Keith Egan (left) and Joe Binder worked on the year-long project "The Voyage" about the 2019-20 men's basketball team.
On a tense yet optimistic Thursday afternoon in early March, the Seton Hall community was still preparing for an annual tradition: the Big East Tournament. The regular season Big East co-championship winning men's basketball team never stepped on the court that day as the remaining games were canceled as the threat of Covid-19 became a dangerous reality. It was not only the basketball team who did not get the opportunity for their One Shining Moment in March.
You may have seen "The Voyage" video series chronicling the 2019-2020 Seton Hall Pirates, the annual Morning Madness pregame show or maybe even noticed the students wearing blue polos following the action on the court during games this season with handheld video cameras. This is the product of Pirate Sports Network (PSN), the video content provider for Seton Hall athletics run by students who are eager to develop a career in television, live production and broadcasting. In a very short time, it has produced numerous young leaders in sports broadcasting, including rising star John Fanta '17. If recent history is any proof, Keith Egan '20 and Joe Binder '20 will continue this tradition.
Keith is originally from Tinton Falls, N.J., and what originally attracted him to Seton Hall was, "the opportunities that people got working through the student-run media outlets, specifically PSN and WSOU." Keith said, "I saw the work that people like John Fanta '17 had gotten and being that I wanted to be on-air at first, I saw that as a way to get opportunities early on that I had to wait for at other schools."
Joe is from New Cumberland, PA., and in addition to his major in Visual and Sound Media also minored in Sports Media. Like Keith, Seton Hall's prestige in preparing broadcasters in the largest media market in the country was what attracted him. "When narrowing down my list of schools, Seton Hall's close proximity to New York City is what ultimately attracted me to the university," said Joe. "The ability to have so many opportunities available in a major media market along with the network of professionals with ties to the school was very appealing. I can confidently say now, looking back four years later, that I made the right decision."
Their involvement with Pirate Sports Network (PSN) began their first week at Seton Hall. Joe reflected on his start and the welcoming environment for learning. "I became involved with the Pirate Sports Network during the first week of my freshman year. I heard there was an interest meeting, so I attended that at the beginning of the week and by the weekend, I was working a camera for a volleyball broadcast," Joe recalled. "Everyone from the senior students to those in the Sports Information Office, like Bobby Mullen and Tom Chen, were extremely welcoming at the time and have really made it a fun yet professional environment over the years." Keith started his journey by a chance opportunity. "I was in the fitness center my first week at Seton Hall and saw John Fanta '17, so I introduced myself and there happened to be a PSN meeting the next day," he said. "I told Joe and Mat Mlodzinski '20 and the three of us went and immediately got involved with the live broadcasts."
There were definitely challenges along the way, devoting hours on nights and weekends balancing their work with their course loads while developing new content. Keith feels that his biggest challenge was being the first to do this type of project. "There were certainly some doubters and suspicions on how and if we were going to be able to get our goals achieved," he said. "I spent countless hours and many appointments with Tom Chen asking where we stood on things like traveling, access, and support from the department. But staying on him like that and not taking no for an answer was what made everything possible. In my mind, everything I set out to achieve was already done. The only thing to figure out was how to get everyone to buy in. Looking back, I think we accomplished pretty much everything we set out to with the exception of what the shortened season took away from us."
Joe recalled, "My biggest challenge with the PSN was time management. While during weekdays we would have classes, myself and others would often dedicate many of our weeknights and weekends to either working Pirate Sports Network broadcasts or making content for various athletics-related social media accounts. Was it time-consuming? Yes, but every single person I worked with in the PSN was extremely passionate about the work that we did so when you surround yourself with those kind of people, it's really special and we have all become extremely close friends because of it."
Facing difficulties paid off though. Joe reflected on this year's production of Morning Madness. "Looking back, my most rewarding accomplishment with PSN was this year's 'Morning Madness' pregame show prior to the St. John's game in February," he said. "The show was streamed online on PSN, and on Twitter under the Seton Hall Athletics and FOX College Hoops accounts. As the show's director and producer, I oversaw all aspects of production from start to finish. I spent months planning the show along with senior students in the Pirate Sports Network, Thomas Chen, and other members of the Seton Hall Athletics Department. I was extremely proud of the hard work and preparation from our entire staff.
"The average person probably doesn't realize how much actually goes into a live, hour-long show like this, but we had graphics, pre-produced videos, special segments with three different guests, and contests for those in attendance," continued Joe. "The fact that it was entirely student run, double the length of last year's show, and a complete team effort by the entire PSN crew really made this the most rewarding thing I had been a part of over my four years. I'm honestly not sure if there are many other college organizations in the country who have the capability of pulling off what we did from both an equipment and talent standpoint. It took a very dedicated group of individuals to do this and every single person, whether they were on air or behind the scenes, had such a vital role in making this a successful production. Unfortunately, this also turned out to be my last time ever producing for the Pirate Sports Network, which makes accomplishing this with my closest friends even more special than it was at the time."
Keith was most proud of this season's production of "The Voyage," chronicling the 2019-20 men's basketball season. "Joe and I were roommate's sophomore year and every night would brainstorm and talk about ideas and things we would change if we were at the helm," said Keith. "This past basketball season especially is the best accomplishment, from the work we completed on 'The Voyage' and the year-round coverage of the team through our social media outlets. Most schools have full-time staff with an abundance of equipment. For us it was cameras we invested in ourselves and ideas that I came up with and was passionate enough about to work on in my free time."
Myles Powell being filmed for an episode of The Voyage by PSN.
