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ASU journalism students get in on Final Four action

Cronkite School journalists get real-life experience covering NCAA basketball’s biggest event

Senior Blake Benard captures a photo as the Final Four court is installed at University of Phoenix Stadium. (photo by Fabian Ardaya)

March 30, 2017

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2017, click here.

The 2017 Final Four is set to tip off this weekend in the Valley, and some Arizona State University journalism students are about to get their "One Shining Moment"One Shining Moment" is a song about the NCAA men's basketball tournament, written in 1986 by David Barrett. It is traditionally played at the end of coverage of the championship game.."

More than 50 students from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication will be covering games and practices, creating hundreds of pieces of content for the Final Four’s official social media channels and assisting Final Four-related show operations for major media outlets.

“It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said senior and Cronkite News photographer Steven Tyler Drake. “Cronkite has offered so much to us in terms of getting out of the classroom and being in the moment. Covering the Final Four is an honor that can really help us move forward in our careers.”

Cronkite News, a news division of Arizona PBS whose daily stories are produced by Cronkite students, will have 10 people covering the event. Six reporters will be credentialed for the in-arena activities, while four others will be covering the surrounding community activities. Their content will be available to more than 30 regional media partners, including The Arizona Republic, FOX Sports Arizona and Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. More than 20 students are assisting with Final Four-related show operations for major media operations, and students will have a presence on radio row helping arrange interviews.

Brett Kurland, who serves as the director of Cronkite News’ Phoenix Sports Bureau, played a crucial role in organizing the school’s Final Four efforts.

“It might sound corny, but it’s a very cool and valuable experience,” Kurland said. “It’s the kind of experience where if I wasn’t running the bureau and was 20 years younger, I would be the first to sign up.”

The opportunity to work the Final Four is just one event in a long line of opportunities for Cronkite students. In the past few years, the school has given its students a chance to cover college football’s semifinals and national championship game, the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Super Bowl and spring training.

The school also offers a reporting bureau and sports journalism classes in Los Angeles. 

Cronkite’s journalism program is recognized as one of the best in the country, and more than 300 undergrads are currently enrolled in sports journalism. The coverage opportunities combined with a large Phoenix media market make the program an attractive one to both current and prospective students.

“Our students are afforded so many wonderful opportunities to go out and cover sports across the state,” Kurland said. “Phoenix is one of 13 major media markets that have four professional teams, and we cover all of them. It’s a remarkable opportunity.”

The program also features classes taught by professors with plenty of real-world experience in journalism.

Paola Boivin, an award-winning sports columnist who worked for The Arizona Republic for more than 20 years, now teaches two classes at Cronkite and also helps out in the sports bureau. She said the access that her students get to interesting people is one of her favorite parts of the program.

“I’ll just walk into the school and bump into someone from CNN or ESPN,” Boivin said. “Someone from HBO’s Real Sports was actually in town and asked us if he could drop by. You just don’t see that anywhere else.”

For students like Drake, that makes the college experience all the more enjoyable.

“I no longer feel like I’m going to class,” Drake said. “I feel like I am going to a job that I love.” 

Top photo: Blake Benard from Cronkite News takes a photo of the Final Four court being set up. Photo by by Fabian Ardaya/Cronkite News

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