produced more than 100 shows combined for Time Warner Cable SportsChannel and Rock Chalk Video.

Time Warner Cable SportsChannel airs more than 300 hours of original KU Athletics events each year, including live games and non-game programming. 

Rock Chalk Video is the video productions department of KU Athletics, which produces video board shows for football and men’s and women’s basketball games.  Rock Chalk Video also produces ESPN3 web streams for numerous games as well. 

Students at KU have helped cover sporting events at Rock Chalk Video since its beginning in 1999, but in the last few years the J-School has become more involved. Forty-six journalism students worked with Rock Chalk Video and Time Warner Cable SportsChannel last year to fulfill course requirements or to gain experience by volunteering.

Mike Lickert, director of Rock Chalk Video, said the growing partnership is benefiting both the J-School students and KU Athletics.

“Our need for student crew grew a little bit, and so we formalized the relationship with the J-School," Lickert said. "We expanded to add a control room and did a deal with Time Warner Cable locally and ESPN3 nationally, so there are more responsibilities."

“Rock Chalk Video doesn’t really work without students. Some schools have the budget to hire freelance professionals to cover every job, but that’s not the way I want to work. I enjoy being able to give students the opportunity see how things work in the real world, and we love the partnership.”

–Mike Lickert, director of Rock Chalk Video

Students learn to do a wide variety of tasks depending on what the crew needs and the type of sports event happening. Lickert said this includes learning how to grip, running cameras, directing and working with graphics to make video board productions at games. Students also shadow and work with professional staff members. 

The J-School offers two classes that involve working with Rock Chalk Video and Time Warner Cable SportsChannel: Basic Video Production and Laboratory in Media Production. Chris Bacon, executive producer for KUJH-TV, said the partnership allows students to go beyond the learning that happens in a typical classroom.

“Giving students opportunities to get their hands on equipment and get real-world experience is huge so they can see what goes on in live game production,” Bacon said. “Even if they just put a headset on and listen to how the director is calling the shots, it helps.” 

The students of all classes work with Rock Chalk Video and Time Warner Cable SportsChannel, and Bacon said the earlier students get involved the more they’ll benefit. 

Justin Ives, a junior studying news and information, got involved because of one of his classes, but he plans to continue volunteering after the class ends.

“My favorite part is actually being able to see what the job I want to do is like before I go out and get it,” Ives said. “I have some friends who have graduated and not really liked the jobs they’re doing, so this gives me an insight to what exactly I would be doing -- and I love it.”

Many students share Ives’ enthusiasm about the experience, and this year Bacon has waiting lists because students are so eager to volunteer. Lickert said it takes about 20 people to form a crew, and they cover several sports, including basketball, football and volleyball. To cover a typical three-hour game, students spend about eight hours working.

If students excel as volunteers for Rock Chalk Video, they have the opportunity to continue and be hired as paid staff. Cal Butcher, director of Media Crossroads, said this has given them a new way to learn.

“We’ve created a pipeline so students can come here, and now they’ve got other students mentoring them, along with me and Mike and Chris mentoring them, so it’s just an awesome opportunity if that’s the way they want to go,” Butcher said.

Lickert said the partnership with the J-School is allowing Rock Chalk Video to cover more events, which increases viewership. When four women’s soccer games weren’t scheduled to be televised this year, volunteers formed a crew and produced a completely student-run live stream for each game. 

– Alyssa Scott is a senior from Wichita studying strategic communication.

$10,000 reaction lands student's clip on ESPN

Anyone who saw the video clip of the KU student who won $10,000 after making a half-court shot at Late Night in the Phog can thank J-School student Ben Allen for that -- he was cameraman who captured the student’s winning reaction.

And if you ask Allen when he found out that his video clip would be featured on ESPN, he’ll tell you that he knew as soon as the ball went in the hoop. Because of his experience working at Rock Chalk Video, he knew it was an ESPN-caliber moment. 

Allen got the opportunity to work on the Rock Chalk Video crew about a year ago when he decided he wanted to learn more about live production.
"I was given the opportunity to work with them through the J-School and then ultimately they offered me a position due to my resume with other video stuff, which was kind of rare for juniors to get."

For Late Night in the Phog, Mike Lickert, director of Rock Chalk Video, asked Allen if he wanted to run the court camera, which is something Allen had never done, but he decided, “Sure, I think I can hold a camera up on my arm for three hours long and not fall over."

The production crew was prepped beforehand, and Allen knew his job was to focus on the student contestants. 

"You could just see the tension in the air. It was really, really thick. The first shot went up and hit off the back iron, and the second shot was just an air ball, and then the third shot, we're like, well, this is all or not.

"I took my camera, and I just zoomed up on the kid's face. I was like, ‘If it's going to happen, it's going to happen.’ And it turned out I was the only camera on the court that had that shot. And it ended up being the shot, dropping down to his knees, fists in the air. It was an incredible moment."

Allen said he relied on his J-School education and on-the-job training at Rock Chalk Video to stay calm, focused and professional.

"I had been taught by my journalism professors as well as the people at Rock Chalk Video when something unthinkable happens, don't rush in, don't freak out with the camera. It's just stand still and keep the shot. Thankfully, I was able to keep my position where I was, instinctively, not run forward, and just drop the camera angle as he dropped to the ground. And then once everyone came and dogpiled him, I was able to run after them. But it was such a unique experience because as soon as I knew it went in, I thought to myself, I'm so happy for this kid.”

Allen is thankful for that type of opportunity that KU students get at Rock Chalk Video because they get to do the work that is done by full-time staffers at other universities. "We're the ones actually making the videos, doing the highlights, shooting the events, and running the equipment during the games," Allen said.

"The opportunity to be a student and have this position is really an honor and it's not something that a lot of universities take the pride in doing. But Mike Lickert, our boss here, fully believes in us students, and he gives us the proper training to get this real-world experience at a collegiate level and ultimately say when we are going out for the hiring process that we have been doing this for a few years, so we're going for mid-level positions and not necessarily just entry-level positions immediately, which is a great opportunity."

Allen graduates in May, but he isn’t too concerned about finding a job. He has had five internships, including stints with Universal Sports Network NBC, the Washington Nationals and the Bowie Baysox. He recently interviewed for a job with ESPN. 

No matter where he ends up, Allen says his work with Rock Chalk Video will have helped him get there.

 "Probably the best decision I ever made in college was getting the opportunity to work for them," Allen said.

– Julie Adam