IU Athletics is now paired with the IU Media School…so is sports journalism screwed?

by azaleon

On Wednesday, Indiana University announced a partnership between its Athletics Department and the newly-formed IU Media School, in which students would be able to use equipment and facilities at the new, $5 million Mark Cuban Center for Sports Media and Technology.

In the minds of (some) sports journalists, the idea of marrying independent student journalists to the entity they’re charged with covering was worrisome to say the least.

To learn more about how this partnership would work, the future of IU sports journalism education and perhaps how this is all a micro chasm of the changing media landscape, I spoke with Galen Clavio, who became director of IU’s National Sports Journalism Center earlier this month.

In response to many of the questions, Clavio wrote this point-by-point article on the NSJC’s website, but I wanted to delve a little deeper with him.

You can listen to the whole interview below or a transcription below that. Please note that I did not transcribe some of the background talked about in the beginning of the interview because my fingers were about to fall off after 3,000 words of transcription. Rather, I’ve embedded releases about Clavio, the IU Media School, Cuban Center and partnership in the above intro.

Q: I’m confused about the three entities involved here. There’s IU Athletics -and for the sake of this conversation, that synonymous with the Mark Cuban Center- the IU Media School and the National Sports Journalism Center. Explain to me how these three organization fit together in this partnership.

A: The partnership between the Cuban Center and Media School will provide Media School students the opportunity to get hands-on utilization of technology in the Cuban Center. That will take a variety of forms. Some of those forms are primarily for consumer use, focused on fans and traditional media services, some will focus on internal athletics.

There are no classes in the Media School that are dedicated to any of these things (in the Cuban Center). These are all opportunities that are going to be internships or straight up work experiences where students will get paid for their activities.

So where the NSJC enters into the equation, we’re here to ensure that the opportunities that are present between the Media School and Cuban Center are done so in a way that helps to safeguard the unique needs sports journalists have in covering IU Athletics -or really anything- while helping to promote opportunities who are interested in gaining training and hands-on experience with this new technology in sports media.

Q: So it’s called the Cuban Center for Sports Media and Technology. My question is if the Media School students weren’t going to be using it (as this partnership solidifies), what would it be used for?

A: There would be students using it, I don’t think there’s any question of that. I think the goal of the partnership was to have a formalized arrangement between the school and the Cuban Center so the students in the Media School who were interested in taking part of it would be able to have a more direct pathway to do so.

Q: So when students are utilizing the programs within the Cuban Center, it’s not one of these things where there’s a field trip to the Cuban Center. Is it more that there’s a sign-up sheet to participate in a supplemental program at the Cuban Center and this opportunity is only afforded to Media School students?

A: I think that’s mostly correct. I’ll take it a step further and say it’s not like sign up for this opportunity and we’ll let you in. One of the big selling points of Cook Hall is that student-athletes could go there at any time. That’s sort of what we’re looking at with the Cuban Center. The idea is that this will be in the renovated Assembly Hall, but there will be a passkey system that will allow students who have been approved to use the equipment -and that process will run through me as well as some other folks- those students will be able to work when they need to on the work that they want to.

Q: So it doesn’t matter what type of content is being created?

A: There will be some directed items that will be coming out of the Cuban Center and what they want to do. But we’ll also be doing some of that ourselves. I think one of the great things about this partnership, especially with students with broadcasting and social media, we’ll be able to use that technology to give them the ability to work on things on their own outside of the assigned project for that particular period of time.

Q: So it’s a deal where if you’re using this $5 million worth of technology, there will be projects run by the Cuban Center/IU Athletics, but it also allows you access to that same technology for whatever else may be a personal project?

A: That’s the plan. We’re still hammering out all the details. The goal in all of this is educational. That’s a mandate of the university and Mark Cuban himself, who his expressed goal in this gift was to give students at IU who are interested in working with media, something that would give them an advantage in the broader marketplace that other students at other schools don’t have.

When you’re getting starting with this level of technology, I don’t even know how to use it. There has to be some direction at the beginning and most of that from the Media School’s perspective will be extracurricular in nature, or specifically coming out of Cuban Center projects that they have started and set up. We want to make sure students are proficient in the equipment, but the whole goal in this has been to allow students to have the freedom to use technology in a way that will make them most competitive in the job market after they graduate.

Q: I know this sounds like a softball, but I’m genuinely curious what the Cuban Center offers in terms of this new technology you’ve mentioned.

