Articles about "Sports reporting"


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Bill Simmons’ ESPN suspension and the challenges of editing star talent

Whether you think Bill Simmons is the latest sacrificial lamb at ESPN, or that his suspension is really theater in the vein of professional wrestling, there are important issues behind the suspension that we could all pay some attention to.

  • Too much content, too little editing: From podcasts to blogs to social media posts, there is a fair amount of content that goes straight to the audience with very little editing. With small changes (see word choice, below) to his rant, Simmons could have stayed within the boundaries of ESPN’s acceptable journalistic standards. In broadcast, that’s the producer’s role. In writing it’s the editor’s role. There is editing and production that takes place. But do those people do their work with an ear toward editorial standards? It’s hard to say if that’s even possible with a marquee talent like Simmons (see Stars, below.) But they could and they should.
  • Word choice: Simmons was on solid ground when he called Goodell’s response “fucking bullshit.” Suggesting the football commissioner take a lie detector test was clever. But calling him a liar went over a line, because it draws a conclusion that we cannot draw.  The best reporting has demonstrated that the Ravens’ staff were aware of the contents of the elevator video and that someone at the NFL knew as well. It’s easy to assert that Goodell should have known. But that doesn’t add up to liar. When you make accusations you can’t verify, you have moved outside of journalism into something else – politics, spin, deception? Even opinionated journalists should base their work on established facts.
  • Stars: When I served as the head writer for the ESPN-Poynter Review Project, several ESPN employees told me, in confidence, how difficult it was to edit Bill Simmons. ESPN is not unique. This is true of many big stars in many newsrooms. Stars that operate outside the rules of engagement leave the organization exposed. It’s good for ESPN to have commentators pushing the boundaries of taste and journalistic ethics, that’s what the audience wants. Provocation is tried and true meme. But it’s even better to have a process that prevents stars and everyone else from blowing through those boundaries because they don’t realize it or they don’t care.
  • Consistency: Ethics codes and editorial standards are fabulous, but if an organization inconsistently applies them, they become a weakness not an asset. That’s because they can be used against you. An organization as big and spread out as ESPN has steep challenges. How can it apply to same standards to its premiere investigative show, Outside the Lines, as it does to blog posts and podcasts? The answer lies in constant attention to process.

It’s hard to measure whether an organization has healthy processes. We never hear about the times that ESPN dials a writer or on-air talent back. We don’t see the great catches that editors make. We only see the gaffes. And given the volume of content that ESPN produces, there will likely be plenty of fodder for critics like Deadspin.

That said, when your biggest star declares himself above his newsroom’s standards, the boss has to respond. Read more

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Local TV Stations Investigate Football Helmet Safety: Get Results

One of the benefits of my job is that as I travel around the country working with TV stations, I see story ideas that spread like kudzu from one market to the next. One station in one city finds some success with the story, others hear about it, copy the idea and localize it.  I find most of these cut and paste ideas pop up around “sweeps” months and most are awful.  Here’s one that isn’t.  It is worth looking at where you are and it may keep some kid from getting hurt.

In May, WDIV in Detroit began investigating high school football helmet safety. The station found that local high schools routinely issued players helmets that helmet safety experts said didn’t provide enough protection.

They used information from a rating system developed at Virginia Tech that assesses the safety of different football helmets. WDIV found that in Wayne County alone (Detroit), 13 schools are using the 1-star rated helmets. The station said nearly one-fourth of the helmets being used by high school players in Detroit Public Schools are One-Star or Two-Star helmets.

WISH-TV in Indianapolis also took up the helmet story. The station pointed out there is no manufacturer’s rating for helmet safety and produced stories saying youth helmets are often too heavy. Like WDIV, the station posted survey results from seven local school systems about what helmets they issued. As a result of WISH’s reporting, state officials will require schools to report concussions starting this month.

More recently, WTHR in Indianapolis pushed the story further. While teaching at a workshop for Dispatch Broadcasting stations recently, I heard about WTHR’s survey of 160 Indiana schools. The station filed more than 100 open records requests to produce an interactive map of the makes and models of 12,000 football helmets in use by high school and middle school players across the station’s viewing area. Three months later the station is still battling some school systems for the records. The station found hundreds of helmets in use that experts say offer little protection against concussions.

