The End of an Era

Max Greeley Kyle

Greeley poses for a photo with me after college graduation in May 2012.

Yesterday I learned that a mentor of mine at the University of Missouri, Greeley Kyle, is leaving after 20 years to take a similar position in Massachusetts.

This is a tremendous loss for the School of Journalism, and the University as a whole. Greeley was the college professor that you feared for the first eight weeks, loved after that, and always respected.

That being said, my fear started well before I set foot in his classroom. No freshman with a dream of making it in the broadcast journalism sequence remained unaware for very long of the stereotypical “weed out” class and the man who ran it: Greeley Kyle. Everyone had a story about a friend of a friend who broke down crying in the middle of class. Rumors abounded about students getting negative grades on their journalism stories, and even though the class was three semesters in my future, I was already afraid of his “quiz every class period” policy.

Unlike most rumors, especially those among 18-21 year olds, the stories about Greeley were (mostly) true. There was indeed a quiz in every class period, either on the assigned reading or current events in local and national news. Students, including myself, did get negative grades on our TV stories. I, however, never saw someone cry in class.

Greeley’s class is called Broadcast Journalism 2, or “B2,” and it forces students to build upon what they learned in the creatively-named Broadcast Journalism 1 in preparation for their work at KOMU, the NBC affiliate owned and operated by the School of Journalism. As a result, he held students to the same standards common in the local television news industry, standards that proved hard for me to meet during the week of my 21st birthday.

That week, Greeley scored my broadcast package a -20. His rubric adds to 100, but each error is subtracted separately. Looking back, I probably deserved a lower grade. Thankfully, it came early in the year and I was able to recover. His lectures were the perfect blend of theory and practice, with plenty of anecdotes from his own time as a local news reporter. The constant grind of packages and quizzes left me wondering where my final grade stood at the end of the semester. When I found out I got a C+, I was proud. My parents, on the other hand, were less pleased.

I’m not sure they believed me then when I told them that I learned more in the class I got a C+ in than several others where I got an A. I would not be the journalist I am today without the crucible of Broadcast Journalism 2, and that is a direct reflection of the standards set early and often by Greeley Kyle.

I tried to pay him back for all he taught me at graduation by naming him my mentor. It’s the least I could have done for the man who turned someone trying to become a play-by-play broadcaster into a TV news producer.

I’m jealous of what the students at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst are gaining.   Greeley Kyle is the kind of professor who makes four years of tuition completely worth it. Congratulations, Greeley, and to all current and future Minutemen: good luck.

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Getting Back to It

It’s been more than a year since I last updated this blog. I think that makes me like every other amateur blogger in the history of ever. In that time, I have:

  • Gotten a job as a TV news producer with KCRG-TV9 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
  • Changed shifts/show responsibilities
  • Gone from tied for last in seniority to tied for second among producers
  • Said plenty of goodbyes to coworkers
  • Said just as many hellos to new members of the team
  • Covered Vote 2012 from a swing state
  • Dealt with my first winter in the upper Midwest

My first year “in the business” has been everything I thought it would be and more. It was stressful and challenging, but also incredibly rewarding after a show where we did a difficult thing well. I am blessed to work with some truly talented coworkers who were there to guide me as I transitioned from a classroom journalism environment at the University of Missouri to the real world, and have continued to push me to improve every day.

I started out producing the News at Midday from 11-Noon in early June 2012. About a month later, one of the morning show producers left and I was brought in to take her spot producing the 5:30-7am hour and a half.

That required quite the transition. I’ve always been a morning person, but it required a definite adjustment for my mornings to start at 8pm. Going to bed at noon was also a concept that had me fighting my body for several months until I got blackout curtains. It still feels unnatural, but at least there isn’t much light in my room anymore.

I’ve been producing the morning show now for more than a year, and we’ve seen positive ratings growth in each of the past several ratings books, which–like a sports team on a winning streak–helps to put everyone in a good mood and perhaps soften some of the feedback I could receive because what we’re doing is clearly working. As ESPN would say, the Numbers Never Lie.*

I’ve got some clips of some of the shows we’ve put together since I’ve started and will work on getting them online in the near future. If you’ve got any questions about life in the world of local broadcast news, don’t hesitate to send them to wmwb8d[at]gmail[dot]com and I’d be happy to answer what I can.

*Phrase is the property of ESPN and its use here comes without express permission.
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RIP U_News

Special U_News graphic. Courtesy of KOMU.com.

This week the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri hosted a weeklong conference it called #RJInnovation to highlight emerging concepts and practices in the field of journalism.

The seminar I attended was about the merger of internet tools, particularly social media, and traditional broadcast newsrooms. At KOMU we’ve been on the leading edge of this trend, launching an entire newscast centered around Google Plus hangouts.

