Team in Transit

From truck stops to tailgates   //   the story behind moving an SEC football team

From the Director

Matt Sheehan – Director of the 21st Century News Lab

Team in Transit: From Truck Stops to Tailgates is one of the first reports of its kind to be completed by students at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. It is the result of the work of 13 students in JOU4946: Applied Online Journalism, enrolled in the Fall 2011 semester.

Initially conceived by Center for Media Innovation + Research executive director David Carlson, we began work on the project together shortly after I was hired in the summer of 2011. Dave and I, working with officials at the University Athletic Association, received the green light for the project just two weeks before the start of the semester and we quickly scrambled to find top-notched, advanced students to work on it.

Thirteen brave souls answered our call, and we’ve been running ever since.

From its start, this course has been pushing boundaries. An experiment in collaborative learning, students took the helm of the project from the start, breaking into teams that coordinated content, media, public outreach and Web development. During our formal course meetings, some students led workshops and discussions on functional areas of which they had knowledge to share.

The UAA also gave us one-time, unprecedented access to the folks behind the scenes of Gator football. Thanks to the support and legwork of Steve McClain, Fred Demerest and John Hines (along with their counterparts at Auburn University), our team members had five media passes for the Oct. 15 away game in Auburn, Ala.

Ten students and two instructors made the trek to Auburn and Montgomery, Ala., Oct. 13 thru 16, to chronicle the behind-the-scenes story. Miraculously, we all came back.

By design, this course drew students from disciplines across the college to work together. Students from the journalism and public relations departments (even a mechanical engineering major) answered the call to join the class — one of the first opportunities for those majors to work together on a media product.

From day one, I challenged the team members to think beyond their comfort zone. For many, this was the first time reporting for a multi-platform project. They were asked to tell the story the best way they could through writing, photos, video and graphics — and many chose video, a medium with which they had limited experience. One student even developed a motion graphic, teaching himself the program to complete it along the way.

We had some misses as well — some of our early attempts at audience engagement didn’t fly, nor did our user-generated content initiative, or our attempt at gamification of the coverage (inspired by a visit by Jane McGonigal earlier in the semester).

Still in development (and coming soon) is a half-hour documentary to be aired on the college’s television stations, led by Steve Johnson with assistance from the reporting team.

Ultimately, as with so many things, it was the people behind the scenes who made the project a success. Many thanks to our executive producers Ethan Magoc and David Carlson. Thanks to Ann Christiano for her guidance to me and our outreach team as well as to our friends over in the UAA (Steve McClain, Fred Demerest, John Hines and the fine folks we met on our travels and coverage). We wouldn’t have been able to do this without the support and assistance of our dean John Wright, associate dean Linda Hon, journalism department chair Wayne Wanta, budget director Susan Luther, budget staff Mary Ann Spitzer and Dan Faust, and special events guru Ellen Nodine. Thanks also to our friends in the Division of Multimedia Properties, especially Randy Wright, Brad Noblitt, Sandy Wagner, Reed Erickson and Jerry Butler.