“Since 2011, the Virginia Tech studies of football helmets have shown that some of the most popular models of football helmets gave marginal protection against concussions,” said Bob Segall, investigative reporter. Many programs, including the NFL, used the information to quickly move to more protective models. But we found that for a range of reasons, high school and middle school programs didn’t move as fast.”

Once WTHR had its extensive database, the station contacted schools to let them know they were using helmets that were low rated. “This was a way to educate schools, parents and players,” Segall said. “In lots of cases we discovered the schools and coaches just were not aware that the helmets they were using were not the best choices. When we told them, the majority switched away or plan to quickly.”

Get Local-How Big is the Problem?

Segall tells me Indiana does not keep records of how many players suffer concussions, but the stations that have done these stories have all reported anecdotal evidence that the problem is worse at the high school level than even for college players. A 2013 study published by the Institutes of Medicine said high school football players suffered 11.2 concussions for every 10,000 games and practices. Among college players, the rate stood at 6.3.  But the study raised questions about whether any helmet goes far enough to prevent concussions. Segall said coaches are beginning to stress safer blocking and tackling techniques that prevent injuries.

In some states, schools do not limit the number of players on a team. So in Indiana, a football team could have 100 players dressed out in uniforms. Virginia Tech experts said any school that cannot afford the most protective helmets should not put players on the field.

The Virginia Tech / Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences website lists the 2014 helmet ratings. You will notice that there is little difference in cost between lower rated helmets and the highest rated ones.

Virginia Tech lists frequently asked questions about helmets, ratings and injuries.

But the story doesn’t end there. Segall told me that soon, researchers hope to have test results and ratings on other helmets including those used in baseball, lacrosse and hockey.

Even though other news outlets in other cities have done these stories, the journalists found the information is not getting to the people who need it most. It would be tempting to air stories about football helmet safety during football season, in the November ratings period for local TV.  But these three stations didn’t wait. By airing and publishing stories before the new season begins, they may have prevented some athletes from suffering serious damage. Read more

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How Jim Brady plans to make money in local

mediawiremorningGood morning. Here are 10 media stories.

  1. Was SI’s LeBron James scoop legit? Sam Kirkland rounds up some thinkination from thinkinators and notes that SND’s Rob Schneider said the NYT’s celebrated sports section front on Saturday was inaccurate — James hadn’t signed at the time. (Poynter) | The “item did move on the sports AP wire, exactly as presented,” Margaret Sullivan writes. “I guess I can see his point, but it’s too literal,” Benjamin Hoffman, who designed the page, told her. (NYT) | James decided to go to SI rather than ESPN because 2010′s “The Decision” “upset America’s collective stomach and spoiled his reputation as a basketball god,” Robert Weintraub writes. “The average fan could read his moving, sincere announcement on SI.com and subconsciously think, Maybe it was ESPN’s fault, not LeBron’s, all along.” (CJR) | The “trade rumor — shorthand here for any offseason transaction news — has become the dominant form of NBA journalism.” (Grantland)
  2. How Jim Brady plans to make money in local: His Philly news startup Brother.ly will use a “mix of advertising, events and memberships,” Joe Pompeo reports. Advertisers will have options beyond display ads: “A security company might sponsor a public-safety discussion group, for instance.” (Capital)
  3. NPR “downgrades” ombudsman job: The next occupant of that seat will focus “on fact gathering and explanation, not commentary or judgment,” Jay Rosen reports. “In my view, NPR is far stronger than this short-sighted and half-assed decision suggests. It has nothing to fear from an empowered ombudsman.” (PressThink)
  4. BuzzFeed articles disappear: After a “review of our most updated policies and standards,” BuzzFeed “edited some posts, removed certain posts and left other posts as is.” (Gawker) | BuzzFeed gave some early, senior employees the ability to go back and memory-hole articles. (Poynter)
  5. News orgs’ investments in race beats pays off: AP race and ethnicity reporter Jesse Holland broke the story of black Democrats supporting Sen. Thad Cochran after several reporters “had noticed advertisements in two of the state’s black newspapers, but no one knew who was behind them,” Tracie Powell reports. “I picked up the phone and called the black newspaper and asked who placed the ad,” Holland told Powell. “I’m not sure why no one else thought to do that.” (CJR)
  6. Twitter is 8 years old. Here’s Biz Stone‘s announcement of “Twittr”‘s website from July 15, 2006: ” It’s fun to use because it strips social blogging down to it’s essence and makes it immediate.”

