Montclair State Students Build A Streamer To Rival The Pros

Hawk+ is a streaming platform brimming with original content produced by students at Montclair State University. They’re hoping it’s a new model for student media to follow.

A new streaming service delivers two-to-three-minute stories about the business ramifications of various news stories, including the end of the pandemic, the decline of food stamp funding, the alleged greenwashing by a soft drink titan and other events. There’s also a series dedicated to local sports teams, plus live-streamed games, as well as longform documentaries covering subjects like the impact of natural disasters and racial injustice on citizens of New Orleans. There’s educational programming about cooking and idiom origin stories and, rounding the content out even further, some presentations of short fictional films.

The near something-for-everyone nature of the content on Hawk+ feels like the approach to programming taken by many of today’s leading streamers — Netflix, Amazon Prime, Max and Peacock, just to name a few. At times the production quality on Hawk+ rivals that of anything on those platforms, too.

The catch? It’s all been dreamt up, packaged and delivered by college students.

Mark Effron

“Even though our students were very literate in all kinds of digital platforms, we didn’t have one where you could see student news, athletics, student films, the specials, the documentaries that we do here, the speakers we bring in,” says Mark Effron, a professor at Montclair State University and the New Jersey school’s news lab coordinator. “It just seemed to me that it made perfect sense. If we could figure out a way, within the confines of [the] budget — we’re not Warner Bros. Discovery or Disney or any of those other places, obviously — [there’d be] nothing more valuable than if we could start a streaming service.”

Hawk+ gives Montclair State students the opportunity, Effron says to “take what we’re giving them” and apply it in as close to real time as possible. “It’s both contemporary and pushes them into the future,” he adds.


Hawk+ didn’t cost the school anything, it turned out — though that’s not a deal any other educational program can expect. After gaining approval to build the platform from a university dean, Effron worked his TV connections (of which he’s developed many after 30 years in the industry) to find a platform development partner. He reached out to Streamstak, which agreed to the Hawk+ project on the arm — or for free, as translated from North Jersey-ese.

“Colleges and universities create some of the most compelling content available,” said Brendan Canning, co-founder and chief commercial officer of Triple-B Media, Streamstak’s parent company in a press release about the partnership. “We are thrilled to partner with Montclair to launch a unified video platform that will enhance the University’s digital reach and storytelling ability.”

According to Effron, Streamstak management told him: “Maybe you guys will be the prototype for an incipient network of universities who can do this [type of] thing” as well — for which they may then charge a fee. “What we told them was we would help them, once we got on board, [to] get other universities on board,” Effron says. Already, after about 10 months of Hawk+ programming, there is “a pretty large university that’s going to be going online with their own version of Hawk+ starting this fall,” Effron reveals. “And we’re talking to a couple other places.”

The pact with Streamstak saves Montclair State from having to cover what would be mounting costs for content storage over the long haul, which would eventually dwarf that of the initial site build. Effron’s lab already featured sets, lights, cameras, editing software and other equipment, but to improve upon its output on Hawk+, Montclair State has invested in artificial intelligence cameras that provide 360-degree aerial views of the school’s athletic contests. During the upcoming fall semester, for the first time Hawk+ is also going to feature two or three live news broadcasts, with students executing such a production with the help of another new investment: live video streaming software called vMix.

“As opposed to a control room with a director and a producer and the audio person and the Chyron person and the [camera operators] — it takes a village — here, [with vMix] it’s one person who runs the operation,” Effron says. “It’s going to be very dynamic.”

Like the packaged content on Hawk+, he envisions the live broadcast as being a mix of campus news and sports, and news from the outlying local community, with guest appearances and contributions from the school’s newspaper staffers and the campus radio station. (Hawk+ also features a simulcast of the college radio station’s — WMSC-FM — daily morning show, The Morning Buzz.)

Effron says the integration of Hawk+ into the curriculum certifies that the Montclair State students are building a wider range of skills required in today’s newsroom and in news content publishing writ large. He’s not the only one at the school seeing its impact.

“Running our own streaming service provides countless opportunities for our students and for the university,” says Keith Strudler, director, The School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. “From an instructional perspective, Hawk+ proves a remarkable teaching and learning opportunity to prepare our students to enter the modern media workplace. More broadly, Hawk+ provides the university a contemporary and synergized way to tell its story, produce content from across the broad range of academic and non-academic areas, and to reach our alumni, friends, partners and other publics in an inspiring and user-friendly way.”

Effron believes the Hawk+ project should be scalable for a number of TV journalism programs like it, though it requires an open-mindedness, adaptability and “scrappiness,” he says. He’s grateful to the higher ups at Montclair State, who’ve exhibited trust in him as he’s carried out the Hawk+ experiment. “It’s kind of baked into the DNA of the university,” he says. “We can try things and we’re encouraged to try things, and I was able to do that and build it into something.”

On behalf of the rest of the administration, the news lab instructors and support staff at Montclair State, Effron says they must all be doing something right — prior to Hawk+ and now with it in place.

“We have a bunch of students over the years, who have gone on to careers at CNBC,” he says, “and I have a friend over there who’s an exec and she said to me, ‘Whatever you’re doing at Montclair, that’s what I want.’”

Editor’s Note: This is the latest of TVNewsCheck’s “Newsroom Innovators” profiles, a series showcasing people and news organizations evolving the shape and substance of video reporting. These profiles examine the inception of their innovations, the tools they employ and how they’re reconciling experimental approaches to news storytelling within daily workflows. You can find the others here.

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Mary_Kennedy says:

August 18, 2023 at 5:19 am

Wow, it’s amazing to read about Montclair State students stepping up to create a streamer that rivals professionals. It’s inspiring to see young talents pushing boundaries. Speaking of exploring talents and interests, if you’re looking for more insights across various subjects, Samplius offers a wide range of essay types to delve into. You can find more at samplius. It’s always great to have resources like these to expand our knowledge and perspectives. Keep up the fantastic work, Montclair State students!