The theoretical idea that I and Jameson Hayes developed, PBS MediaShift wrote about and we presented at Texas is now a fully-vetted, peer-reviewed, published scholarly journal article.
Archive for September, 2011
Sports journalism will always be special to me. A love of sports led me into journalism at a young age (I was in middle school when I wrote an award-winning column on how Michael Jordan wasn’t a great baseball player for The News & Observer’s “Sportswriter for a Day” contest; that prompted a part-time job as a stringer for a weekly paper). I’m in my third decade of involvement of a profession I’m passionate about. Writing and reporting, editing and design has given way to teaching and studying, research and scholarship. I now teach and research digital media and journalism innovation, but my journalistic roots sprouted from sports writing and reporting.
Given my sports journalism background, I was delighted to hear Bob Rathbun speak on the University of Georgia campus last week. Rathbun, the “Voice of the Atlanta Hawks,” got his start in journalism in a North Carolina town as a young child. Just as I did. Rathbun, who also covers college basketball (including calling games of my beloved Tar Heels) for a regional sports network, offered an inspiring, enthusiastic and encouraging message to members of the UGA chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists (which is currently run by one of my former students). Rathbun encouraged students to seek out opportunities to gain experience and to work their way up the ranks, as he did.
Another encouraging sign is the rise in scholarship dedicated to sports journalism. Universities are starting to launch new programs aimed at studying sports. The University of Maryland just launched the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism. My college has also launched a new sports journalism initiative, which Conrad Fink tells you about in the video embedded below. As part of the new sports journalism program, we are also hiring a tenure-track sports journalism professor (in addition to the endowed chair position). I am serving on the search committee for that position (I will post a link once the position is formally advertised).
In many ways, my interests in sports journalism and my interests in media management and economics are blending as television contracts and “big money sports” are driving conference expansion plans. Anyone who loves sports and high quality journalism should read this exceptional piece in The Atlantic. With economics and management decisions impacting college athletics, with scandals galore filling the front pages of daily newspapers and banner headlines in cyberspace, academic programs dedicated to sports journalism are more valuable than ever.
Devon Smith is one of my dearest friends. Devon and her family lived in Arlington, Va., a short drive from the Pentagon, so when the terrorist attacks occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, I was naturally worried about their safety. Remarkably, her father, Joe Lott, was not in the D.C. area on this date, but rather in New York to deliver a business presentation- at the World Trade Center. His story of survival is compelling. For the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Kathleen O’Brien of the New Jersey Star-Ledger told Joe Lott’s story … of how a simple gift from a co-worker saved his life. This is a moving story about a family I care about. Truly representative of journalism at its finest. I highly recommend reading this (warning: you may want to have some tissues on hand).
The newsroom’s tiny television sat an arm’s length away from my desk in the bureau office of Durham’s (N.C.) daily newspaper. The TV was rarely on during the week, unless there was breaking news worth monitoring. Noise was common elsewhere in the office, which had been converted from a fast food restaurant. As a part time reporter months removed from college, I had become accustomed to working with loud sounds- particularly from the police scanner that stayed on 24/7 – all around me. But the TV remained silent.
That changed on Sept. 11, 2001 when terrorists attacked America. As arguably the biggest news story of my career unfolded, as the world as we had known it was coming to an end, the television sprung to life. Reporters crowded around my desk to watch news updates from the TV, which was suddenly and steadfastly on. The editor cranked up the volume so she could hear it through her glass office dubbed the “fish bowl.” The TV was a constant on this day of covering tragedy. I’ll never forget that television nor what I wrote on that date.
As I tried to make sense of the first foreign attack on American soil in my lifetime, to sort through our coverage for the next day’s special edition, and to contact friends in New York and Washington, D.C. to see if they were safe, I wrote. As the TV so close to me blared reports of some Muslim group called al-Qaeda being behind the attacks and replayed those horrific images of the planes hitting the Twin Towers, I wrote. I’ll never forget the story I told. With images of death and destruction all around me, I wrote of …
Yes, love. The paper had a weekly “Generations” page that primarily catered to senior citizens living in Chapel Hill, N.C., which in addition to being the home of the University of North Carolina is also a popular destination for retirees with several affluent retirement communities to cater to the elderly from all walks of life. Deadlines for the page were pushed up earlier than usual to get the routine pages designed and out of the way so we could focus exclusively on our Sept. 11 coverage.
So, as news continued to filter in about the event that we now simply call “9/11,” I wrote an evergreen feature about an elderly couple who met at Carol Woods Retirement Center, fell in love and planned to wed one another. Both had lost previous spouses. They not only helped each other overcome the loneliness and sorrow at the loss of a longtime spouse, but kindled a romance in the process. The story of a retirement center wedding was certainly a heartwarming one.
