This week marks the end of our semester at SUNY Oswego and the end of my sports writing and reporting course (#JLM312). It's one of the most fun courses I teach every year, thanks in large part to my awesomely talented students. They're working on their final projects right now, which will be published early next week.
The guest speakers also make the class awesome.
Thanks to my career in the business, I'm lucky enough to be able to bring in a series of guest speakers to speak to class. Some come to Oswego. Others Skype or FaceTime into class.
I'm always amazed at the generosity of these professionals. They're busy with insane travel and work schedules. And yet when I ask them if they want to speak to class, the answer is never no. It's "What do you need?"
We had seven awesome guest speakers this semester. Here's what my students learned from them:
Lesson: Don't hang out in the media room
The longtime Syracuse University basketball beat reporter for the Post-Standard described his pre-game coverage routine. He noted with derision the number of reporters he sees hanging out in the media room before the game. He told the class that he makes sure he spends his time on the floor, on press row, in the stands, chatting with people, noticing things, getting phone numbers, learning tidbits ... doing his job. No story has ever been broken in the media room.
Lesson: Building relationships is everything
My former intern, who's now a good friend and one of the best writers in the NFL with the Buffalo News, told the students how he worked as a beat reporter - first covering the Packers and now the Bills. The key, he said, was building relationships with players and coaches. By taking an interest in them as people, not just as cogs to put in a fantasy football lineup, Tyler's been able to get players to open up about sensitive subjects.
Lesson: Passion matters in sports writing.
The founder of Deadspin remembered one of his formative experiences in sports writing - covering a college football game and seeing how stiff, staid and cynical the atmosphere in a press box can be. Sports are supposed to be fun, and you can be a fan and a journalist at the same time, Leitch told students. Keeping that passion for sports, remembering that at the end of the day, we are all sports fans, is an important lesson for young sports journalists.
A secondary lesson Will taught was to not be a jerk, and he demonstrated it like this: A couple students told me they assumed Will and I had known each other for years. Truth is, the first time I ever spoke to him was when we started our Skype call in class. I emailed him out of the blue one day and asked if he'd be willing to speak to the class. He wrote back in minutes, saying yes. There's never a cost to being a good guy.
Lesson: Sports stories can be found everywhere
The only non-sports reporter of the group, the watchdog reporter/Steve Avery beat reporter told the class to always keep their readers in mind. When you're struggling to come up with a story or an angle, think about what your readers would find interesting. He also taught them that good sports stories can be found everywhere, not just on the field. Sometimes, the best stories can be found by listening to the police scanner during pro football games and reporting the funny things you hear.
Lesson: Focus on getting better, not getting the job
My sister discussed her experiences as a female sports writer for the Buffalo News, certainly an important topic these days, and especially for my four female students. But the big lesson she taught them was about how while she worked at The Times Herald in Olean, N.Y., she would send clips to Margaret Sullivan, then at the Buffalo News. Not to try to get a job, but for feedback. To try to get better. That focus on improvement, not on trying to hustle a job, helped her get good enough that Sullivan had her on a short-list of candidates for open jobs - one of which, she got.
Lesson: Good jobs come if you're patient
The lone TV guy, and the lone Oswego graduate in our series, discussed how working in student media helped prepare him for his career. But his most valuable lesson came when talking about his job search. It took Donovan a long time to get a job in the industry, a period he admitted was frustrating. But patience paid off, as he got hired by WICZ in Binghamton, where he quickly moved up to Sports Director. The right job will come, if you're patient.
Lesson: The best columns come from the best reporting
On the day he spoke to class, my friend, mentor and columnist at the NY Post was working on a column about Pearl Washington. This wasn't going to be a hot take, obviously. But it was in Vac's distinctive voice. He told the students that the key to a great column, whether a mediation on a late basketball star or hard-hitting column about a struggling player, is reporting. Talking to people. Thinking a topic through. Doing research. Vac reminded the students that just because you're a columnist doesn't mean you stop being a reporter.