The experiment gained a decent amount of buzz within the industry, as more cautious stations waited to see if we’d sink or swim. Well, they got their answer as U_News died Friday, April 20th 2012. It was seven months old.

One of my bosses explained some of the behind-the-scenes activity about the end of U_News on her blog. In a nutshell, there wasn’t enough ad revenue to support it. However, not all was lost. Show anchor has more than 970,000 circles on Google Plus. To put the number in perspective, it’s almost double the number of people in our market, and almost five and a half (!) times the number of televisions in our market–a number which determines our size (and thus ad revenue).

As KOMU alum Theo Keith points out, the challenge is to monetize the connections made on social media. Stations naturally resist change, especially when what little evidence is out there suggests it won’t make any money.

However, that shouldn’t be a death knell to stopping everything. KOMU will merge some of the social elements into its other newscasts, and change U_News into a more traditional noon news show.

The conference at RJI was a quick-turnaround postmortem about the successes and failures of U_News as well as a look around the industry to see how other outlets were using the power of social media.

I live-tweeted the panel discussion, and created a Storify of what people were saying online as the guests shared their thoughts. You should check it out.

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Dave Pasch Interview

For a class assignment I had to interview a professional in the field of journalism. As an Arizonan and aspiring play-by-play broadcaster, one of the first names to come to mind was Dave Pasch. Pasch does the Arizona Cardinals games on the radio and a variety of sports for ESPN including Big East basketball and college football.

I reached out to him on Twitter, and he was very quick to respond with a “yes.”

I knew he graduated from a well-respected program at Syracuse, so I was very interested to learn about his first job out of college and how his career progressed from there.

He got his beginning much as I have been working on getting mine, through the grapevine of alumni working in the same profession. That was reassuring to hear, as it validated the majority of my approach so far. I’d also applied for entry-level corporate jobs, but the impersonal nature of creating an account and sending in a resume blind hasn’t led to much follow-up.

Pasch does college football on fall Saturdays and NFL games on Sundays, so I was curious to know what his weekday schedule looked like leading up to a back-to-back weekend. I know a lot of work goes into each broadcast, but I didn’t quite know just how much.

On Mondays Pasch tries to take the day off to recover from the weekend of travel and spend time with his wife and family. He spends the middle of the week doing prep work for the broadcasts, listening in on conference calls, reading articles and filling out his note sheets. Thursday is when he travels to the college game site, and on Friday he interviews players and coaches.

That’s a lot of work in one week, and balance is not something that goes well with journalism. The hours are irregular and long, and going with that is the adrenaline junkie nature of those in the business–everyone is so absorbed in the job that other important areas of life get neglected.

Pasch said that his schedule leads him to have two lives: one on the road and one at home. There is so much travel that he says he’s become a pro at ironing shirts in hotel rooms. He added “If you don’t like to sit on an airplane, you probably shouldn’t do this job.”

One useful piece of advice he gave me was to not go into production. He told me that once you get into production, it’s hard to make the transfer to being on air. That struck a chord with me because I’ve decided that being an on-air TV reporter is something I can do, but it’s not what I’m passionate about. As a result, I’ve been producing newscasts this semester and I’ve really enjoyed doing that.

It meant a lot to me that Pasch agreed to talk to me after I approached him out of the blue. He was very generous with his time, and I really appreciated him talking to me.

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Green Blogging

Last week I did a guest blog post on the KOMU environmental blog 8 Goes Green. You can read my contribution here, about the history of the xeriscaping movement and its presence in mid-Missouri.

This was a rather tough assignment because I have the opposite of a green thumb. Things are much more likely to die around me than survive. In fact, my Dad gave me this cool plant for my 19th birthday–my first one in college and away from home. However, when I was moving I left it in the car in 100 degree heat…and…well…you can pretty much fill in the rest. Igor, as I had come to call him, was toast.

It was a different type of writing than most of what I do on this blog. Instead of getting to write about whatever is going on that interests me at the time, I had to take a more thorough academic approach filled with research because I didn’t have any frame of reference for writing about the environment.

My idea came from my Mom, whose gardening genes did not transfer to her son. I remembered her mentioning xeriscaping a while back as a trend back home in Arizona because it naturally saves water and preserves the desert landscape.

So, for those of you who are more garden-inclined: how did I do?

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Doing the Improbable

Saturday night the Phoenix Coyotes defied all odds and did the improbable: not only make the playoffs but win their division.

The Phoenix Coyotes clinched the Pacific Division crown on the last game of the season, winning their final five games to seal the title. Holding true to form for a hockey club in the desert, this was the organization’s first title in team history, even going back to when it was the Winnipeg Jets.

