The Ann Arbor chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists organized a panel discussion titled “Scoring in Sports Journalism” on Friday, to discuss the nuances of sports reporting.
The event began with a keynote speech by Ketra L. Armstrong, an award winning freelance sports-journalist and professor of sport management at the School of Kinesiology. Armstrong emphasized the need for entities like the SPJ, and listed the power of media in framing a narrative, the need for diverse perspectives and the importance of creativity as three things she has learned during her career.
“The world needs sports,” she said. “But sports need journalists who have the ability and the willingness to do this job with civility, with dignity and with social responsibility. The sports industry needs journalists who will embrace their social responsibility to make a difference.”
Jason Beck, Tigers beat reporter for MLB.com, reflected on the way the nature of his job as a beat reporter has changed.
“When I started out, it was very much a traditional beat-writer type of job,” he said. “You’re seeing a lot more multi-media influence I think on the online end, so the sound, the audio and video portion has definitely been a major change.”
LSA senior Jake Karalexis, who attended the panel because of his interest in sports journalism, also talked about the unique challenges aspiring sports journalists are facing in an interview with The Daily.
“It’s very niche,” he said. “In news journalism, you’re focusing on news and events, and with sports, it’s kind of the inverse of that. You’re looking for smaller things, you’re looking for opinions.”
Chantel Jennings, national college football writer at The Athletic and current Knight-Wallace fellow, commented on the low ratio of women in football reporting. She said while there are downsides to being in the minority, she has found benefits as well. She said she believes male coaches and players are more likely to open up to a woman than a man.
“I’m aware of that,” she said. “When I sit down with someone I know that maybe there’s a possibility that they will talk about something that they might not talk about to a guy.”
Kaitlin Urka, associate producer at NBC Sports, talked about the help she received by the U-M Alumni Association in the starting stages of her career.
“They have been instrumental in not only starting my career, but also as a support system throughout,” she said. “Because every place I travel, and I travel globally, I run into Michigan alumni, who, even if it’s just a ‘hello,’ sometimes if you’re homesick, that’s all you need.”
John Niyo, sports writer at The Detroit News, was asked about how he went from beat writing to feature and column writing. Niyo said as a beat writer, he wanted to expand beyond the team he covered.
“It gets tiring after a while,” Niyo said. “I felt sort of trapped in, I don’t want to cover just one team.”
Beck said a positive part of being a beat reporter was being able to dive deeper into the human aspect of sports.
“In an era where sports is becoming dominated by analytics, stats can (only) tell you about what the player is,” Beck said. “ I think you can never lose sight about who the person is behind that.”
Offering a national reporting perspective, Larry Lage, sports reporter for Michigan teams at the Associated Press, talked about the ups and downs of writing for a national audience.
“Nothing ever gets boring for me,” he said. “Because I’m everywhere. But that’s also a challenge, because I can’t really dig deep into beats quite like I could. So, it’s certainly a unique situation.”
The discussion then moved on to one of the central themes of sports journalism: finding unique stories. Jennings, Lage and Stephen Kornacki, feature writer for Michigan Athletics, emphasized thinking creatively and being fearless. Lage also stressed the importance of writing unique stories, referring to an article he had worked on about high school basketball phenom Emoni Bates.
“I like to try to write things other people haven’t done,” Lage said.“I’m not compromising my journalism, my reputation, my character for any story.”
Kornacki said the most vital characteristic of a journalist is curiosity.
“That’s the most important talent you have, is your curiosity,” Kornacki said. “That’s where you find stories. You’re curious. You see a story in everything. Never walk away from a possibility of what might be a great story, because you might chase five stories and only one of those five really turns out to be a great story. So, follow the trail.”
The discussion then moved on to the role social media plays in sports journalism. Niyo talked about how integral social media has become to the lives of most of the athletes they cover, and how it can be used both for communication and for staying updated.
“It’s our wire-service in a lot of ways, as sports writers,” Niyo said. “Because you’re always waiting to see, especially when you’re a beat-writer, you know, what just happened, what’s happening.”
Niyo went on to caution journalists about not letting social media take over their reporting.
“Don’t let it be a crutch, because it certainly can be,” he said. “Don’t let it be a substitute either for actual reporting. It can be a really lazy tool for people to use social media to generate stories or story ideas.”
Lage said the best way to build a following on social media is to be an exceptional reporter.
“The best way to cultivate a following is the same thing that your pursuit should be all the time. Get good stuff,” Lage said. “Be fair, be accurate, be good, be exceptional. Be different. Give people a reason to want to follow you. To hire you.”
The panel concluded with the panelists talking about the best story they have each covered. Niyo and Jennings mentioned covering the Olympics, while Beck reflected on the June 2010 Detroit Tigers v. Cleveland Indians game where pitcher Armando Galarraga’s bid for a perfect game was ruined one out short due to an incorrect umpiring decision.
“It ends up becoming this massive story,” Beck said. “It just came out of this random baseball game in June between two non-contending teams.”
Disclosure: The panel was moderated by Michigan Daily sports editor Max Marcovitch.
of this random baseball game in June between two non-contending teams.”