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Cronkite Students to Play Important Role at Final Four

March 27, 2017


Cronkite School Final Four
Cronkite student Blake Benard (left) shoots photos of the Final Four basketball court installation at University of Phoenix Stadium with Kaci Demarest (center). Photo by Fabian Ardaya


More than 50 students of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University are providing critical support and news coverage for the NCAA’s Final Four in Phoenix this week.

Cronkite students will serve as content creators for the Final Four’s official social media channels on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, which collectively have more than 100,000 users. The initiative will see students producing hundreds of pieces of content during the week for display on the Final Four’s social media channels.

“Telling the entire Final Four story in a compelling manner on social is not an easy task,” said Nate Flannery, director of digital and social media at the NCAA. “With the wide range of skills and real-world experience of the students, partnering with the Cronkite School was a natural fit to assist and enhance our social media strategy.”

Twenty-five students under the guidance of Ethics and Excellence Professor of Practice Jessica Pucci are producing interactive social media content on events surrounding the tournament. This includes 360-degree videos, produced in conjunction with five students from the Cronkite School’s New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab, led by Retha Hill, the lab’s director.

Dawn Rogers, executive director of the 2017 Final Four, said, “The Cronkite School was a natural choice to help us with our social media.  As one of the nation’s top journalism programs, Cronkite offers a laboratory for digital communications. We are thrilled to be working with their students, and we hope they have a memorable experience.”

Loni Bryantt, a Cronkite senior from Minot, North Dakota, who is part of the Final Four social media team, said her experience working at Cronkite News, the student-produced news division of Arizona PBS, will be an asset when she is at the Final Four’s command center at the Phoenix Convention Center.

“I’m excited to see what kind of outreach we can do,” Bryantt said. “It’s such a huge event, and it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m not very nervous because I know my training with Jessica Pucci and Cronkite News have prepared me for this opportunity.”

Additionally, Cronkite students will have media credentials to cover the Final Four for Cronkite News. Six students in the Phoenix Sports Bureau will cover practices and games for Cronkite News and make content available to more than 30 regional media partners, including The Arizona Republic, FOX Sports Arizona and Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

Cronkite News Phoenix Sports Director Brett Kurland, who played a key role in organizing the school’s Final Four efforts along with Pucci, said students will have unparalleled access as they pursue a range of stories of interest to Arizonans.

Cronkite News student Tyler Paley, a senior from Howell, New Jersey, said he feels privileged to be a credentialed member of the media at the Final Four.

“You really can’t get much bigger than the Final Four,” Paley said. “It just goes to show the real-world experience that the Cronkite School provides. It’s really cool when I tell my family and friends about this. But I’m here to do a job, and I’m looking forward to it.”

More than 20 students are assisting with Final Four-related show operations for major media operations, including Westwood One radio network. Cronkite School Career Services Director Mike Wong said students will have a presence on radio row helping arrange interviews for media outlets.

Since the Cronkite School announced new sports journalism degrees in 2014, students have covered major sporting events that include Super Bowl XLIX, the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, the 2016 College Football National Championship and now the 2017 Final Four.

Students also regularly cover professional and intercollegiate sports from bureaus in Phoenix and Los Angeles. This includes Major League Baseball’s Cactus League spring training in Phoenix.

“We have been lucky over the last three years to have some of the largest sporting events in our backyard,” said Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan. “We’re thrilled that our outstanding students will have the opportunity to produce social media for one of the premier sporting events in the world and sincerely appreciate the support that we have received from both the NCAA and the Phoenix Local Organizing Committee for the Final Four.”