Sportswriting students at the University of Kansas got the opportunity to take their classwork outside a few weeks back when they covered the Kansas City Royals franchise during spring training. Professor Scott Reinardy gathered a dozen students with extensive media experience and took them down to Surprise, Arizona for a live-action exercise that challenged them to create media packages in multiple formats.
“It was our first foray into training camp,” Reinardy said. “Associate professor Max Utsler has been talking about it for years. He had spoken with other academics who had provided similar opportunities for students. Max has connections with the Royals – he’s a backup MLB official scorekeeper for the Royals – so it appeared it’d be a natural fit for our first attempt. Mike Swanson, the Royals vice president for communications and broadcasting, was our liaison. He provided tremendous assistance in coordinating our efforts prior to arriving and while we were on sight.”
Once there, the students spent a week in the training camp where they gathered information, recorded video and built a social media presence. (@RoyalDozen on Twitter) Reinardy said the team was helpful both before the event and during the reporting process.
“The Royals provided a workroom, which was incredible,” he said. “We were able to use that as a staging area throughout our time in camp. Royals officials were incredibly generous with their time and assistance. Mike Swanson went above and beyond to provide everything we needed to be successful. And, we were given full access to set up the interviews and shoot video of the minor league players in camp.”
Reinardy said KU’s foray into this kind of coverage wasn’t the first time university students have done the spring training approach. To distinguish this effort from other similar trips, the Royal Dozen shifted its focus away from the star players and divvied up the coverage in an innovative way.
“We wanted to provide a professional experience for students but covering a Major League team seemed redundant to what other media were doing,” Reinardy said. “So, we focused on the minor league players. We conducted a draft in class, requiring the students to conduct secondary research before drafting six players in the Royals system. The students are required to produce mini-profiles of their three players that include a written story and a video story. The students drafted six players because we realized not all those players would still be in camp by the time we arrived.”
Students were also required to tweet at least three times during the day, with some of those efforts breaking some Major League news. The amount of work the students put into preparation for their tasks was also impressive, Reinardy said.
“The students were incredibly professional,” he said. “Several players said they enjoyed having the opportunity to sit down for extended interviews, something that does not happen after games during the season. The students were well prepared to ask questions that had several players asking with surprise, ‘Who told you that?'”
Beyond the individual successes, Reinardy said, another key aspect of the excursion was to teach the students how to work as a team.
“We want to prepare young journalists to do well in their professional careers,” he said. “This opportunity provided a glimpse into the professional world. The logistics of working with others – professional athletes and colleagues — attempting to develop original content, and grind through 10-hour days is a small sample of the life as a sports journalist. Students need to be challenged. In that challenge they will fail. Failure and adaptation is where actual learning occurs.”
Reinardy said a return to spring training is possible next year, but due to the shrinking pool of minor league players in the Kansas City, the Royal Dozen will likely be no more. He said the school would likely choose another team.
The biggest take away, Reinardy said was that the students learned that journalism requires more than writing and editing.
“Doing journalism is difficult,” he said. “Anytime we can place students in a professional environment to do so, they experience all the nuances and complications that cannot be replicated in a classroom. When a player was cut, the students had to adapt by finding a new player to feature. When an interview fell through, the students had to find a way to re-schedule. When audio failed during a 15-minute interview with a player who was in an unpleasant mood after being demoted, the student had to figure out a way to re-do the interview.
“Adaptation and problem-solving is instrumental in producing good journalism. For one week in Surprise, Arizona, the students received an opportunity to learn that lesson first hand.”
The students are still in the process of turning their work into top-notch stories. To see what they are up to, click here.