DuckTV gives students a chance to hone broadcasting skills

At 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning near the end of fall term, a group of University of Oregon students wanders into the TV studio of Allen Hall.

One group sits in the control room, working keyboards and looking at monitors. The other group waits in the studio, preparing either to operate cameras or talk in front of them.

This is the weekly DuckTV production session, when students create segments on Oregon athletics and local news.

DuckTV, now in its 11th year, gives students a chance to learn and hone television production skills, from shooting and editing video to writing scripts and appearing on camera, flop sweat be damned. In addition to creating news and sports segments, students also create their own dramatic and comedic shows.

“In its very rawest form, it’s a practicum,” said Rebecca Force, an instructor of broadcast journalism in the School of Journalism and Communication and the advisor for DuckTV. “It gives students a chance to spread their wings.

“We do not expect the product they turn out to be finished work, but the last few years they’re getting closer and closer. They’re bringing real sensitivity to video production, and getting more and more sophisticated.

“The news and sports people can use all the reps they can get,” she added. “It’s just the nature of the beast.”

'Building to where I want to go'

Hydration is not part of Preston Hiefield’s job description, but it was getting warm in the studio, and the talent was starting to sweat.

Hiefield, an associate producer of DuckTV, grabbed a Gatorade squirt bottle in the control room, dashed into the studio, and gave each of the on-air hosts a quick squirt of water.

Hiefield then went back to the control room to help finish taping the sports segment. A junior studying broadcast journalism, Hiefield has been working on DuckTV since he was a freshman.

He said he’s learned a ton of skills applicable to the real world, from operating video cameras to dealing with people and managing other staff members. DuckTV is a 1- to 3-credit class but students routinely put a lot of hours into production, he said.

“It’s what the show demands if you want it to be a good show,” he said. “We’re not getting paid, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I’m willing to put in the effort. It’s very rewarding and building to where I want to go — being a reporter and broadcaster.”

'A lot of creative freedom'

On a Wednesday afternoon in a small conference room on the third floor of Allen Hall, 11 students crowd around a table, watching a monitor of the rough edits of the creative shows on DuckTV. These are scripted, short films, created, written and produced by students.

Force sits at the head of the table. She watches and scribbles notes on a notepad. After each segment, she offers words of praise and constructive criticism, usually on technical aspects of the production.

“Who edited that? Wow. Nice — really nice,” she says after watching a segment of “Steinman & Brown,” about a pair of mismatched campus “problem solvers. “I thought the editing on this was stunning.”

One of the the satiric sketches on “Closing Time” proves problematic. It’s a party scene, and includes some profanity and depictions of drug use. When the segment ends, Force says she loves it, but adds, “You’re pushing the limits, guys.”

The show’s creator, Greg Kroes, doesn’t argue and agrees to re-cut the scene. Later, he said he was not concerned about cutting out the controversial bits before it airs on DuckTV.

“It’s not that big of a deal at all,” he said.

Kroes, a fifth-year senior who graduated at the end of fall term with a degree in business, spent two terms working on DuckTV and pronounced it “awesome.” After graduating, he moved back to Los Angeles, where he grew up. He plans to seek work in the entertainment industry, and believes his work for DuckTV will help him land a job.

“They give you a lot of creative freedom,” he said. “They let me do whatever I want with the show.”

'We have a lot of fun'

On this Sunday morning, Allie Burger is in the DuckTV control room. She works as a reporter, but like others involved with DuckTV, she wears many hats. That means when someone notices sports anchor Chris Brooklier’s tie is askew, she gets tasked with straightening it.

“We have so much fun,” she said. “I’m the girl in boys club, so the jokes are at my expense some of the time but I think it’s hilarious.”

Burger said she’s known she wanted to be a a sports broadcaster since she was a little girl, and working on DuckTV provides her with a great opportunity to build her skills, she said. It’s helped her build her “reel” -- samples of her work — that she hopes will help her land a job after graduation.

“Being a part of DuckTV has helped me better my skills as I prepare to head into the job market,” she said.

Joey McMurry also plans to work in sports media and has found DuckTV to be excellent training ground. A junior, he plans to graduate early and get a job doing TV or radio. He’s also been a fill-in guest on Jerry Allen’s afternoon talk show, Duck Insider, on the 95.3 The Score, and interned last summer at KEZI-TV in Eugene.

He serves as sports executive producer for DuckTV and oversee one creative show. He also works on the campus radio station,

“From a sports perspective, this is the first time students get to be on camera,” he said. “For a student who doesn’t have the connections to get an internship, this is a good place to start and figure out if this is what they want to do.”

Tim Christie