‘Elon Phoenix Weekly’ goes virtual, gets initiative

With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting television production around the globe, Elon University’s student-run weekly sports magazine show has gone virtual to continue to tell insightful and entertaining stories.

The fall semester has forced changes across Elon’s campus due to COVID-19, and that’s no different for “Elon Phoenix Weekly,” which has recorded episodes virtually to stay on-air during the worldwide pandemic.

Lundquist (left), who directs and anchors “Elon Phoenix Weekly,” interviews Peter Forunato ’20, Elon football’s interim video and graphic coordinator.

Elon Sports Vision’s magazine-style sports show focuses on long-form storytelling, in-depth interviews with athletes, and behind-the-curtain looks at Elon Phoenix athletics. The show, which hosts a YouTube channel, focuses on telling meaningful stories through the lens of sports.

“We’re big on working with people and with athletes,” said Emmanuel Tobe, an ‘Elon Phoenix Weekly” producer and a senior majoring in media analytics and cinema and television arts. “Ultimately, one of the best things about the show is our accessibility to our athletes and it’s allowed us to do so many amazing things.”

This year the show has been forced to go virtual as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, changing the program on the fly. In response to these new challenges, the students have been resourceful and initiative, explained Katie Halter, coordinating producer of Elon Sports Vision.

“Last spring, when we were sent home, we continued to produce ‘Elon Phoenix Weekly’ shows from home, so our students were no strangers to this kind of workflow,” Halter said. “They’ve produced, shot and edited their packages and stand-ups on their own, with little direction from Max or I. Our anchors have had to FaceTime each other while recording their on-camera segments. Everyone really stepped up and helped each other out to continue producing great content.”

Lundquist takes a deep dive into the history of touchdown celebrations, including the “Sticky Hands Spike.”

Throughout the semester, the show has caught up with Elon alumni working in the sport industry, run an everyday sports broadcasting tournament, where contestants call play-by-play of everyday events, and focused on stories that impact Elon and the surrounding area. One of the more popular segments involved student broadcasters commentating on the baristas working at The Oak House.

“The big thing that we’re doing is using technology,” said Tobe when asked how the show is working to abide by COVID-19 guidelines. “It’s not like we’re doing this in the 1980s where you need to be so close to someone. We have a lot of great technology that Elon provides for us like great microphone equipment and great cameras, and using platforms like Zoom and Webex has given us the opportunity to tell great stories.”

Behind the scenes, Halter and Assistant Professor Max Negin, faculty director for Elon Sports Vision, have helped lead the transition to a virtual show.

“They have been very good at helping me be flexible with what’s going on,” Tobe said. “Usually I’m very meticulous with scheduling, but they’ve been really good with helping me cope with the fact that everything is up in the air, especially early on when nothing was promised, not even the next week.”

“Our producers, Emmanuel Tobe, Tellier Lundquist, and JD Grant, and talent, Tellier Lundquist and Taylor Schmitt, have really stepped up,” Halter added. “They’ve all offered to shoot packages as well as edit and host the show, which is a ton of work for full-time students. I’m really proud of how much time and work they’ve put into the show.”

Through its use of technology – and by going virtual – the show’s creators have learned new capabilities and expanded their ability to tell stories.

“As a show we have to be even more creative with how we’re telling these stories,” Tobe said. “I don’t want every episode to be people on Zoom interviewing someone. I want stuff to be different, and this semester has helped create that.”

One way to insert creative segments into the show was to identify packages that combined humor with sports.

“I think that my favorite use of [comedy] was the package that I filmed about football touchdown celebrations,” Lundquist said. “I made up my own celebrations and dances and performed them in front of a camera. It is doubtful any of them will be picked up by Elon’s football team or any football player because I can’t dance and they are rather cringe-worthy, but producing that segment was one of the most fun because it allowed me to use my creativity and comedy to talk about sports.”

Thanks to this semester and its hurdles Tobe predicts the show will be elevated in the coming years.

“I hope that what COVID will help students start doing more is thinking outside the box,” Tobe said. “I want people to come up with new and creative ideas to tell stories because it helps make the show better.”