  7. Following in Chrystia Freeland’s footsteps? Former Toronto Star reporter Allan Thompson is running for parliament. (Toronto Star)
  8. Lumberjacks’ revenge: Newspaper reporter makes “endangered jobs” list (Poynter) | Employment at TV stations slips a little. And “Total radio news employment is up this year versus last year, but not in the way radio news people would like.” (RTDNA)
  9. “This is a publicity stunt for sure, but one with heart”: Fans react to Archie Andrews‘ impending death, saving a gay friend. (AP) | “Archie is actually still alive in the Archie series set in the present day” and there’s a series where he’s a zombie, too. (Vulture)
  10. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin: David Plotz is “dropping the mic” as editor of Slate, leaving his former deputy editor, Julia Turner, in charge. Said Plotz of his decision: “What am I gonna do, die here?” (Poynter) | Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, he of the leaked New York Times Innovation Report, has been named senior editor for strategy at the Times. (Poynter) | Maria Russo will be children’s books editor of The New York Times Book Review in August. (@PamelaPaulNYT) | Amanda Kost, an investigative journalist at KMGH in Denver, will be a national investigative reporter at the Scripps Washington Bureau. (Scripps News) | Alisyn Camerota is now an anchor at CNN. She was previously a co-host of America’s News Headquarters at Fox News. (CNN) | John Homans is leaving his job as New York Magazine executive editor to join Bloomberg Politics, a vertical led by “Game Change” authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. (Capital) | David Sirota joins International Business Times as a senior writer. (Digiday) | Marta Tellado, vice president for global communications at the Ford Foundation, has been named chief executive of Consumer Reports. She will replace Jim Guest, who became CEO and president in 2001. (New York Times) Want to meet LeBron James? The Northeast Ohio Media Group (which includes the Plain Dealer) is hiring a sports reporter. Get your résumés in! | Send Ben your job moves: bmullin@poynter.org.

Suggestions? Criticisms? Would like me to send you this roundup each morning? Please email me: abeaujon@poynter.org. Read more

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Team podcasts disappear from iTunes after MLB complains about trademarks

NBC Sports | Awful Announcing

A number of baseball podcasts disappeared from iTunes after complaints from Major League Baseball about trademark infringement, Craig Calcaterra reports for NBC Sports. MLB says it notified Apple about “infringing uses of trademarks of Major League Baseball and certain Clubs” and “asked Apple to have these trademarks removed from the podcast titles and thumbnails.”

A bunch of podcasts vanished after that, Joe Lucia reports for Awful Announcing. Ted Price, who hosts a Texas Rangers podcast, tells Lucia iTunes accounts for almost all his downloads.

An MLB spokesperson told Calcaterra it didn’t ask for the podcasts to get 86′d: “Given our many years of experience in notifying Apple about trademark issues on the Store, we trust that removing the podcasts was an oversight, and ask that you please look into this matter as soon as possible.”

At least one professional sports team has zealously protected its trademarks when it comes to media coverage. The Washington Redskins in 2011 forced The Washington Post to change the name of its blog about the team from Redskins Insider to Football Insider. The Redskins also asked a blog called Redskins Republic to change its name; it’s now Hail Republic. (An increasing number of outlets have stopped printing the Redskins’ name for a different reason.) Read more

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Live chat replay: What sports journalists need to know to compete

In remarks for the College Media Association conference in New York on March 13, Associated Press Vice President Lou Ferrara issued a wake-up call for sports reporters.

He said traditional sports journalism is changing, that game coverage is waning and that general news coverage is what the AP and others need now. Ferrara joined us in a Poynter careers chat at 2 p.m. ET Wednesday to map out the needs.

Ferrara helps the AP orchestrate coverage of big-time sports events like the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and he has some very specific tips about how sports journalists can get ready for the craft’s future needs.

A replay of the chat is below.

Visit www.poynter.org/chats to find an archive of all past chats.

