When University of Wisconsin-Stout senior Maria DeYoung applied for an ESPN X Games public relations internship in Minneapolis, she knew very little about extreme sports.
However, the professional communication and emerging media student went into the experience with an open mind and researched the sports to prepare for being a liaison between the media and athletes and interviewing athletes July 17-21 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“In Writing for the Media, we learned how to write a press release, what makes good quotes and what is a good lead,” DeYoung said. “PCEM also teaches us to think on our feet, think outside the box and how to be effective without using a lot of words. I feel I was prepared the best I could be because of my professors and what they value.”
PCEM recent graduate Aidan Cochran, of Stockholm in Pepin County, just completed a field experience in a much different environment.
Cochran worked part of the summer with artist-blacksmith Tom Latané of T & C Latané in Pepin taking multiple pictures and writing step-by-step descriptions in the creation of some projects, such as a hand-forged candle stand and steel key. Latané has been using traditional blacksmithing tools and techniques to forge original locks, hardware, tools and candle fixtures for more than 30 years.
Experience as media liaison
Prior to the internship with ESPN, DeYoung’s internship experience had been in the fashion industry. She did a summer co-op in New York with Diane Von Furstenberg, an iconic fashion designer.
DeYoung found out about the X Games internship through a friend and reached out to ESPN. “I was so nervous because of the very little vocabulary and terms I knew about sports,” DeYoung said. “In the research, I was trying to look for these little leads related to the sports that were different and appealed more to the emotion.”
The X Games are growing in popularity, particularly with skateboarding becoming a sport in the next Olympics, DeYoung said. “This was a big stage for these athletes,” she said.
As an intern, DeYoung would work with a team of one or two other people. While athletes were warming up, the team would work with media from around the world covering events to make sure they had proper credentials. If an athlete was injured, the team would make sure the extent of the injuries were correctly reported. They also would interview winning athletes and relay those interviews to ESPN in Los Angeles to be used in news releases.
“You had to have that background story in your mind when you are watching the athletes compete,” DeYoung said. “You had to be ready to interview whoever. Being part of that moment was so cool when they would find out they had medaled. Trying to get perfect quotes isn’t always easy though. The language barriers were sometimes tough. I tried to ask questions if I was a fan that I would want to know. Making an interview positive and light was the best way to go. I would feed off the energy of the crowd. Sometimes I would have them take me through their last run.”
Because she signed a nondisclosure agreement with ESPN, DeYoung is unable to say which athletes she interviewed.
The average interview was about 90 seconds, and she saved them on her cell phone’s voice memo and sent them to Los Angeles. “It was so cool to look at a release and know that was part of your interview or a quote you grabbed,” DeYoung said.
DeYoung, of Appleton, who graduates in December, said the internship showed her she wanted to work in public relations. “I love the atmosphere of public relations,” she said. “I love the whole planning of events.”
From Jan. 24 to Jan. 27, DeYoung is planning to work at the X Games in Aspen, Colo., doing much the same as she did at the summer games.
Mitch Ogden, program director for PCEM, said DeYoung was the perfect example of a UW-Stout student with a professional vision. “More than just picking a major, Maria has challenged herself and put herself out there into the real world in lots of different summer jobs and internships,” said Ogden, who is an associate professor of English and digital humanities.
“Her internship with ESPN is just one of many experiences she has courageously pursued to challenge herself and build an enviable set of skills with the portfolio to back them up. Maria has been the perfect example of a student who doesn’t sit around wondering where she’ll take her skills. She steps out — out of her comfort zone and off of campus — to seek opportunities where she’ll be doing work in the real world, getting her hands dirty and expanding her vision of how the world works.”
Technical writing challenge
Cochran said he has always been interested in metal working and the process, so he thought chronicling Latané’s blacksmithing would be a good project.
“A lot of people have no idea how blacksmithing works,” Cochran said, noting he posted the descriptions and links on Twitter and Pinterest as well as Tumblr. “This was really to bond the community to the artist.”
He would go to Latané’s shop throughout the week, staying there for about three hours a day, working on a step in the candle stand-making process. “It is very challenging to get every step right,” Cochran said, noting he had to go through many drafts to get the steps as he wanted them.
“Tom’s artistry is very impressive,” Cochran said. “He’s kind of in a league of his own. I had never really done much technical writing before. It was very interesting to talk with a professional like Tom and communicate about his work to the general public.”
Ogden was excited when Cochran arranged an internship with Latané. “It was a thrilling experience to see Aidan’s work come in over the summer — technical guides written at a general interest audience to understand the process and craft of Tom’s exquisite work,” Ogden said.
“Aidan did all the things that a technical and professional communicator does: he grasped unfamiliar technical processes; he learned a new vocabulary; he applied skills of interviewing, research and listening; he took images to complement his writing; and he crafted the content to his audience. It is stunning work. And the perfect capstone to his training in the PCEM program at UW-Stout.”
Latané said Cochran has been very helpful giving him advice on where to go with the project now. “I was really hoping to get something out there for potential customers,” Latané said.
UW-Stout offers a Bachelor of Science in professional communication and emerging media with concentrations in applied journalism and digital humanities and a Master of Science degree in technical and professional communication, an online degree for working professionals.