Both Keith and Joe cite Faculty Associate of Digital Media Production William Pace as a major influence in addition to their time with PSN. Keith expresses how Pace went above and beyond helping him in both the classroom and outside of it. "I really enjoyed talking to Professor Pace. He wasn't supposed to be my advisor, but I just acted like he was anyway and made all my appointments with him," said Keith. "He allowed me to go forth with my goals of succeeding in my classes while gaining experience outside of the classroom by advising me on three internships and one independent study. In a field like broadcasting, that experience is so valuable to actually have a hold on what you want to do and use your skills in the real world rather than being limited to an amateur setting."
Joe felt his time working with PSN in addition to his classroom time was where he honed his skills. "I think the classes that were most beneficial to me were my studio production courses with Professors Pace and Tom Rondinella," he said. "However, while those provided a basic understanding of production during my early years at Seton Hall, I truly believe my greatest teachers came while working with the Pirate Sports Network. Students who graduated before me like John Fanta '17 and Dagen Hughes '19 were the ones who really taught me about the equipment I was using and the different aspects of a broadcast. That's honestly one of my favorite things about the PSN, being able to learn from other students while getting the hands-on experience and then being able to pass it on to someone else. It made it much easier for myself and I am sure others to learn since we were in the actual work environment opposed to a classroom setting."
Now that Keith and Joe are graduating, they are both looking to remain in sports media. Like many students, Keith reflected on the current uncertainties while describing his dream career. "I want to work somewhere in the world of sports where I have creative control of the video production surrounding a league or team," said Keith. "To start, I'm looking at other schools in need of a video producer. I've been sending out applications with one interview so far, but Coronavirus has slowed that process a bit. So, for now I'm taking freelance shooting and editing positions and working my connections. One day I hope to be a producer for NFL Films or a Media Coordinator at a top tier professional franchise or Division I school."
Joe is also looking to remain in the sports industry. "My ideal career would be to continue working in the sports media industry in some capacity. I am open to anything from directing broadcasts to creating content that is geared more towards social media," he said.
A common thread, especially among broadcasting and journalism graduates is that Seton Hall is a special place for developing talents hands-on. Joe relates to the opportunities he was given even in his first week on campus. "I think the experience I have gained with the Pirate Sports Network can't be had at many of the other universities that I considered attending. I was part of the production team for a live broadcast during my first week on campus as a freshman, so I think that alone says everything about this organization," he said. "No matter if we wanted to be on-air or behind the scenes, people like Assistant Athletics Director Bobby Mullen and Tom Chen always put us in the best possible position to gain as much experience as we could in our desired concentration. I've lost track of the number of broadcasts I have been able to direct over the years, but because of the countless productions I have been a part of, I can now leave Seton Hall with the confidence knowing I have the experience to carry this over into my career."
Similarly, Keith expressed, "PSN puts you right in the mix and allows you to learn with other students doing the same things as you. This allows you to build relationships and find your place in an industry that can be very confusing to navigate. There's a lot of different paths to choose but luckily the four years at Seton Hall give the opportunity to narrow your search. Now I have a well-rounded background of live production as well as in post-production where I've more so found my home with shooting and editing projects that I directed myself."
In terms of advice for future Seton Hall students, they both centered on the importance of getting involved on campus and trying new things. Before focusing primarily on PSN, Keith was involved with other media-focused student groups on campus. "Students getting involved in the broadcasting programs at Seton Hall should look to gain as much experience as they can and be open to trying all new things," he advised. "When I started at Seton Hall I got involved in Pirate TV, The Setonian, WSOU and PSN as soon as I can. Each gave me a new experience to test out my passion and learn along the way. While each was different, they all had their own benefits.
"Also, search for internships and ways to make your splash outside of the Seton Hall community," added Keith. "Utilize NYC and all the assets around here. Broadcasting is a world-wide entity and through social media you can make yourself into the same."
Likewise, Joe was involved in multiple groups on campus before focusing on PSN. "For future Seton Hall students, I would highly recommend exploring all of your options when you first arrive on campus. There are so many organizations that the university has to offer that can provide you with real world experience. Often times, you are working with many other passionate people with the same interests who end up turning into your closest friends by the end of it all." Joe added, "The Pirate Sports Network shaped my entire Seton Hall experience and I can't imagine what my four years would have been like if I didn't get involved."
Tom Chen is associate athletics director for digital media and communications and mentors students as executive producer for the Pirate Sports Network. When asked to reflect on the growth that Keith and Joe have shown during their time at Seton Hall, he said, "Joe and Keith's time at Seton Hall and in the Pirate Sports Network gave them an avenue to grow their gifted skills behind the camera, in the editing room and in the production truck exponentially. Joe has a keen eye for camerawork and attention to detail, and in his four years, he used those skills to develop into a terrific producer and director of live sporting events." Tom continued, "Keith is very creative with his camera and knows how to use visuals to tell a story, and in his four years, he became a fantastic content producer. Joe and Keith took every opportunity afforded to them, and they are now graduating with a tangible portfolio of work that I believe rivals existing professionals in the industry. But most importantly, I think Joe and Keith's time here helped them develop into leaders. We asked them to help lead our young group of PSN students, and whether it was a live broadcast or a late-night edit, they were there to steer everyone in the right direction and ensure things went smoothly. I’m excited to see their next chapter because they are going to be successful in whatever they do."
Like the student-athletes they spent years broadcasting, both Keith Egan '20 and Joe Binder '20 unexpectedly reached the end of the road to March Madness but have not let losing their shot at "One Shining Moment" take away from the many shining moments they have already had and those still to be made in the years ahead.