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Custom camera-mounted device lets Toronto Star photographers file direct to live blog

The Canadian Journalism Project

It’s hard to file photos from Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, Toronto Star visuals editor Taras Slawnych tells Mark Taylor: “There are lights around the arena and every time these neon lights and billboard signs go on it creates a lot of interference. Traditional ways of submitting with a WiFi card or some other way just didn’t work.”

So the Star built its own device, called AWAC — for “Automated Web Access Coupling.” It sits “on the hot shoe mount,” Slawnych says, and “basically provides the Internet connection, the routing of it, and then sends the picture to an FTP site. There’s a (HTML) script here that handles it and then there’s another script that sends it to a ScribbleLive blog and the (Toronto Star) archive at the same time.”

Slawnych says he’s not sure whether the Star will patent the device — other reporters “are trying to figure out what the hell we’re doing,” he says — but did allow that it was 3-D printed and that the Star has spent about $2,500 developing it. The device solves a workflow problem other technical solutions to filing in the field don’t, Slawnych says:

Traditional wire agencies have a whole bunch of things to do this as well. The problem is the traditional workflow. Let’s say it’s a wire photographer shooting the game like we did. He sends the picture, and he’s probably sending it just as fast as we are. The picture then goes to headquarters and is then put on the wires. There’s probably a minute delay, maybe 30 seconds even. The picture is then sent out to an FTP to newspapers around the world. Then you’ve got a processor from your archive that is picking up these shots every 30 seconds, every minute. To put that picture online, you have to publish that picture onto your pagination system and wait for it to appear there. That’s probably another 30 seconds and then you have to move it onto your online Content Management System, which is probably minimum 30 seconds. And that’s if everyone is watching everything and has the time to do that. So that’s at least two, three minutes if every step worked out perfectly, which I doubt because there’s going to be other pictures moving on the wire. The editor that’s pulling that picture might not be paying attention because he’s doing other stuff at the same time. Our picture, without anyone having to touch it here, is on our blog within 45 seconds.

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Joe Paterno, Mike McQueary, Matt McGloin

ESPN reports Mike McQueary was sexually assaulted, but says little else

In this photo taken Sept. 24, 2011, then-Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, left, talks with quarterback Matt McGloin (11) as assistant coach Mike McQueary listens on the sidelines during an NCAA college football game against Eastern Michigan in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Editor’s note: This column was revised and updated to include ESPN The Magazine Editor Chad Millman’s response to our emailed questions about the process behind the story.

ESPN The Magazine just published a long read about Mike McQueary, the man who witnessed Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulting a child in the Penn State locker room. The man who cost Joe Paterno his job and his legacy.

The story appears under the headline “The Whistleblower’s Last Stand” and describes widespread distrust of the former assistant coach and a life diminished since Sandusky’s indictment in the fall of 2011. But all anyone is talking about is this line near the top of the story:

“Finally, McQueary confided in his players something he hoped would make them understand how he’d reacted at the time. He told them he could relate to the fear and helplessness felt by the boy in the shower because he too was sexually abused as a boy.”

The story tops 5,000 words and never returns to that assertion, which is attributed to anonymous sources who were present for the conversation and anonymous sources who heard about the conversation from people who were there. The writer doesn’t say if McQueary reported his own abuse to authorities, if anyone was prosecuted, how old McQueary was, if anyone from his inner circle knew about the abuse before then, if McQueary has sought counseling, or what McQueary’s relationship to that abuser was.

Yet it’s clear from the video that accompanies the story that writer Don Van Natta Jr. and others at the Worldwide Leader in Sports understand the most compelling item in the story is the revelation of childhood sexual abuse. What’s not clear is what reporting attempts were made to bring more context to that information.

ESPN The Magazine Editor Chad Millman wrote this in response to our questions about how decisions were made:

“We recognize the extremely sensitive nature of this topic and had extensive discussions about our approach in advance of publishing. Ultimately, Mike McQueary’s revelation to a number of people is a relevant piece of information in a thoroughly-reported story. Mike McQueary was aware that we had been told the details of his revelation. Given that he is a central figure in the upcoming trial of Penn State officials and his own whistleblower lawsuit, a big focus is on what he saw, what he said and who he said it to. As a result, we carefully considered that if he was a victim of sexual abuse, that may have affected how he processed what he saw and what his reaction and statements were in the aftermath.”

