Indiana University

Indiana University Journalism

Media LLC visits media organizations, alumni in Atlanta

Over the Martin Luther King holiday in January, students in the school's Media Living Learning Center program traveled to Atlanta  to visit media and alumni working in the area.

The Media LLC is a group of students who all have interest in media or journalism, and live on the same floor in Forest Residence Center. They attend media-related events and travel as a group throughout the semester.

Here are a few students’ reflections on the media events in Atlanta: an inside tour of CNN world headquarters, a conversation with noted IU alumni and Pulitzer Prize winner James Polk, and a tour of the Atlanta Hawks basketball communciations office.
– Caroline Ellert

A tour of CNN
By Lexia Banks

at CNN
Photo by Samantha Schmidt
Students had a guided tour of the studios a CNN, which was established in Atlanta in 1980.
There were high expectations for the tour of CNN. To many of us, CNN is the formidable castle of journalism we dream to step foot in. The reporters are the respectable nobles we envy and not-so-secretly scheme to replace in the future.

But as we traveled through our newsy holy land, we got a better idea of just how high our role models are held. And I mean they are literally “high” with the long banner of Robin Meade (whom we sadly didn’t meet) dangling a hundred feet above and the billboard of Anderson Cooper (whom we also didn’t meet) watching over Atlanta.

As if walking under their gazes weren’t enough, we had to face the billion dollar army of technology. There were rows of TVs, platoons of computers, lines of soundboards with infinite buttons of mystery, and cameras that cost more than our entire college education.

The main control room didn’t need a “Please Don’t Touch” sign. There was a silent understanding that you kept your hands and feet to yourself and maybe even cut back on your breathing.

Now enter the region of sports. With the laid back atmosphere and the wall of televisions showing every game currently going on around the world, it was no wonder why some people would stick around for 28 years. There was definitely some jealousy directed toward the loggers being paid to watch the games (including the IU basketball game we were missing).

Our reality check ended in the executive conference room. Our IU alumni tour guides offered their advice:
  • Get an internship. And then another one. And another one. Just kiss summer vacation goodbye.
  • Learn other languages. Apprendre d’autres langues. Aprender otros idiomas.
  • Read/watch everything. CNN 24/7.
  • Develop a good work ethic. Do more. Work harder and longer. Going the extra mile gets you to your goal faster.
And we have a long way to go, so ready. Set. Go.

A visit with Atlanta Hawks 'basketball communications'
By Sarah Whaley

Photo by Ashley Spesard
Students visited several media sites, including CNN and the Atlanta Hawks, and heard from CNN senior producer and IU alumnus James Polk.
On Saturday night, we were handed media locker room access passes on our way into Philips Arena, home of the Atlanta Hawks. We went in through the Media Entrance and were immediately taken to a room where we were introduced to Garin Narain, vice president of public relations for the Hawks. He, in turn, introduced us to Jon Steinberg, director of media relations.

Both Narain and Steinberg talked to our Media LLC group about what it is like to work for the Hawks. Instead of separately referring to public relations and media relations, they often refer to themselves as “basketball communications.” Their job duties include writing press releases about the players and the team’s wins and injuries, creating game notes, publishing credentials, organizing seating, and sending messages for the general manager and the head coach.

Not only is Philips Arena used for Hawks games, but also for concerts or other large-scale events. “Philips Arena is probably the third busiest arena in the nation,” Narain said.

On a typical game day like Saturday, the basketball communications team has to be at the arena around 8:30 a.m. Four staff members run almost everything, from making sure the game notes are finished to monitoring the team’s shoot-arounds that the media are allowed to attend.

Today, the basketball communication team’s responsibilities also include updating social media such as Twitter and archiving stats online to be viewed by fans and fantasy sport players.

“The league has these huge deals with fantasy sports,” Narain said. “They want to make sure that the stats that the games are based on are accurate and correct.”

After our introduction, Narain took us out to the court. During the Hawks games, the basketball communications team also has to monitor the on-site media. There are photo lanes on either end of the court that the photographers are required to stay within, and labeled seating for the courtside media. A press box sits further up in the stands.

