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Timothy Pollard – Chair, Department of Telecommunications

Ball State University

Prior to joining the education sector, Timothy Pollard’s work at CNN took him all over the world covering the major stories of our generation such as the Gulf War, seven presidential conventions, three presidential inaugurations and even the Super Bowl.

In 1998 Mr. Pollard left CNN and started teaching at Ball State University, where he helped create Sports Link an immersive learning program that allows journalism students to get hands-on experience in Sports TV Production.

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Video Transcript

SportsTVJobs.com Hi I’m Brian Clapp founder of SportsTVJobs.com, and I’m thrilled to be joined today by Tim Pollard. Tim is the chair of the department of telecommunications at Ball State University. Prior to joining the staff of Ball State in 1998 Tim spent 15 years at CNN where he was supervising field operations for events ranging around the globe like the Gulf war and the Super Bowl. Quite a range of talents there Tim, thanks for joining us today.

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Tim Pollard: Well thank you Brian I appreciate you having me on your website.

SportsTVJobs.com I really want to dig into your experience here, you spent 15 years at CNN you covered some of the biggest events of our generation, and then you transitioned into the education sector. How have you brought your real world experience into the classroom and given it to your students?

Tim Pollard: Well I think the biggest thing is the real world, what’s nice about here at Ball State and our Department of Telecommunications is we have a combination of academic and practical application, so we have faculty that come in and give the reason why, the historical background, the reason we are where we are at this point of time. Then we have what is called practical application, experiential learning where we have faculty such as me that come in from a corporate background with the cliché ‘real world experience’ and we are passing that on to our students so that when they graduate from here they not only have a foundation in the historical context, the reasons why things are the way they are, they also have the practical applications that people in the industry are expecting. That is very key, people that are going into the industry now are expected to hit the ground running. Corporations don’t really have time, because of budget constraints, the 24-hour news cycle, to give you time to learn the industry. They need you to start now.

In many ways the analogy is similar to football players you can have the Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre situation where Aaron can come in and spend three years on the bench learning or there is Peyton Manning who went to the Colts in 1998 and he started day 1. That is kind of the era we are in now, the feedback we are getting is we need to prepare these students to come in right off the bat and start day one.

SportsTVJobs.com As you’ve mentioned hands on experience is so important in television, and really any industry but especially I think in television and any form of broadcast media. It always used to be students had to get out of the classroom and into internships in order to get the experience of a real live working newsroom or learn operational techniques. You’ve created a real unique program at Ball State called Sports Link that gives the students the best of both worlds…can you tell us more about that program?

Tim Pollard: Certainly, we do emphasize both, we do strongly recommend that students get internships because that gives you an external evaluation of what we are teaching here so a student could learn here and then go out and intern at Big 10 network or local television, radio or websites that will give them another perspective and a different point-of-view. We have people here that have interned at ABC, CNN, ESPN, Big 10 Network on the sports side, so they have multiple viewpoints coming in and we want them to get that.

What we have done here is a unique situation here with Sports Link and our other operations, (they have a summer HD movie, a News Operation and other immersive learning programs) where we allow the students, for credit, to essentially spend the semester working and being immersed in a Sports TV Production environment and that is where Sports Link at Ball State University got started. We have students that work basically a 5-day week, and in Sports that can be a Wednesday thru Sunday or Tuesday thru Saturday depending on what the Sports schedule is. They spend the whole week doing sports production, they plan for the basketball game, they produce 10 half hour shows, all Ball State sports, we also do package production so the students are going out and doing individual stories on the players and on coaches. Unique stories that help tell the story and we repackage those into 10 half hour shows and they run inside the sports events we cover. Students write for the websites, do radio pieces. So they spend the whole week times 15 weeks doing nothing, well I don’t mean nothing, the vast majority of what they do is in sports media production so they are getting that immersive experience which many few universities are doing right now because they are still thinking of things in the traditional college way of doing it.

We’ve positioned ourselves very nicely worldwide as the emerging media place to go and now we are getting students that are coming here specifically for that. The nice thing about Sports Link is when you do a Google search for digital sports, sports production, sports media, we pop up. Get online and Google that, you’ll see…don’t just do Google, we like Microsoft so Bing too. We’re popping up and we’re getting students across the country applying to come here specifically for Sports Media. We have students from China who are interested in Sports Link and bringing those skill sets back to China. It’s just cool to be a part of this.

