In my Sports Writing and Reporting class at SUNY Oswego this semester, I am very lucky to have a series of guest speakers coming to talk to students about various aspects of the profession.
My first guest speaker was the great Mike Waters, who has been covering Syracuse University basketball for the Post-Standard and Syracuse.com for 30 seasons. It was a wonderful session, with Mike sharing stories about covering the 6-overtime game against UConn, the Final Four run in 2003 (and in 2016).
Here are three pieces of advice he gave my students:
Get out of the media room.
Mike has said this before in my class, and it’s one of my favorite pieces of advice. No one has ever found a good story in the media room. Get coutside. Walk around. Talk to people. It’s good practice on a beat - you talk to people before you need them for a story - and you often pick up on stories no one else has. It’s how Mike was the first to report that Matt Moyer would miss a game vs. Wake Forest, because he (Mike) was court side, noticed a player missing and then saw Moyer walking out in sweats and a walking boot.
Everything can be a story
Mike said he received several emails from readers this week asking him why SU’s game against NC State on Wednesday night was at 9 p.m. instead of the usual 7 p.m.? He could have answered them in a quick email back. But he remembered something his first editor in Nashville told him — for every person who calls or writes in with a question, imagine there are 99 other people who have the same question but don’t contact you.
So Mike turned that reader question into a quick story.
Listening to your readers can lead you to stories. What’s obvious to you may not be obvious to them.
Have a thick skin.
To cover Jim Boeheim for 30 years, you need to be able to take criticism from the people you cover. Mike stressed the importance of having a thick skin, of not backing down but also letting them say/yell/curse their peace, and above everything else, of always showing up. It’s part of the job, and it’s rarely personal.