Most newsrooms have a policy of protecting the identity of sexual assault victims. They do this because sexual assault is the single most under-reported felony and those who have been sexually assaulted generally incur a lasting stigma from the crime.

Millman wrote in his email that ESPN’s policy is to protect victims in a criminal case, but when reporting on a sexual assault that is not the subject of a criminal investigation or trial, to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.  Here’s his full response:

“We weigh each circumstance on a case-by-case basis, and if after careful review a story meets our standards for reporting, there are civil or criminal implications and/or the story has a higher editorial imperative, we may disclose names in those circumstances. When there are situations of criminal sexual assault/rape cases, per our Editorial Standards & Practices, we generally don’t report the names of accusers, unless the accuser personally decides to make his/her name public.”

When a newsroom does identify a survivor, editors usually explain why they are making an exception to their policy.

This magazine story carries no such explanation. Nor does the story explain why this fact is revealed, how it is relevant to McQueary’s story, or if the writer made any attempts to determine further context about the assault. In a related story, ESPN said it asked McQueary for comment on the magazine story, but he declined, other than to say he loved his mentor, Joe Paterno.

Millman’s email explains why ESPN felt McQueary’s revelation to his players was fodder for the article. But he doesn’t go into the reporting process around McQueary’s revelation.

Here’s a set of questions that might surface a few alternatives:

  • When you told McQueary that you are going to publish that he was sexually assaulted, would he talk about it, even off-the-record?
  • Did anyone else in McQueary’s inner circle have further information that would shed light on how the assault influenced him through the Sandusky investigation?
  • Have you talked to a counselor who works with male survivors? What light can that expert shed on the potential harm that outing him as a survivor might cause?
  • A large part of the story deals with allegations that McQueary had a gambling problem. Several sources said he wasn’t trustworthy. How do you intend for readers to digest this? Might they conclude that the claim of sexual abuse is fake?
  • The theme for this issue is “The Conspiracy Issue.” Does running this story under that theme suggest a bias toward believing or not believing McQueary?
  • What is the journalistic purpose of this story and how does revealing McQueary’s past sexual assault support that purpose?
  • Are you treating him different because he is a man? Would you treat a female survivor in a similar situation the same way?

I ask this last question because I’ve counseled newsrooms covering male survivors and it doesn’t always occur to decision-makers that the reasons we grant women survivors anonymity are valid for men, too.

These questions encourage a process. There is a well-established standard that guides how sexual assault victims are identified. While some newsrooms have an exception to granting anonymity when an accuser sues an assailant in civil court, I’ve never encountered a newsroom that specifically restricts the policy of anonymity to victims in a criminal investigation. The threshold for identifying someone as a sexual assault survivor against his or her wishes should be exceedingly high.

To clear that threshold, the story itself should have great journalistic significance to the audience. And the fact of the assault should be clearly relevant to the story.

Millman argues this story clears that threshold. I’m still not convinced. In the story that’s been published, there’s not enough reporting about that abuse to give the audience an adequate context. Is there reason to doubt McQueary’s truthfulness about the abuse? There’s no reporting that supports or undermines his claim. The writer could have at the very least revealed McQueary’s reaction and McQueary’s father’s reaction, when they learned that ESPN was going to publish the story of the abuse.

Finally, an editor could have explained ESPN’s practice on identifying sexual assault victims and how this story fits into that policy.

For more resources about covering sexual assault, see our NewsU course, Covering Sexual Assault.

Kelly McBride served as the lead writer for the Poynter Review Project in 2011-2012, in which the Institute provided ombudsman services to ESPN. She and her partner Jason Fry were critical of ESPN’s initial coverage of the Jerry Sandusky indictment. Read more

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USA vs. CHN Curling

Sochi photo coverage takes ‘patience, planning, logistics’

Harry Walker, photo director at McClatchy-Tribune Information Services, has a unique vantage point overseeing MCT’s visual coverage of the Olympic Games.

Raised in Savannah, Ga., Walker graduated from Morehouse College in 1980. He started his photojournalism career at The Columbus Dispatch, where he worked from 1988 until 1992. Before joining MCT, he worked as features and weekend photo editor at the Kansas City Star. He has served numerous organizations, with stints as a member of the National Association of Black Journalists’ Visual Task Force and as chairperson of the National Press Photographers Association’s Best of Photojournalism contest.

