STUDENT CHAPTER HIGHLIGHT: SPJ University of Maryland Chapter
By Rishi Barran
More than 200 students – with a smattering of faculty and staff – turned out at the University of Maryland in February to learn more about “Pardon the Interruption” (PTI), a new mid-day television show on ESPN that has taken off since first airing last October. The university chapter of SPJ, which consists of more than 70 members, sponsored the event.
Nearly the entire staff of the popular show was present. The panel consisted of Coordinating Producer Erik Rydholm, Producer Matt Kelliher, Associate Producer Shannon Suzuki, Production Assistant Patrick O’Connor, Guest Coordinator Frankie Nation, Intern Josh Maurer, Researcher Tony Reali (a.k.a. Stat Boy), and Co-host Michael Wilbon.
The panel members began by speaking of personal experiences with the show and gave the audience a behind-the-scenes description of their duties. Then the audience was allowed to ask questions, which ranged from serious journalistic issues to whether Wilbon would be interested in a student fantasy baseball league.
“Fantasy baseball has ruined the way people watch games,” said Wilbon, who doubles as a columnist for The Washington Post. “No one watches to enjoy the sport anymore, all they care about is whether their guy had 4 RBI that night.”
Wilbon also said he would like to see young fans become more knowledgeable of athletes from the past as he did when he was a child.
“It makes me upset that kids today don’t know about athletes from before their time,” Wilbon said. “When I was young, I wanted to know everything about these guys, and I think it has helped me in the long run.”
Program Intern Josh Maurer, a student at the university and SPJ member, served as moderator. He also organized the event.
“It was a tremendous success,” Maurer said. “When we walked into the room and saw it filled with 200 people, everyone on the PTI staff was elated. I think both the staff and the students each really learned something.”
While the students heard firsthand from the talent behind the show, Maurer said the experience was just as valuable for the PTI crew.
“They all realized for the first time that our audience is very young, something the ratings can’t prove,” Maurer said. “When they saw all the young, enthusiastic fans at the event, they realized how young the show’s demographic really is.”
Rydholm said that originally the show was just hoping it would have an audience, period. After less than half a year, Rydholm said the show’s ratings are 50 percent better than projected.
Near the end of the presentation, the PTI cast shifted to its patented rapid-fire format that has won over viewers. The panelists were given a one-minute time limit to answer audience questions in an attempt to mimic the show while speeding up the presentation.
The only member of the PTI crew not present was Wilbon’s sarcastic sidekick Tony Kornheiser. Kornheiser and Wilbon have worked together at The Washington Post for more than 20 years, and the bickering you see between the two on the show isn’t much of a departure from reality.
“The arguments you hear on television are arguments we’ve been having in elevators for 10 years,” Wilbon said.
He was quick to point out, however, that he and Kornheiser are good friends, and that he has the utmost respect for his colleague.
“He’s been a mentor,” Wilbon said of Kornheiser. “It was a mentor-pupil relationship for the first 10 years. You become more equal, but I’m never going to be able to pull aside him in experience.”
Student and SPJ member Etan Horowitz said the event also was a great promotional venue for the local chapter.
“It’s certainly one of the best events I’ve been a part of,” Horowitz said. “It gets our name out there and makes people realize what our organization is all about.”