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Journalism students cover NCAA Men’s and Women’s games

Rebecca Harris | April 11, 2017

Colton Bennett and Mark Alewine cover the NCAA Final Four

IUPUI journalism students paid close attention to March Madness this year, and not just to fill out their brackets.

Seven students at both the undergraduate and graduate level covered first and second round tournament games, the Women’s Final Four and the Men’s Final Four for the Sports Capital Journalism Program and NCAA.com, in addition to two students who covered the Big Ten Women’s Basketball tournament.

“Our neighbors at the NCAA have created remarkable opportunities that have challenged the reporting ability, creativity and stamina of our students,” program director Malcolm Moran said. “By the end of each experience, IUPUI students know they can compete with experienced professionals from across the country, because they just did. We are always grateful for this experience.”

Graduate student Jessica Hunt went to Dallas as part of the team covering the Women’s Final Four for NCAA.com. Before leaving, she said she was excited for the entire experience, “from exploring a new city to producing work for a deadline-driven sporting event.”

“I am looking forward to learning how to piece together information gleaned from press conferences, breakout sessions, locker room access and the actual game into cohesive stories,” she said at the start of the event.

She quickly learned to work efficiently in order to finish a story. “Over the course of the four days, I was able to get the content I needed by prioritizing a schedule of who I needed to talk to, and at what time I would need to get to that individual,” Hunt said.

Just two states away, junior Tyler Fenwick was following the Final Four teams for the men’s tournament. During one press conference, Fenwick asked South Carolina head coach Frank Martin about a comment he had made in October about players’ developments. Instead of answering the question straightforward, Martin used the Socratic method.

“Frank Martin gave me the winning Powerball numbers. Really, he was making a point, “ Fenwick said. “He said, ‘Eight, 31, 52, 58, 64. You know what that is?’ I smiled and said no. He said, ‘It’s the PowerBall numbers.’ He was basically saying he can only make observations and doesn’t have the power to predict the future.”

It was a unique moment for his first experience covering the tournament. Fenwick took advantage of every minute in Phoenix, spending his off-time lingering in locker rooms during interviews, where he realized something new.

“I learned that the best journalists treat their subjects as people, not as jobs,” Fenwick said. “This seems very intuitive, but I don't think it had ever really occurred to me before this experience. The difference between those two kinds of journalistic approaches were very evident.”

At the start of the month, Indianapolis hosted several games in the first and second rounds. Senior Joe Spears and junior Michael Williams were there for some of the tournament’s most entertaining opening moments.

“Honestly, I lucked out. I got to cover some of the best games this tournament had,” said Williams. “Michigan vs. Oklahoma State, Wichita State vs. Dayton, and Michigan vs. Louisville...It's hard to pick one moment.”

Spears said it was a “surreal” weekend for him.

“We walked down to the court and stood at center court,” he said. “It just kind of hit me that I was covering the NCAA Tournament. [It was] a real life ‘Hoosiers’ moment for a sports journalist that grew up in a state where basketball is basically a religion.”

Aside from the thrill of being a part of the March Madness atmosphere, Williams and Spears said they learned new skills and worked through difficulties during the course of the weekend. Both had different takeaways and new outlooks from the experience.

Spears said he was used to covering local events, with only one or two other journalists around. At the tournament, he had to jostle with 20 to 25 reporters. He said it was intimidating to find unique story angles, but he got the hang of it through practice and advice from Moran.

For his part, Williams said March Madness for him meant being ready for anything.

“The narrative of your game story can change at any given moment,” he said. “Michigan, which normally gets by on the three-point shot, was forced to go into the paint. It worked, and Michigan came back and won. It changed my entire story.”