BY MASON PLUMMER | Lead Writer | Ball State Sports Link
Earlier this semester, ESPN producer Jon Fish stopped by (virtually) to pay Ball State Sports Link students a visit.
Fish is an Emmy award-winning producer at ESPN, where he produces content ranging from features, podcasts, documentaries, and much more across the world.
Fish has visited Ball State in person before and reached out to Sports Link senior director Chris Taylor recently to check in and see how Sports Link was producing content in such a rough time.
The longtime ESPN producer then joined a Zoom call with all of the members of Sports Link to talk about his life in sports production and how he got to where he is today.
“I am just really thrilled to be here, it’s a special program that you guys are a part of,” Fish said to the Sports Link students. “I am honored to be able to come back and speak to you all.”
During this most recent chat, Fish went over his storytelling process and showed examples of some of his recent work he has done for ESPN.
His “campfire” presentation on what makes a story resonated with Ball State’s own creative storytellers.
“I know it’s a year unlike any other,” Fish said with respect to the global pandemic. “Especially given what we do, which is interpersonal relationships, it’s make our job in television and storytelling even harder. So I think we’re all finding our way to story tell as we go. We’re figuring out what works best.”
Among examples Fish shared were a story explaining the NCAA Transfer Portal and a story comparing the lives of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew and Napoleon Dynamite character Uncle Rico.
These stories were exceptionally different in nature, but Fish made a point to show how versatile and creative storytellers need to be today and he is the perfect example of just that.
Being able to tell a story in terms everyone can understand, so everyone can enjoy, is something Fish is proficient in and is a large reason as to why he is so successful.
In the NCAA Transfer Portal story and the Gardner Minshew story, Fish discussed how mixing themes of sci-fi, entertainment and sports help to increase interest and viewership in his pieces as it draws more interest from a variety of crowds.
“One day, my boss came to me and told me that there is this guy, Gardner Minshew, who is blowing up and looks like Uncle Rico,” Fish recalled. “ I said, ‘It’s a Friday morning at 11am, when do you need this by?’. They said they need it for the NFL show next Sunday.”
Fish was then pressed for time as he had to track down Jon Gries, the actor that played Uncle Rico. He then had to coordinate an interview with the NFL quarterback everyone wanted, get a production crew and edit the piece all in time for Sunday NFL Countdown.
“That script was written before we shot a frame,” Fish said. “That script was written before Uncle Rico agreed. So that was intentional. It’s very different than what we do as documentarians. It’s a whole different side of the coin. But, it all comes back to you have to have a good script.”
He expressed to the Sports Link students these things happen in the business, but it is important to stay persistent and work through hardships. Being a storyteller means being able to adapt.
“Everything you do become an expert on. If you’re using tilt shift lenses, know what you’re going to do. If you’re reporting on a story, become an expert on the story. Research, report, repeat.”
The 23-year ESPN veteran finished up his Zoom presentation by answering some questions from the students who were beyond eager to be able to talk to someone as accomplished as Fish.