PHOENIX, Ariz. - Six Hopi High media students attended the first Phoenix Suns Journalism Day March 27 at US Airways Center before watching Phoenix lose to Portland, 87-81.
During the afternoon, the students listened to Tom Chambers and Tom Leander talk about their broadcast program. The students had a chance to shoot around on the Suns' court before listening to digital media specialists Jeramie McPeek and Greg Esposito, known as the Suns.com team.
That night the students watched the Phoenix Suns play the Portland Trail Blazers.
Hopi High was one of 12 schools that came to the event. About 120 students attended the event. The only other school from northern Arizona was Camp Verde. Most of the schools that attended were from the Phoenix area.
Raicardo Jim, a senior radio broadcast student at Hopi High, said journalism day was "cool and educational."
"It was surprising to see so many students at the event and most of those students were girls so I didn't have much of a getaway from my normal everyday sixth hour," he said.
The sixth hour radio class has 15 students, but Jim is the lone boy in the class.
Jim, who plans to major in mass media, said Leander and Chambers were both entertaining as they detailed how they got into their current positions.
"They told us students about the challenges they face on the job and what kind of schooling they had to get through to be able to work in journalism. Some of the challenges Tom and Tom face are that they have to concentrate on what they are saying and at the same time they have to pay attention to what the producer or the director has to say to them through their earpieces," he said.
Tierra "Terror" Lomabalaquihoya, a Hopi High junior video news and print journalism student, said it was cool getting to see Chambers and Leander.
"Hearing them talk to us was awesome," she said. "They gave us some tips to help us if we want a career in reporting or working behind the scenes."
Lomabalaquihoya said she enjoyed being on the basketball court for the shoot around, but she noted that the court was the same size as a high school basketball court.
"I had fun watching people shooting around. I tried, but it was a big fail. I enjoyed being able to step foot on the court," she said.
Lomabalaquihoya said the room that the press conference took place in by the digital media specialists was small, but she enjoyed hearing about their jobs.
She said the game was cool despite the Suns losing.
"They need to drive the ball in more rather than trying to shoot three-pointers," she said.
Shanice Sakeva, a sophomore news video student, said it was exciting when both Tom's talked to the students and shared what they did before becoming broadcasters.
"Tom Chambers was a former basketball player, which was very exciting because I wanted to know about his career as a basketball player," she said. "Tom Leander was a funny guy. He always had a passion for broadcasting, but he told us it wasn't easy getting where he is now."
Sakeva said getting to play on the Suns' court was a surprise because she thought the court would be bigger. During the shoot around, Sakeva nailed several shots from behind the three-point line.
"Actually making it from behind the three-point line was surprising," she said. "During this time, the Suns gorilla came out to meet us. I took photos with him so that was fun."
Sakeva said she learned from the Suns.com team.
"I learned how hard it is and how they talked with so many fans in the world," she said.
Kursheena Yazzie, a junior in the advanced radio broadcast class, said the Phoenix Suns journalism event was spectacular. She said watching Chambers and Leander made her think how much fun it would be to work with a friend.
"This trip made me realize I better shape up if I want to make it in the broadcasting industry," she said.
Yazzie said the mock press conference felt confined and limited.
"However, the questions were good," she said. "I learned a lot such as never post anything incriminating that will affect your job and always be open to trying new things when it comes to media. Also, be experienced in all media types and be creative."
Yazzie said this sounds like broadcasting 101 but it's nice to know that people follow the criteria. She was impressed that Leander had interviewed Leonardo DiCaprio.
"I got a fresh perspective on most things and I had fun cheering my heart out during the game," she said.
Brenda Dacawyma, a sophomore video news student, said Chambers and Leander told interesting stories about how they became reporters and the struggles they go through on the job.
"I find it funny that Tom C is way taller than Tom L and it was funny that Tom L's legs did not touch the ground like Tom C's did when they were sitting down," she said.
On a more serious note, Dacawyma said the two Toms gave good advice and she would use that advice in media classes next year.
Dacawyma said being on the Suns court was fun and awesome. Like many of the others, she thought the court was going to be bigger. She said sitting in the courtside seats was extremely comfortable.
