Ole Miss Alumni Profile: Hannah Chalker

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Hannah Chalker

By Hayley Ramagos

Staying hungry and humble is Hannah Chalker’s (’11) key to success. The 25-year-old sports broadcast journalist has already worked with major networks such as ESPN3, ESPNU, Comcast Sports Southeast, SEC Digital Network and Fox News Channel. Currently she works for University of Alabama Athletics as on-air/producer with Crimson Tide Productions & SEC Network productions.

Her career has blossomed because she took full advantage of her resources during her time as an Ole Miss undergrad. Chalker served as a news anchor and reporter for NewsWatch and a student reporter for Ole Miss Sports Productions.

“I naturally remember the students who stand out,” said Nancy Dupont, Chalker’s Journalism 102 professor and later both her Media Performance and Advanced Television Reporting professor. “Hannah stood out. She was very confident that she could learn anything and learn to do it well.”

Growing up in a sports-loving family is what planted the seed that grew into Chalker’s love and talent for sports broadcasting. When she and her sisters weren’t busy playing for their volleyball and year-round soccer teams, she and her family were attending every professional sporting event in Atlanta. Whether it was the Braves, Falcons or Thrashers, the Chalker family was there.

But she did not find her calling until her senior year, when Chalker landed an on-air position with ESPNU Campus Connection as the SEC recap reporter for an Ole Miss basketball game against Southern Miss.

“It was that moment standing on the court, talking over screaming fans with lights blinding my eyes that I knew I was in love,” Chalker said. “It was a rush and familiarity that’s hard to explain.”

Three months after graduation, Chalker quickly accepted her first professional job in Orlando, Florida, as a reporter and producer for the SEC Digital Network, powered by XOS Digital. She rapidly adjusted to the demanding, odd hours of the world of sports broadcasting and determinedly fought to prove herself in a male-dominated industry.

“In every industry there’s a learning curve between a newbie and a veteran, but being female and green has it’s own set of challenges in the sports world,” Chalker said. “You have to constantly prove that you’ve done your homework and that you know what you’re talking about. Being a female sports broadcaster takes a lot of guts, and it’s a full time job proving that you’re so much more than just a pretty face.”

One thing is certain: Chalker accomplishes everything through hard work. After her position with ESPNU Campus Connection, she was asked to intern with Ole Miss Sports Productions as a reporter for olemisssports.com. It was there that she met J. Stern, the former Assistant Athletics Director for Ole Miss Sports Productions.

“She had an intuitiveness that resonated in what she did,” Stern said. “I would let her work, and she would just do it right.” 

Stern, impressed with Chalker’s work ethic, quickly came to play a pivotal role in her learning experience in the sports broadcast world and, later, in her professional career.

“[J. Stern] has been my mentor and dear friend since my senior year of college,” Chalker said. “He helped me gain the necessary production and writing skills that I needed for sports broadcasting, as well as put me in contact with the right people to learn from and grow professionally over the years.”

Chalker learned things that she never could have been taught inside the classroom. Stern gave advice when she needed it and showed her techniques that further set her apart from other broadcast students.

“The biggest thing was her learning how to old-school edit,” Stern said. “She was the first student I ever had in the work force who learned how to do that. Taking the time to old-school edit eventually led her to a job.”

Stern credits Chalker’s professional success to her positive attitude.

“I like how she is paying her dues — taking the time for learning writing and editing the right way and not just jumping in front of the camera,” Stern said. “She mastered the conversational writing of broadcast early and she was able to write in her own, different way.”

This was also apparent in her work in Professor Dupont’s classes. Dupont recognized Chalker’s ability to create a confident presence in front of the camera all while using her amiable people skills to get a great story.

“Her personality is extremely pleasant,” Dupont said. “That makes her a very strong interviewer. When she was on camera, she was more than just a pretty face. There was a power behind her reporting that made her stand out.”

Maybe Chalker’s talent and success in sports broadcasting is simply a product of passion. She says sports and writing are the two things she is most passionate about.

“Besides the ones (sports) I cover, I’m always involved in some kind of sports league whether it’s golf, volleyball, softball, etc. On the other hand, I’m extremely passionate about writing and expressing myself. Even when I was very young, you could always find me with a pen in my hand writing some kind of story or poem.”