What follows is an edited version of our conversation about MCT’s ongoing Olympics photo coverage:

Me: So, Harry, you are nine hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. How is that an advantage or disadvantage for your MCT photographic reports?

Walker: Having the nine-hour time advantage allows you to cover more events than in the past. For example, a hockey game that starts at 9 p.m. in Sochi can be covered and you can still deliver photos to clients in plenty of time for publication. Each of our photographers covers three events daily, or two events that consume a lot of time.

On the other hand, communication with people at the Washington office and with loved ones has been a challenge. When you are nine hours ahead, it is never a good time to communicate. When I have a free moment before event coverage in Sochi starts, everyone is asleep or the office is closed. When they are functioning on the East Coast, I am on deadline and then ending my day. My average day here at the Olympic Games starts around 10 a.m. and ends around 2:30 a.m.

MCT Director of Photography Harry Walker is overseeing photo coverage at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Me: What has been your highlight so far?

Walker: As a veteran of many Olympics, I am not easily impressed. I did find the Olympic Park on Sochi/Adler to be well-planned. This is the first Winter Olympics I have covered where you can actually walk to all of the venues. There is a transportation system, but when you’re on deadline moving from one event to another, sometimes you can walk to the next venue faster than waiting for a bus. This has proven to be very useful.

Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford perform during the team pairs figure skating short program at the Iceberg Skating Palace at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Thursday. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

I have enjoyed shooting ice dancing and figure skating. Many of the photo positions are very good thanks to a wise system of allocating the coveted floor photo positions in the field of play. Tickets are distributed to all of the National Olympic Committees, which ensures each country gets a share of the available photo positions. This eliminated the situation we faced in Vancouver, where the floor positions were available on a first-come, first-served basis. Some people would literally spend the night in line to secure one of the 50 floor photo positions. If you wanted one of them, you had to spend hours waiting in line before the event started, which would also reduce the number of other events you could cover.

USA’s Meryl Davis and Charlie White perform during the team pairs ice dance short dance program at the Iceberg Skating Palace at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Saturday. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Me: What has it been like in Sochi? Are the criticisms about Russia’s lack of preparedness accurate? Are the concerns about the hotels and the venue on point, or overblown?

Walker: It depends whom you speak with. I thought I had problems until I heard first-hand about some of the other issues. I myself have a good room, but I do not have any television or reliable Internet. The television I quickly learned to live without, but the Internet is a major problem. For the first few days, I could not see a Wi-Fi signal, and even now it is not dependable. It works for a while, then goes down — sometimes for hours or all night. This forces me to stay at event venues or the Main Press Center later each night to use the Internet. Most of my communications, planning and report reviews require the Internet — and the same goes for any entertainment or news. Try living without television or Internet for a week — it will make you realize how connected you really are and what an important role the Web plays in your life. All of my calls to the U.S. are done via Skype — I need the Web for that to happen.

Austria defenseman Andre Lakos (64) and Canada forward Jonathan Toews (16) crash into the glass while battling for the puck during the second period in a men’s hockey game at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Friday. Canada defeated Austria 6-0. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

One additional issue is that my cellphone does not work at my housing complex, though it seems to work everywhere else. This makes me even more cut off without the Internet.

I did speak with other photographers who had no light bulbs, doorknobs or in some cases, working electrical outlets. Keep in mind you need electrical outlets to charge batteries for cameras, use laptops, charge phones, etc.

Me: What is working at the Olympics in terms of photographic coverage?

Walker: It has been a very pleasant experience. I have worked mostly in Olympic Park in the city and allowed my two colleagues — Chuck Myers of MCT and Brian Cassella of the Chicago Tribune — to handle the photo events in the mountains.

USA’s Erika Brown, center, delivers a stone as Debbie McCormick, left, and Jessica Schultz prepare to guide the stone during women’s curling competition against China at the Ice Cube Curling Centre during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Wednesday. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Only a few photo assignments have been ticketed due to high demand. The remainder have been open to everyone. Most of the time, it is easy to move around the venue for various photo positions. During a photo meeting of all photographers one day before the games started, it was stated that 750 photographers had been credentialed. I challenge this due to the number of empty lockers and the amount of desk space. Two days ago, a member of my staff misplaced his photo credential and needed to get a temporary one. The replacement credential was No. 377 — these credentials are normally issued in sequential order for security and management purposes.

