What questions do sports journalism students want answered?

So what do journalism students know, and, further, what do they want to learn?

That’s a primary concern for most educators like myself.

So I set out to ask students attending this week’s College Media Mega Workshop in Minneapolis that exact question.

The questions they wrote on their index cards reflect a disparate range of experience and knowledge about sports journalism, from those who have covered a beat to those who have never covered a single game.

The challenge, as a teacher, is to find that balance during workshops and classes.

I’ll respond to several of the questions posed below now. The others, I will address at some point over the next few weeks.

  • How do I get people on my campus excited about Division III sports?

By developing stories they want to read, hear or watch – depending on the media platform. Stories that entertain and educate. Storytelling is the key. Most stories pivot on the following: somebody wants something, and somebody, or something, is in the way. We follow to learn whether the person ultimately overcomes these challenges. Finding these stories takes time, of course, which is the reason sports journalists spend a great deal of time researching, interviewing and observing. Plus, the more we hang out on beats, the more we learn about the people involved with a team or sports organization. There are no short cuts. One needs to practice as hard, or harder, as the athletes being covered.  You can always find excellent story examples in the Best American Sports Writing annual series, by viewing ESPN’s 30 for 30 series and by reading sports books such as Seabiscuit, Cinderella Man, Friday Night Lights, Season on the Brink, Moneyball, Levels of the Game, and Blindside.

  • Should specific sports reporters cover specific sports?

In other words, should reporters be assigned beats at college media. Absolutely. Reporters learn the principal people (coaches, players, trainers) by constantly covering and hanging around a specific team. Yes, I know everybody wants to cover football and basketball, but that’s a shame because so many terrific stories can be discovered on the cross country, volleyball and lacrosse beats as well. Plus, reporters should have to earn an opportunity to cover these higher profile sports by proving themselves. Ultimately, talented reporters often decline a promotion to these other so-called prime beats because they’ve recognized the importance of spending time on all beats.

  • How do I deal with a secretive sports information director?

A secretive SID would be about as successful as a reclusive sales person or a veterinarian who loathes pets. SIDs need to help promote their schools’ athletic programs, not create problems for legitimate sports reporters seeking to offer free copy in a multitude of media platforms. Athletic programs have become more corporate in recent years, but most SIDs really want to work with you. So develop this relationship, which means do your job earnestly, diligently and politely. If this is not sufficient, then there’s nothing else you can do. Remember this as well: You are writing for your audiences, not for the SIDs to promote the athletic program.

  • What’s the best approach to dealing with coaches that hate the media?

Pretty much, the same way one works with an SID. See comments above.

  • What’s the best way to use social media with sports?
  • What’s the best way to get get contact information for athletes?
  • What are the best sports ledes?
  • How do I deal with a secretive sports information director?
  • What is the proper balance between being a sports fan and covering that favored team?
  • How can I make a game recap more interesting?
  • How can I make a boring game or event more exciting?
  • What are the best online sources for sports journalism?
  • How do I make a career out of sportswriting? 
  • How important is writing to video production and editing?
  • How do eSports fit into sports journalism?

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About jgisondi

I covered sports and worked as a sports copy editor for more than 20 years at several newspapers in Florida, including the Fort Myers News-Press, Clearwater Sun, Florida Today and Orlando Sentinel. I started writing for a weekly sports publication in Coral Springs, Fla., at age 15. I have been hooked on sports journalism ever since. I was fortunate to have worked with some amazing editors along the way, journalists who took the time to help me even when my copy was not top-notch. Now, I teach journalism at Eastern Illinois University and work as an editor for Landof10.com, a vertical that focuses on Big Ten athletics. A second edition of the "Field Guide To Covering Sports" will be available sometime in February 2017. The book is a practical guide to preparing, observing, interviewing and writing about 20 different sports, from auto racing to wrestling. Chapters also address ways to cover high school sports, fantasy sports, to develop sports blogs. You can also learn how to cover games, to write features and to interview better. Fans can also learn basic rules of these sports, along with ways to better observe the action. New chapters in the second edition will address social media, advanced analytics, fantasy sports coverage and revised, expanded chapters address game coverage, features and columns, among other new sections.
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