A: There’s 3D technology which is only available in three or four sports venues anywhere. That will increase in the next five years. It’s a production-based system where they put a ring of cameras around a facility and records the game as its happening and you can take any play at any point and reproduce a replay from any of the angles the cameras are giving you. This is in the football stadium and basketball arena.

The sports production students we have will have a huge leg-up in the job market, but even for sports media distribution, we want to teach our students to use the output of that technology to better tell the stories that are going on.

Another example is the virtual studio we’re planing on installing. If you’ve ever watched Al-Jazeera America or CNN’s election coverage, you’ve seen one of these where there’s a green screen room surrounded with graphs and you can fly people in digitally. Our students will experience those modifiable environments and give them a leg-up when they have to use them in a digital workplace.

Virtual reality we’re dipping our toes into, but I think the consumer opportunities are endless there. There’s implications there for just approaching how a sports broadcast is aired and how it’s portrayed to an individual wearing an oculus mask instead of staring at a television.

Q: An excerpt that stuck out to me in the press release:

While IU Athletics will engage the broader campus community in the work of the Cuban Center, it will depend especially on its partnership with The Media School to produce new, enriched coverage of IU sports.

I think one of the concerns is it sounds like this is IU Media School coverage…brought to you by IU Athletics.

A: Nothing can be further from the truth on that. First and foremost, the coverage of IU Athletics by student sports media on campus, nothing about this partnership affects that at all. Those are independent entities and we’re sensitive and serious about keeping those independent.

I think what the press release is referring to is for students who are interested in the video coverage or video portrayal of things that go on on the playing surface -and I think to a large degree this falls more under the public relations or marketing wing of the Media School- this is a concept of how do we use this technology to demonstrate sports in a way it hasn’t been demonstrated before. I do think there are lessons that can be learned in the effective utilization of this technology within traditional media coverage, but there’s no mandate for the student media outlets on campus to use that technology and there’s no mandate on the coverage they’ll be providing.

Q: So if I’m an IU student and I want to be a sports journalist. I’m at the Indiana Daily Student and I’m covering football for the IDS.  Let’s say I’m taking classes at the Media School and I’m part of an internship with the Cuban Center. Let’s say I’m working on a story for the IDS about concussions in football and I think to myself, ‘the Cuban Center has some great technology that can be utilized in telling this story,’ but the story is being done through the IDS. Do you know if I would be able to use the Cuban Center technology to help tell that story?

A: I don’t know because I think the decision for that has to be made with all three of the parties that you mentioned (student, IDS, Cuban Center), making a decision about what to do. In the past we’ve seen media outlets on campus have their own specific rules about what their reporters are allowed or not allowed to do in relation to the Athletics Department or other departments on campus. Those are very normal things. Those things happen in the professional world as well.

What I would hope, is that we would be able to come to an agreement where that reporter would be able to use that technology to tell the story they wanted to tell, but I would hate to speak on behalf of any of those parties because I feel like it’s important they maintain their independence. That’s something I will continue to tell to anybody who is willing to listen about this.

I would love for there to be maximum collaboration in terms of being able to tell those sorts of stories, but I also firmly believe in the independence of all of these entities.

Q: So is your role to be a mediator between the IU Media School and IU Athletics?

A: I would better classify myself as an advocate. One of my jobs as NSJC director, as has been with the previous two directors, is to find opportunities for our students in sports journalism and sports media. Some of those opportunities are not specific to sports journalism. Some of those internships have been with professional teams and the NCAA in the past, which are certainly not journalistic entities.

So part of my job is to collect those opportunities and bring them to our students. Part of my job is also to act as an advocate for our students, particularly our sports journalism students whether they be writers or broadcaster or what have you.

I’ve had the experience of being the sports director at a radio station and part of student media here. I’ve been a faculty advisor for two different student media outlets on campus, I’ve dealt with issues dealing with just about everything having to do with sports media on campus. I wear a lot of hats and I’m very conscious of the needs of the sports journalism student and what we can do to help make their experience here as rich, fulfilling and as close to the traditional boundaries of journalism as possible in an educational environment. I’m also conscious of the desires of the students interested in non-traditional sports media careers.

Q: I think people are concerned about content being created conditionally. They don’t want a situation where a student in the IU Media School is only able to create content based on conditions that best serve who ultimately paid for this technology. What would you say to those concerns?

A: I think in any educational environment you have to walk on some very thin lines when it comes to access related to anything. That sometimes even relates to technology within your own school or department. Within this particular context, I’m convinced that we will not have these issues moving forward because we have myself and faculty here to safeguard the concept of conditional content. That’s not something anybody is interested in. Within what we’re looking at here, so much of the experience for students is frankly going to be how to use the technology and how to produce the content to begin with. The actual learning laboratory is invaluable from that perspective. To some degree we have to see what sorts of content we can produce before we get to the question of what that content is and how it can be used. I am not interested in a future where there’s content with conditions.

