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Network TV counts on showing Joe Paterno on screen

on December 22, 2009 3:42 PM

Don’t be surprised if Joe Paterno appears on your television screen 100 times or more during his football team’s Capital One Bowl game against LSU in Orlando, Fla., on Jan. 1.

According to research by Penn State College of Communications student Alex Bippus, during network TV bowl coverage from 1970 to 2006, face time for the Nittany Lion head coach grew fourfold while the number of times he was shown on screen increased six times.

During the 1970 Orange Bowl, television cameras showed Paterno 22 times for three minutes and 46.5 seconds. 

More than 300 victories by Paterno and two national championships later, in network coverage of the 2006 Orange Bowl he was shown on screen 133 times for a total of 18 minutes and 12 seconds.

In 1970, Paterno comprised only 2.45 percent of the telecast; by 2006, coverage of him increased to 8.18 percent. The 133 televised shots of Paterno in 2006 far exceeded the 37 in the 1983 Sugar Bowl and the 60 in the 1995 Rose Bowl.

Bippus’ findings were part of a semester-long research project for “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media,” a 400-level course in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism, housed in the College of Communications. Bippus, a junior telecommunications major from State College, Pa., analyzed network television coverage of five Penn State bowl games from 1970 to 2006.

“Alex’s unbiased approach and careful analysis showed through the 1980s and 1990s, and especially into this decade as Joe neared 80, when Penn State football is on network television, its legendary coach is a key storyline,” said Mike Poorman, the course’s instructor and a senior lecturer in the college.

Bippus’ research was one of several semester-long projects by students in the course investigating the media’s coverage and relationship with Paterno, dating to 1944, when he first appeared in The New York Times as a high school football player at Brooklyn Prep.

Samples of some other projects for the course are available at http://comm.psu.edu/sports/paternoclass online.

They include an analysis of the Twitter activity of assistant coach Jay Paterno, USC coach Pete Carroll and LSU coach Les Miles; historic perspectives of Joe Paterno’s five most successful media strategies; and The New York Times' coverage of Penn State during Paterno’s 44-year tenure as Nittany Lion head coach.

For his content analysis, Bippus focused on five bowl games, one from each decade of Paterno’s career—1970 Orange Bowl, 1974 Orange Bowl, 1983 Sugar Bowl, 1995 Rose Bowl, 2006 Orange Bowl. He produced a 23-minute DVD with clips and samples from each of the games and found the the coach’s presence in broadcasts has increased dramatically through the decades.

In 1970, the coach was shown on camera 22 times during the game for an average of 10.3 seconds and his name was mentioned 11 times. His presence represented 2.45 percent of the broadcast.

In subsequent bowl games, the numbers changed as follows:
-- 1974 Orange Bowl (20 times on camera, 10.3-second average, 16 mentions, 2.56 percent);
-- 1983 Sugar Bowl (37 times on camera, 15.0-second average, 21 mentions, 4.81 percent);
-- 1995 Rose Bowl (60 times on camera, 10.3-second average, 16 mentions, 5.98 percent); and
-- 2006 Orange Bowl (133 times on camera, 8.2-second average, 51 mentions, 8.18 percent).

Poorman has taught the popular Paterno class each of the past two fall semesters.

The Curley Center, at http://comm.psu.edu/sports online, was established in 2003 and is one of the few centers of its kind in the United States. The center explores issues and trends in sports journalism through instruction, outreach, programming and research.

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