We continue our Q&A with important voices covering college football with the SEC Digital Network’s Hannah Chalker. Chalker hosts the SEC Today webcast and works as a producer on the SEC Digital Network. In our Q&A, find out what it takes to produce content for the SEC Digital Network and how Chalker balances being a reporter with working for the official SEC website.
1. What goes into the production of a typical segment for the SEC Today?
Hannah Chalker: “The SEC Today is all about the fans. On a typical day I go in and usually go through the SEC Digital Network site to see what is going on, and that site really gives a lot of information about what is happening in the SEC right now. The first question I ask myself is, ‘What would fans most want to hear about today?’ because without the fans, the SEC doesn’t exist or the hype of it doesn’t exist.
“So, for me a typical morning is finding a story. Then what goes through my head next is, ‘Who can I interview? Who would know the most about this the sport, this topic or championship?’
“Then I go down the line of trying to track these people down, and that is always interesting. I literally will get thrown to ten different people. ‘Here talk to this media person. Here talk to this SID.’ You just go all down the line. It is either hit or miss. All you can do is ask. I’ve really stretched it. I know I’ve only been in the sports industry out of college for less than two years and I’ve really stretched my abilities and gone after some awesome interviews and I’ve gotten them. All you have to do is ask, and all they can say is ‘No.’ But most of them don’t say no and you get a really, really great story out of it.
“So, that is usually the hardest part—getting the interview. Then from there, I do the research and that can take a little bit of time too, write the script, get the set ready, report the news on camera, go behind the camera and transfer the files, produce the piece and then finally send it out to all platforms. So, it is kind of like an all day thing when you are doing it by yourself.”
2. Seems like it can be kind of irregular hours?
Hannah Chalker: “I was emailing Chrysta at 1:30 at night about stuff and she even said what is my new favorite quote, ‘Sports does not sleep.’
“Sports definitely does not sleep. We were up until 1:30 a.m. last night cutting the baseball highlights, producing pieces. You have to be ready when there is an SEC Baseball Championship months in advance and that your scheduled is clear that weekend. It is Memorial Day Weekend, but who cares. Work comes first. I know a lot of people don’t see that, but I am also new and hungry and humble, so clear the calendar for SEC baseball.
3. You have worked for Fox News, ESPN U and the SEC Network on television, how does the webcast compare to your experience in other types of broadcast?
Hannah Chalker: “It is a lot different. I know I worked with those three media outlets closely and it was so much fun. Hopefully, one day I can be somewhere major like that. With live news like that, everything has to be done timely and quickly. When stories break, you have to be ready if you are live tv production. People, fans in the public are expecting that news. They want the news now.
“With web it is fun because you get to sit back. You get to create the story. Instead of worrying about the timeliness, you get to think about the whole picture and the quality of the story rather than the speed of the story. You kind of get to sit back and gather your thoughts before releasing any information.
4. Your bio lists your job as Talent/Producer. The talent portion is clear, that is on-air work, but what does a producer do to create these reports?
Hannah Chalker: “I like to call my work with the SEC Digital Network 70-30. A lot of people would think, ‘Just another girl trying to get on camera.’ But that is not it at all. I take such pride in my producing. The 70-30 meaning, 70 percent production and 30 percent on camera work if even that. It could be 80-20.
“Although, I have greatly improved my on-camera delivery, I am really proud of my production skills. I know that I will produce a football hype piece or an NFL draft hype piece and people will be like, ‘That girl can edit and it is not even an on-camera piece.’ You lay down a piece of music, you cut some tracks and you get it to the music and match the sound up and it is one of those things that is like wow, I produced that one year out of college and one year in the industry and this is being embedded and picked up all over the place.
“I do a lot of producing and really what goes into it is the Nat sound, having a feel for the music and even though it is XOS, I mainly work with the SEC Digital Network and so I think graduating from an SEC school has really helped me with the kind of passion for my work in that way.”
5. This question we’ve asked people who worked for the on-air Big Ten Network and it is something of a growing trend— reporters working for the entities they cover. As a trained journalist with a bachelor’s degree from The Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi, how do you balance reporting with working for the official online product of the SEC?
Hannah Chalker: “It is so hard being a journalist and fresh out of college when you know breaking news and you are sitting on it for weeks and you are just dying to get it out there to the public because that is what you just learned and that is what you are hungry for, but with the Digital Network it is also fun learning a different side, to sit on it, wait and create a quality story with interviews, sound bites, really sit back and make a quality story and releasing it rather than just pushing it out there.
“It is different. I like it. I absolutely love my job and I would not change anything about it. So, I think, I’ll have my chance for breaking news one day, but I would say that is the most difficult thing is having to sit on breaking news, but that is with any web company, I think.”
6. How is live reporting at an event like SEC Media Days different from studio work?
Hannah Chalker: “It is different. We’ve done a couple of live broadcasts at SEC Media Days and the SEC Championship Game and we are going to Media Days again this year. Last year we were trying to do a standup and you have fans waving in the background, screaming ‘Roll Tide Roll’ and finally, I was like, let’s get the fans involved in this. Let’s not do this standup in front of them, let’s get them involved.
“While we were on camera, I turned around and asked, of course I know what RTR stands for, but these people were yelling it, and I ask, ‘Hey guys, what does RTR stand for?’ And they all just yelled, ‘Roll Tide Roll.’ It was just so awesome. You kind of have to think in the moment. It is not prepared. Yeah, you could be prepared, but when things like that happen, you have to go on the fly. You have to have trust in your delivery. Trust in your cameraman, your producer to get the shot that you have in your head. I just went on the fly like that and was hoping he would follow me, and of course he was all over it. It is kind of things like that.”
7. Any memorable interview stories or events that you’ve covered?
Hannah Chalker: “My favorite story so far, we interviewed both Coach James Franklin and Coach Joker Phillips for a Black History Month piece. I am sure you know and lots of SEC fans know, it is a big milestone for the SEC with two African-American football coaches playing against each other for the first time last year in Vanderbilt-Kentucky. Of course, Vanderbilt won, but both were great sports. Called and had great conversations with both of them about it. It was on SEC Today. Interviewed them both, wrote the story, researched, pulled clips, had really great Nat sound of them shaking hands in the beginning. It was just a great story and definitely my favorite one.
“I had another favorite one. I have done a ton of these stories, but the two that stand out the most are that one and when I interviewed David Cutcliffe. With Eli Manning winning the Super Bowl, he was the former Ole Miss coach who recruited Eli and coached Eli and was at the Super Bowl still coaching Eli—not really, but Eli called him after the game. He talked about his whole experience with coaching him and watching him through his success. I stayed on the phone with him about an hour and just chatted. Completely cleared my schedule and it was one of those interviews that I will never forget. It was really cool.”
8. What can fans expect for the upcoming football season from you and the SEC Digital Network?
Hannah Chalker: “This is an awesome question because I personally cannot wait. On top of being the six-time defending national champs, potentially going for a seventh BCS title this year, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but maybe, we are also adding two new institutions and two new fan bases with Missouri and Texas A&M. I know they are excited. We are excited and we are creating a bunch of SEC hype videos that will be going out.
“The SEC Digital Network is the number one source for SEC news. These fans, whether you are a seasoned fan, a new fan, people really need to be checking out our site. We are all over. We are always at every championship. We have exclusive interviews. All the reporters on the site, all of our bloggers, do a great job and it is all for the fans. The site wouldn’t exist without the fans. People need to be checking it out because it is all going up from here for the SEC Digital Network.”