The St. Louis Rams has a killer weekly magazine-style television show all thanks to 2013 School of Journalism alum Dani Klupenger. As the host of “Rams Nation,” Klupenger provides an inside look at the at the NFL team from sideline to one-on-one interviews and shenanigans. The show airs on Fridays at 5 p.m. on Fox Sports Midwest and Sundays at 10 a.m. on KTVI-Fox 2.
Kulpenger shoots, interviews, edits and manages all the content for the Rams alongside a small team of her own. Without the skills she learned at Stony Brook, she said she would never have been able to be the now-personality for the Rams.
How did you get into sports reporting?
I played basketball at Stony Brook for four years — that was my big passion. On my official recruiting visit to Stony Brook, I met with Dean Howard Schneider and told him everything I wanted to do because I have known for a long time this is what I wanted to do. He has told that we can make it all happen here and I believed him. And they were right.
While I was at Stony Brook, I started “Get Your RED On Minute,” which is now still going on and even has a sponsor. I just went to the Athletics Department and said there is not a whole lot of sports opportunities with the Journalism Department at the time — and I only say that because a lot of the sports reporting classes were offered during my practice time so I could not go. So, I started making this weekly web show for the Stony Brook Athletics website. And from there it just took off as far as getting a job out of school.
How easily did you find work after graduating from Stony Brook?
In the middle of the spring semester of my senior year, I got a phone call from a guy at the University of Tennessee. He is an alum of Stony Brook and I did not know him at all. But he had seen the work I had done on the Stony Brook website and called to offer me a job on the spot to do the same thing for the University of Tennessee after I graduated. After I was there for two years, reporting on all 20 of the university’s sports teams, I got this job at the Rams. I don’t think I could have had a better opportunity right out of college to get on camera while still to learn and hone my skills.
One of the best days was the Rams Opener this year with the Seattle Seahawks. Before the opener, I had never been to a NFL game. So, I had obviously been to our pre-season games but that was it. The first one was in Seattle, where we were very much the underdogs in that game. And we came back and won it. Everybody was celebrating on the field myself included, interviewing all the players. At this point, the whole team has gotten to know me and respect me and what I do. So they had really included me in the celebration. We got back into the locker room and the guys were really excited to talk to me, which is great. Anytime you can have a player that is so open and willing to have you interview them after a win like that … I can really look around and say I am on the biggest stage that football has to offer. I am a part of this team.
How do you create a connection with the athletes? Do you have any advise for students who want to cover sports?
The number one thing that I have realized based on what I have seen is confidence. It is having confidence in what you do and yourself. If you approach a player and you are nervous, the player is going to feel that nervousness. If you have coached yourself up to talk to that athlete — especially at the professional level — you have to show them that you don’t care. You need to show them that you are on the same level. Talk to them almost like they are your friend. That has really helped me. I am confident in my knowledge and they respond well. It is really about how you carry yourself.
Does the stress of the job ever get to you? Do you have downtime?
There is a lot of downtime. There is a lot more downtime than there was working to cover college sports and at Stony Brook. I had to put in a lot more hours working for a college team than working for a NFL team. The athletes go into work like it is a work day — they understand that our coverage is part of that work day. Some days are long like after a game. But when it is over, you do your interviews and write your story and you go home. Sometimes it can feel like I am always at work but I am surrounded by a lot of people my age who are devoted and we all get along. When you are in an atmosphere like that it doesn’t feel like work.
Do you have any advise for graduating seniors?
Learn how to do it all. Write, shoot, edit. Learn how to use different cameras and editing systems. And from there reach out and build your network. Even when you finally get a job, don’t stop reaching out and meeting new people.
I don’t use my LinkedIn as well as I probably should but for me I meet a lot of people face-to-face. At first, I had a really hard time giving out my card or my resume. I highly recommend not doing that even. In my experience, I have had conversations with people and was confident in telling them what I like to do. On the back end of it, I send them an email saying it was nice to meet them and build the connection through a memory or part of the conversation that was funny.
Shoutout: Is there a message that a J-School professor has given you that you still think about everyday at work?
I still have my notes from Steven Reiner and Rick Ricioppo’s class and I still look at them often for different ideas on how to edit something or how to dig the story out of somebody and write for broadcast. Sometimes I will go back into my old scripts and look at their edits. They have really taught me a lot and I tell people if it wasn’t for the high standards they help me to at Stony Brook, I really would not have made it to where I am right now. It was their class that taught me how to edit, how to shoot, how to be on camera — that is how I got my first job.