It’s hard to write a story like the Coyotes. This is a team that has been without an owner for three seasons, run instead by the NHL office bent on keeping hockey next to the Saguaros. The story of the team’s ownership saga has twists and turns more befitting a Telemundo melodrama than a professional sports franchise. Their payroll ranks 20th out of 30 teams. Attendance is dead last at 12,400 per game, almost 1,000 behind the New York Islanders who finished the season 4th from the bottom in points.

Aside from the institutional disadvantages, the team has also faced their fair share of adversity this season. The team’s injury sheet isn’t as long as fellow postseason participants St. Louis, Chicago and Vancouver, but they came at inopportune times and to the squad’s best players. The team also had a six-week span before the All-Star break where it covered 28,000 miles.

Against everything, they persevered. Nothing captures everything the team went through more than the embrace after the game between Mike Smith and Shane Doan. There’s a sense of finality to the hug as both recognize the hurdles they crossed to reach this point. But it also looked like each recognized that as much as winning the division means, it’s more the beginning than the end.

I live more than 1,500 miles from the team’s arena, and I felt nothing but excitement for the Coyotes and what they could do. What they’ve done is nothing short of remarkable. It’s been a dream season thus far for a team I’ve continued to root for since Gerald Diduck was my across-the-street neighbor.

For the team, let’s hope the dream continues a little while longer.

 

Image source: coyotes.nhl.com

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Dream Job

I am incredibly blessed to be able to do in college what I want to do after I graduate: play-by-play broadcasting. Last month I had the privilege to call, with the impeccable Matt Noonan, the Missouri Tigers’ semifinal game in the Big 12 Tournament against Texas and their outstanding, though heart-wrenching, loss to Norfolk State in the second round of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.

The Big 12 Tournament was two hours down I-70 in Kansas City at the shiny Sprint Center. We were way above the court, but it was a good vantage point from which to see the entire floor.

The game itself left little to be desired, as Missouri controlled things from more or less the opening tip. They would go on to beat Baylor the following day to take home the Big 12 Conference Tournament crown in their last season as a member of the conference before moving to the SEC over the summer. Here’s a link to the second half action, with me on the play-by-play.

As much of an honor as it was to call the Big 12 tournament game, I could not believe my luck when my sports director told me I was going to Omaha for the NCAA Tournament. I had the privilege to go two years ago to Buffalo, and was astounded to learn that I would go again. I thought for sure that my previous experience would lead to someone else getting their shot, but instead I guess my familiarity with the process and dealing with the NCAA worked to my advantage.

Everything was set up and run like clockwork. We had seats on the second row of media row on the floor, and we didn’t have to share with anyone else–allowing us to sit on the floor and watch the other games of the tournament.

We caught a major break. As you can see in the picture, there was Ethernet at every seat. This caught me by surprise because the station looked into the cost of an Ethernet cable and it was more than $500, or in other words, outside of our meager budget. However, upon inspection the cables worked and took us straight to the Web. Later we realized that if we’d paid the fee we would have had cables in the media work room (even though Wi-Fi was provided for free).

The seats were about as good as you can get in a basketball arena. Being that close to the action always provides more insight into the true talent of the players better than any TV angle can provide.

I was again with Matt Noonan, and we stuck to the same pattern that we did in the Big 12 game: I did color commentary while he did play-by-play in the first half, and we switched for the second half. This formula worked well for us, as I know that I get better as the game goes along and doing color allowed me to get comfortable with the rhythm of the game before having to jump right into calling the action.

From a purely objective standpoint, it was a fantastic basketball game. From the perspective of my bracket and as a student at the University of Missouri, it was a devastating loss. From a broadcasting perspective, it was the best game I’ve ever had the privilege to relate to the listeners.

It was such a back-and-forth game, with each team landing a blow that I thought would break the back of the other. Norfolk State played one of the best tournament games I’ve ever seen, and they wholly deserved to win. Every time Missouri took the lead or hit a three-pointer, Norfolk State came right back and answered with a 3 of their own.

I’ve never had a game I’ve been on the mic for go down to the quite like that. I’ve had walk-off wins in softball and baseball, but those are moments of often times unexpected drama. Phil Pressey missed a long three at the buzzer that would’ve won the game, but what made that different was the drama. My father’s fond of saying the last 2 minutes of game time in a close basketball game takes 30 minutes, and he’s not wrong. Between TV timeouts, coaches’ timeouts, fouls and free throws, there are a lot of play stoppages crammed into a short period. This makes life difficult on the broadcaster because it’s hard to advance the action when not much has happened since the last stoppage and it’s generally a good idea to not continue to repeat yourself over and over.

As a result, you wind up hyping the action to come. This allows the drama to build to a crescendo in a way that baseball can only counter with an at-bat with the bases loaded: both situations have so much potential, but could also lead to ruin.

Check out my call of the second half. I know it may be painful for some, but it’s important to have closure on what was a fantastic season of basketball.

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