Chalker finds the opportunities she has to mentor young aspiring journalists as the most rewarding aspect of her job. She likes to have a shadow on the field with her for every game to show them the ins and outs of being a sideline reporter.

For Chalker, the long nights, early mornings and lack of social life during football season is worth the unrivaled excitement of her job.

“Picture this: it’s Saturday during the primetime SEC game of the week, the fans are so loud you can barely hear yourself think, and the guys in the booth are getting ready to throw it down to you for your opening hit of the game,” Chalker said. “Now that’s what I call fun.”

In addition to her sideline reporting, Chalker is host for the 2014 documentary, “The Wishbone Boys,” chronicling the University of Alabama football program’s most historic periods under head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. After achieving so many milestones in only three years, Chalker clearly has the potential to go wherever her will power takes her.

“My dream is to one day host a primetime sportscast,” Chalker said. “As much as I love infield reporting, I’ve always seen myself behind a news desk somewhere. That’s what I hope I’m doing in the next few years, living out my dream, so I can come up with a new one.”

The author is a senior, Integrated Marketing Communications major from Winona, Mississippi.

 

Fall 2015: The Wishbone Boys

 

Wishbone Boys

A Documentary, A Reunion, a Celebration

The Documentary: A film directed by Tim Card, of Film Systems International, and hosted by Hannah Chalker.

If you watch college or professional football, or listen to football experts on radio and TV talk shows you have heard many of them say “…they just need to get the ball in the hands of… a particular player.” The reference to a particular player could be a running back, a tight end or wide receiver but always refers to a player that is a Superstar, a player that is good enough that the coach should be designing plays around his skill and talent.

That is how the game is played today in the 20th Century. Prior to this philosophy, back in the 1950’s, a junior high football coach named Spud Cason had exactly the opposite situation. He had a fullback that was slow and not as skilled as today’s player. So he designed a formation in order to get him into the play quicker, a formation that emphasized strengthening teamwork over individual athleticism. Coach Cason called this, “The Monning T,” after the name of his school.

In the late 1960’s, Darrell Royal and Emory Bellard implemented this formation at the University of Texas with great success. “The Monning T” formation was further developed and refined. The Houston Chronicle wrote that the formation looked like a “pulley bone.” Coach Royal preferred the term wishbone, thus the name Wishbone Formation was born.

Bear Bryant

During the early to mid 1960’s, Bear Bryant won three national championships. As the 1970’s approached, Alabama football was falling on hard times. In a time which saw the first African American players at the University of Alabama, Bryant engineered a new offensive strategy featuring The Wishbone. He closed practices to the media and introduced a completely retooled Alabama football team in 1971.

Throughout the 70’s Alabama used The Wishbone perhaps more successfully than any other college team. Bowl games, SEC championships and three more national championships were the result of the Alabama Wishbone offense.

“The Wishbone Boys” tells the exciting story of the 1970’s Alabama teams through interviews with players, coaches, sportswriters, historians and other experts. The Wishbone formation is intricate, requiring exceptional decision making under pressure and intense concentration.

Through archived game footage, the people involved will bring viewers into the huddle, and guide them step by step through the split second decisions during actual play. The human side of developing and maintaining a high level of camaraderie, competitiveness, and sportsmanship in a turbulent decade will be woven in and out of the football strategy.

The year 2013 is the 100th anniversary of Bear Bryant’s birth and the 30th anniversary of his death. The Wishbone Boys will be a fitting tribute to one the coach’s most challenging and successful decades.

The Wishbone Boys Trailer 

Reunion & Celebration: The Wishbone Boys Reunion is a celebration of a place in time – the Wishbone Team Era at The University of Alabama. Starting in 1971 and lasting through the 1982 season, this era of football at The University changed football history. We invite team members, trainers, managers and coaches to join us for a weekend of celebration, rememberance and documentation from Friday, March 14 – Monday, March 17, 2014 in beautiful Orange Beach, Alabama.

For a full itinerary and more information visit www.wishboneboys.com!