"I find it cool that one guy is in charge of social media," she said. "I realized that electronics can pretty much do anything just like when the guy had us on video the whole time and it was on Twitter."
Dacawyma said the game was fun. She wanted the Suns to win, but it didn't work out that way.
Star Not-Afraid, a senior video news student, said the session with Chambers and Leander was less informative than he thought it would be. He said they shared stories about their past, but he would like to have heard more information about what it's like to be a sports broadcaster.
Not-Afraid said shooting around on the court was enjoyable.
He said McPeek and Esposito informed him that they take the fans comments into consideration.
"I was surprised how wild I got about the game afterward. I am not really a basketball fan, but the game was intense and exciting," he said.
Phoenix Suns videographer Robert Weinerth told the students that they should learn all facets of production and get internships.
"It's important who you know," he said.
Find creative side
Leander, who attended Brophy Prep, was on the college radio station at Loyola before moving onto a job at Monterey, California. He was in Tucson for three years before starting his broadcasting job with the Phoenix Suns 22 years ago. He traveled with the Suns for nine years before starting to work with Chambers on the pre-game, halftime and post-game shows.
He told the students to find their creative side and come up with something different.
"Put your personality into it," he said. "It's important to listen to answers so you can make the interview into a conversation."
Leander said writers, producers and videographers are needed to work behind the scenes.
Fantasy basketball helps
Chambers retired in 1997 and has now been a broadcaster for as long as he has played. Unlike when he played, Chambers said everything is on the Internet. Chambers plays Fantasy Basketball because it helps him keep up with all the players in the league.
"I like genuine questions," he said. "Some reporters want me to say what they want me to say. Every city has some real negative writers. There are also great writers who are doing it for the right reason."
Leander said the Arizona Republic's Paul Coro is known to be a fair reporter while Dan Bickley is more opinionated.
"My role is not to dig up bad news," Leander said.
He said student journalists need to decide whether they want to be hard core or more upbeat and positive in the ways they cover stories.
Leander said broadcasters earn their money when something happens and there's dead air so they have to come up with a way to fill the dead air.
Chambers said the player he would like most to interview today is Golden State's Stephan Curry.
"He's like Steve Nash, but he scores 10 points more per game," he said.
Leander noted that Curry said Nash inspired him.
Chambers said professional basketball used to be a big man's game, but now it's a point guard game involving a lot more speed and outside shooting. He added that players take games off today for the flu or minor injuries, but back in his day players would play every game in their attempts to help the team.
Chambers said flagrant fouls and calls against hand checking have made it harder to play defense today.
Leander said broadcasters need to have a tough exterior in order to deal with the constant criticism.
Jeramie McPeek, vice president of digital operations for the Phoenix Suns, was a huge Suns fan in high school and he wrote for the school newspaper.
"I bugged the Phoenix Suns for interviews for the high school paper," he recalled.
Now, McPeek has written more than a thousand articles for national publications so it's hard to pinpoint his favorite.
He said the Suns.com team gets plenty of criticism for their social media commentaries. He said a lot of the criticism they just shake off, but if the criticism is constructive then they take it to heart.
McPeek urged the students to get as much experience as possible and consider internships. He said the students could interact with Suns.com on social media.
Greg Esposito uses social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapshot to get the word out about the Phoenix Suns updates. The Suns use Twitter for play by play, Facebook for features, Snapshot for quirky fun and Instagram for great photos. He has been working for the Suns for the past four years.
Esposito said the Suns social media has received every type of criticism imagined.
"Everybody is entitled to their opinion," he said.
Esposito said he likes to refer to Taylor Swift's song: "Haters are going to hate." He said when the Suns win people think they are the best in the world, but when the Suns lose fans think the world is ending. He said the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Esposito said Suns broadcaster Al McCoy had a huge influence on him and he ended up writing a 3,000 word feature story about him.
Esposito told the students to start blogging and podcasting. He said the students can tweet them, but shouldn't use profanity. He also advised the students not to post anything questionable because it could come back to haunt them.
"Be interesting and entertaining without being outlandish. Find out what you want to be," he said. "I had a teacher tell me that I was the worst writer, but I'm getting paid to write so the joke's on him."