Football coverage puts journalism students at center of the action

KOMU-TV and the Columbia Missourian send a team of student journalists across central Missouri to help them gain experience covering sports.

  • two people talk on camera in front of a bunch of cheerleaders
    Meteorologist Matt Beckwith and Sports Director Ben Arnet reported live from Jefferson City High School during the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts.

Oct. 15, 2021

It’s Friday night. KOMU-TV’s Ben Arnet rounds up his students, who are preparing to fan out across Mid-Missouri with their video cameras. This is the third week of Friday Night Fever, the station’s decades-old tradition of sending groups of students to film highlights from about 15 local and regional high school football games each Friday and put the footage together in time for the 9 and 10 p.m. newscasts.

The program is a massive undertaking from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. With two nights of football coverage under their belts, the students are only just beginning to find a rhythm.

“Everyone wants to cover SEC football,” Arnet said. “It’s important for students to see how many resources go into covering high school games, and to see how that builds a stronger connection to the community. We care about every town we touch, and we want to train reporters who feel the same way.”

For junior Kate Boles, the high-pressure nature of coordinating a live broadcast is part of what makes Friday Night Fever a valuable opportunity — an example of the school’s emphasis on the “Missouri Method” — learning by doing.

“I wanted to get into this station before I was assigned to it, because I want to become a producer,” Boles said. “The more you know about the process, the smoother everything runs. This is a great learning experience.”

No sooner does the opening newscast end than a batch of students from KOMU-TV and the Columbia Missourian descends onto the turf to cover the game itself. Chase Matteson, a junior, is mentoring freshman Hunter Walterman in filming the action for TV with a handheld camera. Once the game begins, they dash along the Jeff City sideline from endzone to endzone, searching for the perfect angle and trying to anticipate where the ball might fly during the next play.

On the other side of the field, where a congregation of Rock Bridge fans cheer on their team toward a decisive victory, Missourian photographers Kalyn Laire and Tanishka R. are dividing and conquering for Friday Night Sights, the Missourian’s weekly collection of photos from high school football games that runs parallel to Friday Night Fever. Laire, a freshman, is getting her feet wet.

“This is my first Friday Night Sights, and I’m a little nervous,” she said. “But this is why I’m at the best journalism school in the country.”

Perched on the sideline, journalism graduate student Tanishka is charged with taking action shots for the Missourian, a task she values for the precision it requires.

“Shooting sports, you need to be very present, because you never know what could happen next,” she said. “You need to have eyes everywhere.”

As if to prove her point, she pauses and drops into a crouch as Rock Bridge attempts an onside kick. Tanishka snaps a photo just as the kicker connects with the ball. Elsewhere, Matteson and Walterman film the play as it unfolds, and Laire captures the Rock Bridge fans as they erupt.

“Opportunities are everywhere,” Tanishka says with a smile.

Read more from the Missouri School of Journalism


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