‘Insiders’ boost sports video to websites, telecasts

Dan Hayes and Tracey Meyers

Chicago media outlets are going where standard-sized ENG camera crews sometimes don’t tread: in locker rooms on the road where videos of the city’s athletes are now being relayed via writers’ flip-cams and cellphone cameras.

The Chicago Tribune and Comcast SportsNet Chicago are the market leaders in bringing the jocks’ post-game comments to both broadcast and on-line platforms. Now, beat writers also serve the role of camera operators to video-hungry fan bases.

“Everybody has made it a normal part of their reporting for some time,” Tribune sports editor Mike Kellams said of the regular tapings that began a year ago. “It’s no great surprise that much of the world is driven by video online. Can we make our report in all forms more dynamic and more alive, to put readers there?”

Kellams described his videos as akin to The Blair Witch Project,   raw footage without editing at either end. Beat writers in all sports tape pre- and post-game comments, home and road. After all Bears games, the Tribune’s coverage team, usually led by columnist David Haugh, has a panel discussion that seems a little more refined on camera.

CSN Chicago beat writers, branded “Insiders” like Tracey Meyers (Blackhawks) and Dan Hayes (White Sox), will regularly tape post-game comments on the road. Their video is used when local ENG crews are not available or concentrate only on the coach/manager post-game press conference.

Camera coverage set up months in advance

“It depends on the road game,” said CSN Chicago managing editor Joe Collins. “For instance, my editorial calendar is planned out two to three months in advance.  As of this second, I’m planned out until the end of March.  So, all of our postgame plans are set until then. 

“By default, we expect our Insiders to gather flip-cam reaction on the road for every game.  That said, if it’s a special situation, we would send our own ENG news photographer.  Recent examples of this include Bulls at Heat in Miami. We were already there for the Notre Dame national championship game…so it was an easy cover.  And this week, we planned on sending a photographer to Milwaukee for Bulls/Bucks.  Reasons for this: (1) proximity and (2) the game is on our air.”

ESPNChicago.com does not employ the small cameras as frequently as CSN Chicago and the Tribune, mainly because the site can draw upon ESPN sports video. And the site’s beat writers also have to feed audio tape to all-sports radio station ESPN-1000. Their hands literally are full, requiring some creativity in adding video.

Videos posted within minutes

Kellams, Collins and Sgariglia said the videos can be posted online or on air relatively quickly, within minutes of receipt. “The longer it’s up there, the more traffic will be driven to it,” said Kellams.

CSN Chicago has to accept the somewhat diminished quality level for broadcast, prompting the editors to coach the reporters.

“It is the responsibility of the desk, producers and digital/TV department heads to give advice to Insiders about flip-cam usage and protocol,” Collins said. 

“For instance, we always tell our Insiders to hold the flip-cams close enough to the subject to gather sound, but far enough away so that it doesn’t intrude on their personal space or that of the other media.”

George Castle is a longtime Chicago-based sportswriter, author and radio talk-show host.