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Making a Career in Sports Broadcasting

02 Jun 2018

With more than two billion people watching the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, David Northey — now a teacher in Melbourne Polytechnic’s Diploma of Screen and Media (Sports Broadcasting) — filmed as Australian running legend, Cathy Freeman lit the cauldron.

This was a historic occasion marking the centenary of female competitors in the Olympic Games, but more than that, symbolising the Australian people’s desire to reconcile with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

And, there was David, camera ready to capture the moment.

“I had a camera shot just after the cauldron was lit, the top of the flame in the cauldron had to come up and pass my camera… I had to get that shot, otherwise, well, it wouldn’t have wrecked the production, but it would have been terrible.”

“I remember when my red light came on, which tells you, ‘you are on air’, how nervous I was, thinking, ‘please be okay’, ‘please be okay’.”

It was. He nailed the shot and in doing so, market his place in Olympic history.

In a nutshell, this is the exhilarating and rewarding experience a career in live sports broadcasting can offer, and David has been at it for more than 20 years.

After starting as a camera operator, David has made a career working as a producer and director, covering Australian Rules Football (AFL), rugby, tennis and basketball, for just about every free-to-air and pay TV outlet, in Australia. His latest endeavor took him to the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games as a producer and director.

It’s a profession he clearly loves, even with pressure of giving the best possible experience to the millions tuning in.

“The pressure, particularly for a director of a live sports broadcast, is huge because you are making instant editorial decisions.”

“If you use the AFL for example, over the past couple of weeks there has been controversy about AFL players accidently or carelessly touching umpires. It’s up to the director to decide whether that incident gets replayed. If they don’t replay it, it may not be seen, but if they do, then the likelihood is that player will get reported and it will be a news story for the entire week.”

He says, sports broadcasters mitigate the pressure by preparing as much as possible.

“We go out to the venue, or location and plan where we think we’ll put the cameras. How much cable will we need? How we are going to work? All the technical issues are covered, so when the event happens all of the cameras are organised.”

And, he says this is how we teach our students at Melbourne Polytechnic: “We make [the projects students do] as close to possible as real life television broadcasts.”

“We get the class to develop a TV show, right from concept, starting off on their first day. Once the class has been introduced, we are sitting at a blank whiteboard and the class has to develop the concept for a TV show, which is sports related.”

“Last year the class came up with this program called, Beyond the Boundary, which had hosts in the studio and we sent them out to actually shoot interviews, and shoot the studio parts of the show, and then, also shoot an outside broadcast.”

According to David, this experience really helped all the students who had the opportunity to work on the Australian Open this year.

“Since last years course, I’ve had all the students working at the Australian Open tennis and they were all paid working as camera operators, video tape operators, production runners and production assistants.”

“At the Australian Open, over the two weeks, there's broadcasters from all over the world pretty much broadcasting for 14, 15, 16 hours a day, and the good thing was all of our students went in knowing everyone’s role during the production, they understood how they should contribute and what their job was.”

To this day, almost 20 years later, David still feels like a part of Australian sport history.

“If something comes up about the Olympics or Cathy Freeman, usually, in every single news package or whatever, you will see the part where she lights the flame. I definitely feel a part of it and it almost takes you immediately back there — and thinking, ‘Thank God, it was okay’.”

Do you have a passion for sport and, or media? Have you thought about making a career covering the events you love? Our Diploma of Screen and Media (Sports Broadcasting) might be the answer you are looking for.