We have a long history here of sports media students here of making decisions that are not always popular with certain elements of the university and I think that’s the mark of a very robust  sports journalism program and that’s something that we are very serious about safeguarding here.

Q: One of the bullet points in the press release was: Students will be engaged in the creation of fan-focused content across multiple platforms, including Web writing, online audio and video, documentary filmmaking, photography, media relations and graphic design.

Could you elaborate on what “fan-focused” means?

A: I think the idea here was to make the release broad enough to cover a variety of areas that haven’t been thought of yet. I think when you hear the term “fan-focused” what that really means is content that is outward facing from the university. Whether that is emanating from independent media outlets or the Athletic Department. The idea is content that is focused on having an audience as opposed to content sometimes created in an educational environment, which is content not really directed toward anybody other than a professor.

At the end of the day, the idea behind a lot of these things is trying to looking at the whole breadth of the Media School. I think it’s important for people to keep in mind, we’re very cautious and very attuned to the special needs of the sports journalism side of things. We’ve taken steps to safeguard that, but we also as a school have a lot student who aren’t specifically in sports journalism. So a lot of things in that last bullet point are focused primarily on those students, who might be interested more in media relations or a career where they are doing marketing videos aimed at fans.

I think an important thing to keep in mind with this partnership is that obviously with sports journalism being in the Media School it is by association involved in the overall process, but a lot of what we’re talking about here is focused on students who are not particularly interested in careers with sports journalism and the Media School has to attend to those students as well.

Q: Since you brought it up, could you list the concentrations in the IU Media School?

A: That’s a great question. Those are still a bit unsettled now and still being approved. The CliffNotes version of how the Media School system will work, there’s only going to be three degrees awarded in the Media School: a Bachelor of Arts in Media, a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and a Bachelor of Science in Game Design.

Everybody takes the same 12-hour core and then you select a concentration which is 15 hours and a specialization which is nine hours.

Journalism students are required to take news reporting and editing concentration or PR concentration. We will have a sports journalism specialization to go on top of that. And a sports media concentration which will be attached to the BA in Media and the opportunity to have a track that focuses on any number of a different things.

It’s a little confusing even to those of us who are here because it’s a new system, but it’s really designed to give students the chance to try different things.

Q: We’ve talked about media produced within an organization. I want to get your thoughts on if journalism without bias and independent content can coexist when the person writing the check is also the person who owns the team?

A: That’s a great question. We’re having problems right now in sports journalism as a whole and in sports journalism education is that we’re locked in a battle with the job market. Even going back to when I came out of college in 2001, it is a very sparse job market and in certain areas, even worse every year. So one of the big things I’ve wanted to as an educator is try to talk to my students about what the different roles in sports journalism and sports media are. We need to teach what it means to be a journalist, but teach the other roles that are out there. I’m a believer in sports journalism and the romantic notion of being able to start at a small paper and work your way up, we’re in an era where those direct paths just don’t work to the degree they used to.

Within that, it depends on the education the individual has been provided. I think if we’re able to teach our students why it’s important to be good journalists and understand what those words really mean. That’s really the important thing. We’ve seen examples of organizations that write checks that have a specific set of desires for what the content is who have actually allowed and promoted commentary that runs contrary to that. We’ve also seen situations where that’s been squelched and those people have had to find jobs elsewhere.

It’s a very difficult environment right now. The business of sports journalism is in rough shape largely because the people that run the newspapers and television stations were completely baffled and had the wrong idea of how the technological changes in the industry would affect it. It’s created this void where you can have an NFL Network and MLB Advanced Media, these organizational-based communication industries and they’re taking over the space previously occupied by these media entities.

I think it’s a difficult situation for anybody to understand at this point but a lot of it comes down to the education an individual student is provided. If you look at the success that IU students have had going back 20-30 years, we’ve produced some really damn good people who have been effective journalists and communicators in a wide variety of areas.

What we have going on here is just going to continue that pattern and probably even improve it.

Q: Anything to add?

A: Anybody that expressed concern publicly or privately, I understand. I’m not blind to what the perceptional issues of this might be and I hope you understand we’re still eyes wide open. We want to give our students the best possible experience they can have as educationally as students. People have had wonderful experiences here for 180 years. Specifically in the area of sports journalism we’re excited about the opportunities for our students.