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. On Wednesday, my sister Amy Moritz, a veteran sports writer for the Buffalo News, spoke to the class via Skype.
Here are three lessons from her visit:
You can get story ideas anywhere.
Amy’s talked in the past about drawing inspiration from the line from Working Girl, where the protagonist reads everything because you never know where ideas come from. On Wednesday, she quoted Empire Records. “Who knows where thoughts come from. They just appear.” The point is, the best story ideas can and should come from everywhere. They don’t just come from the games, or from game notes. They can come what you read for fun, conversations with fans, things you hear at the gym, etc. One of my student’s favorite stories of my sister’s, about the importance of sleep for athletes, came from her own athletic career and reading about how obsessed endurance athletes are with sleep. That led her to ask the players she covers about that, and a story was born.
Crappy teams are an opportunity for stories.
One of Amy’s beats is the Buffalo Sabres and they are, to put it mildly, a dumpster fire this year. In fact, they’ve been a dumpster fire for several years now. As she pointed out, you can’t keep going into the locker room and asking players why they aren’t winning. You can only write so much about the fact that players can’t score, or that the goalie’s not really that bad, or whatever. This creates an opportunity for a writer. Rather than relying on the old stories that you’ve been telling for a long time, you can find new ones - like the story she wrote about how players deal with mental health. “It forces you to come up with stories,” she said.
Dealing with players
Amy had two pieces of advice for dealing with players. The first dealt with ones who give banal, cliche answers. “A player who gives you bland answers challenges you to ask better questions.” What about players who are jerks? Amy said she’s been lucky and hasn’t had any really bad issues being a female sports writers. She also said that bad behavior by athletes toward female reporters is more likely to be called out now than it was when she started. When she started, the attitude was “Well, you’re a woman, you have to deal with certain things.” Now, more men (both athletes and reporters) are willing to call out that behavior. As she pointed out, “If someone’s a jackass to you, they’re most likely a jackass to everyone.”