Why is the number of photographers at the Winter Games nowhere near the number that was stated at the meeting? I believe distance and the cost of travel were major influences. Security issues may have deterred many as well.

But overall, it’s been a very positive experience covering the games.

Russia’s Victor An (250), right, and teammate Vladimir Grigorev (252), left, cross the finish for a first and second place finish during the men’s 1,000-meter finals race at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Saturday. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Me: How many people are working on your team and contributing to your report? How many editors do you have, and how many photographic reporters?

Walker: MCT has a very small team covering the games. This is a result of the economic realities of the newspaper industry. MCT has three photographers and four writers, with no office space in the Main Press Center. This is the third Olympic Games where we have used this model, and it seems to work well for us. Communication is done via planning emails nightly and throughout the day, and text messaging also proves very valuable. MCT photographers are moving in excess of 200 photos daily, and we also have access to coverage from our image partners — the San Jose Mercury News, Colorado Springs Gazette and Minneapolis Star-Tribune. These image partners file images to our Washington, D.C., photo desk for posting to the wire. The three MCT photographers on site, shoot, edit and move photos live on the wire from each venue, ensuring fast and timely delivery of content to subscribers.

Russia’s Yulia Lipnitskaya performs during the team women’s figure skating short program at the Iceberg Skating Palace at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Saturday. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Me: Is there anything new in terms of photographic technology that has impressed you?

Walker: Not that I am aware of. Many are using a VLAN — a virtual local area network — to transmit photos from cameras for editing at venues or the Main Press Center. But this is common for many high-profile events. The large agencies are using robotic cameras, but not as much as during the Summer Games in London.

 

Me: Has there been any interference from Russian officials or the International Olympic Committee regarding what you can or cannot document?

Walker: I am not aware of the local media situation and cannot comment on it, but I have not had any situations where Russian officials have limited access to what I have available to photograph. I have assigned photos in the towns of Sochi and Adler and heard no reports of access being limited. Working in and around Olympic venues and sites has been as the same as in past Olympics. Security is very high as compared to past games, however.

Me: Given the heavy security restrictions and the threat of terrorism, are you subject to photographic limitations?

Walker: Security personnel record all entry into and out of buses and venues electronically. Thus all movement is tracked. You also have your normal airport-style security checkpoints when you enter the Olympic parks in both the mountain and Sochi Olympic parks.

Security is definitely very tight. There are lots of undercover security personnel about — you can spot them easily at times, though I am sure there are others we don’t notice. For the first time since I have been covering the Olympics, I needed a passport to secure my accreditation. In the past, the Olympic accreditation you received before traveling to the games served as your visa and passport. Going into Russia, you needed your passport every step of the way. You needed it to get your photo armband for floor positions, your hotel room and many other items that seemed surprising since you were already in the Olympic credentialing system.

Me: Have you made any special preparations to cover a terrorist event, should one occur? If so, what are they?

USA’s Emily Scott (155), leads Lithuania’s Agne Sereikaite (140) into a turn during the ladies 500-meter short track race at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Monday, Feb. 10, 2014. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Walker: MCT has a plan in the event of an attack. Without going into too much detail, we all have phones that work world-wide, have a designated place to meet and have a request with the State Department for overseas travel should the U.S. put an evacuation plan into effect.

Me: How does this compare to the 2002 Winter Games when you were the assistant photo chief in Salt Lake City?

Walker: Many of the same systems are in place. The ticketing process seems smoother. Individuals and smaller organizations have a better opportunity to get coveted floor photographer positions than in the past. There are many volunteers at each venue to assist with everything from information to tours of the buildings.

With hockey, a high-demand sport, a system of assigned seating around the glass and in elevated photo positions has been implemented. The photo managers have done a great job negotiating photo positions. There are 60 photo positions for photographers along the glass on the ice, in addition to dozens more overhead.

Me: Have weather challenges made your photographic coverage problematic? If so, how have you overcome these challenges?