 

Hannah Joins NBC Sports Group

Hannah Chalker has joined CSS, a member of the NBC Sports Group, it was announced today. Chalker will serve as a college football sideline reporter, host of The Dawg Report and fulfill a variety of other roles for the network. Here is her message: 

I’m so excited to officially announce that I have accepted an on-air position with CSS, and I will be moving back home to Atlanta in 2 weeks!! Although this is such an exciting time for my career, it is a bittersweet decision. Orlando has been my home for over two years and the friends I have made there have become my family. A big thank you to everyone at XOS Digital for giving me my start in sports broadcasting.

CSS

ABOUT CSS Comcast Sports Southeast is a member of the Comcast Sports Group, which is consolidated within the NBC Sports Group and operates 13 local networks that deliver 2,400 sporting events annually and breaking news and analysis to more than 50 million homes. CSS is a 24-hour sports channel carrying a full slate of college sports programming and can only be found on cable. With over 40 live football games including the SEC, Sun Belt, Conference USA, and Gulf South Conferences, the channel offers a comprehensive sports lineup throughout the year. The channel also offers more than 140 men’s and women’s live college basketball games and over 60 live baseball games, as well as a comprehensive mix of sports news and in-depth sports analysis geared toward fans in the south.

ABOUT THE DAWG REPORT The Dawg Report is a University of Georgia athletics show featuring former Georgia Bulldogs quarterback DJ Shockley; winner and MVP of the 2005 SEC Championship game. You can watch the weekly broadcast every Monday 11pET, as well as the encore Wednesdays 6:30pET on CSS. For more information visit: http://www.csssports.com/show/dawg-report.

FB2 TW2

 

“Hungry and Humble”

Recently, the Sports Video Group saw an opportunity to seek out and promote new faces in the industry, so they asked me to speak at the 2012 College Sports Video Summit (CSVS) as moderator of the “Generation Next” panel.

I, along with five other professionals shared our stories and gave honest advice to those trying to make the leap from college to the professional world of sports broadcasting.

I started my career as a reporter researching and reporting on campus and local news for the Ole Miss’s daily live newscast, NewsWatch. Being an extremely quick learner I kept catching on to everything that was being thrown at me.  People saw my talent, hard work ethic and dedication to my job and the harder I worked the more opportunities I received. This began broadening my horizons in the broadcast industry.

During the fall semester of my senior year, ESPN U Campus Connection came to Oxford for the Ole Miss vs Southern Miss men’s basketball game. Through my recognition around campus, I received an email about possibly working with the crew, and landed my first sports reporting gig.

In my free time I began producing sports stories for ESPN U, everything from feature stories to big events. The Assistant Athletics Director for Ole Miss Sports Productions, J Stern, eventually contacted me to intern under him. My hard work and persistence had finally paid off!

After graduating from the University of Mississippi in 2011, I could no longer work with Ole Miss Sports Productions. I was then referred to XOS Digital as a reporter and producer for the SEC Digital Network, my current position. Only one year later I can tell you that this industry is fast paced and extremely competitive.

My five tips that I can offer you that have helped my career take off are:

  • Be on time. It may sound simple, but being prompt is the best way to show your superiors you are ready and willing to work. You never know where a job opportunity is lurking, and you could miss out by being late.
  • Get to know your professors. Treat each class like a job interview, with your professors being the employer. Act professional, ask questions and talk with them after class about ways you can better your skills. Who better to be a reference on your resume than someone who has seen your work first hand? And, who knows, they might even help you land your first job.
  • Versatility. It only takes an employer 5 seconds to accept or deny your resume. Taking the time to learn other skills will put you above the others applying for the same job. Whether you want to be on camera, or you’re a behind-the-scenes kind of person, learn it all.
  • Work ethic. Always be available and ready to step in when someone else cannot. This could be your chance to shine, and just the opportunity you need to meet your future boss.
  • Network, network, network. In the sports industry, it’s about what you know AND who you know. Meet as many people as you can and follow up, even if it’s just for some advice or a referral.

Always take every opportunity that is presented to you, even if you don’t think it is beneficial at the time.  That one skill might be the one thing that helps you land your dream job! The last piece of advice I can give you, is the best piece of advice I have ever received:

“Always stay hungry and humble.”

Getting to Know SEC Today Host and Producer Hannah Chalker

We continue our Q&A with important voices covering college football with the SEC DigitalNetwork’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 ofcollege 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.”