And one incredibly difficult to write amid reports of terrorism and American blood spilled.
Now, I would go onto cover many local angles to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks – the safety and whereabouts of UNC students in study abroad programs in Washington and New York, memorials held on the UNC campus, peace rallies from area Muslims, stories on area residents with missing relatives, ways local governments responded to the attacks, how communities rallied to send money and care packages to those in need, how area firemen and police officers aided their New York colleagues- but on September 11, 2001, unlike most of my colleagues, I wrote a joyous story.
A decade later, journalists are now telling stirring stories of remembrance– whether it be sorrow or joy, of war or of peace, of loss and maybe even love. In many ways, a story of love is the perfect antithesis to a terrorist act driven by hate.
I went to my first NASCAR race on Sunday in Atlanta. While the Advocare 500 did not take place as planned, I walked away from the experience with a few takeaways of how the journalism profession is a little bit like NASCAR (or vice versa):
The race to be first. The aim of every race car driver is, or at least should be, to win the race. This means finishing first. As fictional race car driver Ricky Bobby put it in the film “Talladega Nights” “if you ain’t first, you’re last.” Reporters, meanwhile, have long prized being the first to a story. Outlets love to claim credit for “breaking the news” just as drivers love to turn circles in Victory Lane.
Delays are inevitable. Even the best made plans can go to waste. Sometimes, a reporter will work on a nice feature package that is set to run on Sunday. Then, hard news breaks, whether it is a natural disaster or man’s making, and all bets are off. The story is bumped to later in the week to make room for the breaking news coverage. In this case, the race was scheduled for Sunday but because of rain and storm remnants from Tropical Storm Lee on Sunday and Monday, the race was delayed until Tuesday, only the second Tuesday race in 30 years. The race outcome- Jeff Gordon’s 85th win- is the equivalent of a nice feature story (feature articles on anniversaries and milestones are commonplace).
Know your audience. Journalists write for a specific audience, whether that be for the mainstream masses of a daily newspaper, the niche audience of middle-aged men for a sports theme magazine or perhaps young women for a celebrity gossip blog. Audience matters. While you want to appeal to your base, you also want to grow your readership by appealing to new audiences. This is the same for NASCAR. NASCAR has long had a reputation for having “redneck” Southern fans. While I certainly saw many instances of this stereotype on display in Atlanta, I also saw many other faces in the stands, including a Muslim family, that definitely defy the stereotype. The point is that NASCAR began with a niche following but has broadened its appeal to the masses. With 100,000 fans in attendance, everyone at the track had a story to tell about their NASCAR fandom.
Be prepared. As a journalist, you should have that Scouts’ mentality and always be prepared to cover a story in a moment’s notice. This means having pen and paper on you (and in this day and age, a smartphone, video camera and audio recording device nearby). Seasoned vets who have covered homicides and natural disasters know that having a change of clothes at the ready is also a good idea. With rain expected for the race, we took a change of clothes, raincoat and bags to the track. Unlike most sports, NASCAR actually allows you to bring food and drink into the stands. My group stocked up on water, soda, pizza, sandwiches and snacks for the occassion.
Patience is a virtue. Reporting is hard work and the best stories take time to develop. Good journalists must be patient, while also tenacious in pursuing leads and making revisions before they’ll ever see the byline for their efforts. NASCAR, best as I can tell, involves a lot of patience. And sitting. And waiting. We sat for about 2 1/2 hours on Sunday night for a race that never came. Then, we sat in traffic to head home. But we still had a fun time.
Sponsorships are important. Advertising helps sustain journalism and pays the bills for quality reporting at most major media outlets. Sponsorships pay the bills for the race teams, and the track represents a giant moving advertising billboard. There goes the Lowe’s 48 car! Look it’s the Amp Energy 88 car.
Do your homework. Journalists have to do their homework. This means doing some background research before conducting an interview or covering an event so the journalist has a basic understanding of the subject matter he or she is writing about. NASCAR fans also need to be informed to truly understand what’s taking place on the track. Sure, you could show up and root for whatever sponsor you like or what car looks cool, but you’d be missing out on important storylines, such as the race to capture the final spots for the Chase, an understanding of how the points standings work, or that the top two finishers were Hendricks Motorsports’ teammates.
Passion is important. The best journalists are passionate about what they do. This same type of passion for a profession runs deep among many involved in the sport, from the pit crew to the crew chief to the drivers and owners. NASCAR fans are loyal and passionate about their sport, just as news junkies are passionate about following efforts of top journalists.