SportsTVJobs.com If I was a prospective student right now hearing this I’d be all excited, all geeked up thinking about my sports experience and how excited I would be, then I’d be thinking to myself by this sounds like it would be a hard program to get into, what are the requirements for getting into the Sports Link program?

Tim Pollard: It’s really unique what we do here, most Universities don’t allow the students to touch the toys until their junior or senior year. Usually your freshman and sophomore years are spent taking classwork and getting used to the college environment then junior year you can touch the toys. What’s unique about Sports Link at Ball State University is you can come in day 1 as a freshman and start playing. What that means is you would get involved with our student extracurricular activities, we have TV shows, radio shows, web only all these different outlets, but your allowed as a freshman to start playing. Now you have to take a pre-TCOM class, an introductory class that you have to pass with a 2.5 or better to get into what we call the options, which is production, news, sales and TV/Film studies. But that doesn’t restrict you, again you can get involved by volunteering in the extracurricular activities. Twice a year we have what is called a ‘super party’ where our college, the college of communication, information and media, gets all the student extracurricular activities in our major hallway between the David Letterman building, Arts and Journalism building and the Ball Communications building, this big monster hallway and they line up and we have 1500 students come by who can sign up and get involved… it’s a great way to introduce the students to our programs.

For Sports Link you can volunteer as a freshman or sophomore, you won’t get credit but you can start working there on your own time and we have a lot of students that do that, who volunteer because they want to get started from day one and we allow them to start playing day one. Now are you going to be the play-by-play announcer for basketball or football games or be the anchor person on our half-hour shows probably not but you could start as a camera person, grip, work on audio and do some on-air.

To get into the program you have to pass the pre-TCOM and then select your option, then you get into the sophomore, junior, senior level classes and apply to get into Sports Link. To get in, you’d need to turn in an actual application and interview with Sports Link’s program director Chris Taylor, we try to keep the number of students per semester working in that environment to 15-20. In this previous super party we had 74 people sign up and want to get involved so we know the interest is there. Chris Taylor would interview you and then he would pick the team, and even if you don’t get picked you can still volunteer.

SportsTVJobs.com It’s really an amazing program, I’m in awe… I’ve taken the online tour of the David Letterman communication building and I’m amazed at the technology that you have at your disposal, can you talk a little more about your facilities, I mean you talk about playing with the toys, but I think your toys are better than some of the stations I have worked at!

Tim Pollard: We’re probably better than some networks right now, we’re very grateful to the state of Indiana , we are a public university so anything that is approved has to go through the state legislature and get approved by the Governor. We’re very grateful and also very grateful to David Letterman, and his people for allowing us to put his name on this building. He certainly deserves it, he’s our most famous alum and has been very helpful. Much of what he does is behind the scenes most things people don’t see or hear about, he’s been incredible.

The David Letterman building has been here 3 years now, we have TV studios, virtual sets, we’re High Definition, we had the video part but what was missing was the audio part so we made a conscious effort with the David Letterman building that we would focus on audio, the production, acquisition and post production. The control rooms are set up just like you would get in Los Angeles, Nashville, London, exact same set up on the sports side, what we have there to create these packages and the half hour shows. We also have a production truck through the university teleplex which is the overseer of our PBS station WIPB-TV, 40 ft. production truck, all state of the art 7 HD cameras, grass valley switcher, EVS, Chyron everything you would need for ESPN, Big 10 Network, Fox and so they are getting this enormous amount of education that they can apply to what they are doing. So…it’s nice.

SportsTVJobs.com Lets put on our future hat just a bit – 10 years ago there was no twitter, no YouTube, no Facebook, no iPads, things have changed so much in a newsgathering and broadcast media sense , , what do you think is next? I know Ball State strives to stay ahead of the curve not just on it, what do you think we can look forward to in the future in a broadcast journalism world?

Tim Pollard: Well the big thing is iPad and mobile wireless, you decide what you want to watch when you want to watch it. You see this now, you don’t have to be home at 6:30 to watch the news. You can watch ESPN whenever you want, students, and this is key, are mobile that phone is right next to them 24/7. The ability to mix and match, watch what I want when I want to watch it, that’s where things are going. Not only is the industry going that way, but advertisers need to think about that how they are going to hit their markets. You are going to see the continued niching, you are going to see micro-niching in the future.

SportsTVJobs.com This has been an incredible interview, for more information on the Ball State Programs, visit BSU.EDU, Tim Pollard thanks for joining us! Tim: Thank you Brian.