While we were on the court, we got to watch members of the team shoot around and the cheerleaders run through their dance routines. As we left the court to return to the tunnels, we were introduced to Dominique Wilkins, who is a retired nine-time NBA All-Star and one of the best dunkers of all time, nicknamed “The Human Highlight Film.” He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006, and he now works as a color analyst for the Hawks’ broadcasts.

After a brief tour of the pressroom, we were taken back out to the court where we met long-time Hawks play-by-play broadcaster Bob Rathbun. He talked to us about what it is like to work for the industry and gave us two pieces of advice: to know what you’re talking about if you’re going to be in sports, and to work on your communications skills all through school regardless of your major or area of interest.

“This is a business that you cannot learn in the classroom,” Rathbun said. “This is a business that you have to learn by doing.”

At 7 p.m. that same night, after a complimentary dinner from Chick-fil-A, we got to watch the Atlanta Hawks play the San Antonio Spurs with a whole new perspective on the work that happens behind the scenes.

A conversation with James Polk
By Samantha Schmidt

Photo by Ashley Spesard
James Polk, BA'64, gestures with his coffee cup as he talks to students about getting the story.
Only hours after arriving in Atlanta on the morning Jan. 18, the Media LLC met with IU alumnus and Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist James R. Polk.

Polk, who now works for CNN, spoke to the students in a conference room at the Holiday Inn, using his own documentaries and reporting experiences to provide the students with journalistic insight.

Polk won his Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for his reporting in Washington Star-News that disclosed financial irregularities in President Nixon’s re-election campaign.

Polk began his talk by providing each student with a copy of a brochure he had written called “Sourcery: A Reporter’s Guide to Finding the Truth.” The publication gave Polk’s top 18 tips in the “arcane art of getting people to tell you the truth,” as well as advice on sorting out the truth in the stories reporters write.

Polk challenged the students to pick out their favorite tips, calling on students at random to become engaged in the discussion. He then told the students what he believes are the three most important pieces of advice for reporters: Ask for help, challenge sources and always say thank you.

He emphasized the importance of interviewing real people and using their words to give readers and viewers the truth.
“Let the people tell the story,” Polk said. “If you’re going to be a reporter, you have to love people.”

Polk showed the students a segment of a documentary he had produced for the CNN Investigative Unit called “MLK: Words that changed a nation.” The documentary used journals written by King himself, as well as testimonies by those who personally knew King, to shed new light on the life and accomplishments of the civil rights leader.

Polk used his documentary to illustrate the benefits and challenges of video journalism.

“If you love to write, it’s so challenging because you’re writing with other people’s words and pictures,” Polk said. “But when you’re done, it is so much more powerful than newspaper.”

With broadcast journalism, visual elements and sound bites from sources are essential to telling the story, Polk said.

“You gotta keep them all the way,” Polk said. “One shot and it’s gone.”

He encouraged students to be organized with managing sources, never throwing away files and cultivating relationships with past sources. He also emphasized the importance of being prepared for each interview, especially in investigative reporting.

When asked about his most challenging interview to date, Polk told the students about the time he interviewed Wayne Williams, a man who had killed at least 25 children in Atlanta.

Prior to the intimidating interview, Polk read the entire 4,200-page criminal trial record and made sure to take notes.

“You’ve got to be prepared. Otherwise, they can spin you,” Polk said. “Everybody tells the version of the truth that flatters them most.”

He finished the lecture by turning the conversation onto the students, asking them for their opinions on the proposed journalism, telecommunications, and communication and culture school merger. Polk said his main concern was the students, and that he hoped the decision would take into account their interests.

Polk received his degree at IU in 1964, majoring in government, not journalism. He reflected on the reasons he continues to enjoy his career.

“It’s like a front row seat on life with a continued scene,” Polk said. “You find stories and you tell things to people that you hope they find important. If you’re successful, it’s the most satisfying feeling ever.”

Christine SpasoffMeet our students