Walker: The weather in Sochi is the news of the day. It was warm at the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but Sochi is much warmer — it has routinely been in the upper 50s or low 60s since my arrival. Naturally it’s colder in the mountains, but it’s like a spring heat wave in the city at the Olympic Park.

All the weather challenges have been in the mountains, where there is a lack of snow due to the warm weather. Not only is it not snowing, but the snow on the ground is melting. I personally am fighting off a cold. It is warm outside but very chilly inside. I wear moderate winter clothing because the temperatures inside a venue like the Alder Long Track Speed Racing facility can be as much as 20 degrees lower than outside.

USA’s Meryl Davis and Charlie White perform during the team ice dance free figure skating dance short program at the Iceberg Skating Palace at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Sunday, Feb, 9, 2014. USA’s team won the bronze medal in the event. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Me: What have been your most valuable lessons learned so far?

Walker: Patience, planning and logistics. Working with venue photo managers has been pleasant. They are eager to assist you in getting a good photo position. Convey your needs and they try to accommodate you, and they seem to remember who you are the next time you come back to the venue. I wonder if it is because of the reduced number of photographers at the games or because I am the only African-American photographing the games. Read more

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ESPN shuffles sports, news leadership

Broadcasting & Cable | Capital New York | SportsBusiness Daily

ESPN shifted the responsibilities and titles of top sports and news executives in a consolidation of its programming and production operations, reports Broadcasting & Cable’s Tom Baysinger.

News Director Vince Doria plans to retire early next year and his responsibilities will move to Craig Bengtson, vice president/director of news. Doria will report to Rob King, SportsCenter and news senior vice president, who shifts from digital and print to oversee the SportsCenter and newsgathering operations. King is a member of Poynter’s National Advisory Board. Read more
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This photo taken Aug. 2013 shows New England Patriots quarterback Tim Tebow throwing during warmups before a NFL preseason football game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit. There wasn't much reason to dislike Tim Tebow, who never pretended to be anything he wasn't. Blame him for the Tebowing craze, if you will, but even that was worth a few laughs in a league that doesn't always embrace fun. There wasn't much reason to like him as an NFL quarterback, either. Three teams tried their best to make use of his unique talents, but even Bill Belichick couldn't find a way to turn him into a competent QB. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

How Sports Illustrated reporter captured the athlete in ‘The Book of Tebow’

Earlier this year, Sports Illustrated writer Thomas Lake embarked on a challenging project: to profile Tim Tebow, an athlete who’s been covered as thoroughly as any in America and who didn’t want Lake to write about him.

With limited access to his subject, what Lake produced was a robust, seven-part, 15,000-word story. It explores oft-analyzed Tebow topics – his successes and failures, his inability to get a job, his faith – but in a much deeper way. It’s a story powered by the author’s voice and transparency.

In an email interview for the Poynter Excellence Project, Lake told us how he did it.

How did the idea for the story come about and what was the initial vision?

This all started last spring, around the time Tebow left the Jets. The editors and I wanted to understand how and why a quarterback could lead his team to the playoffs, win a game in overtime against the league’s top-ranked defense, and then find himself unwanted by all 32 teams in the NFL.

Around mid-July, I was ready to give up. Tebow had become too famous for his own good, and he was trying to stay out of the spotlight. Not only was he not cooperating, he was making sure his close friends and relatives didn’t return my calls. I had some material in my notebook from watching him speak in Dothan, Ala., so I filed 2,000 words on that event and prepared to move on.

Then I heard back from Chris Stone, the managing editor of Sports Illustrated. He liked those 2,000 words. He said that was one chapter. Now write six more.

It was quite a bold vision: Do a story twice as long as anything you’ve ever done, and do it with little or no access to the main subject or his close friends. Stone believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. And I’m thankful for that. Because we came up with a story that I’d thought was impossible.

Access seemed like a major challenge – you even acknowledge in the first section that Tebow and his advisors wished the story would have never been written. So how did the lack of access change your approach?

That lack of access meant I had to do two things:

1. Study all the Tebow material from the public domain. Meaning his autobiography, a couple of other books about him, several documentary films, thousands of newspaper and magazine articles, many hours of game footage, and so on. In that material I wanted to connect some dots that might not have been connected before.

2. Track down and interview people who had known Tebow in the past but didn’t currently know him well enough to ask his permission to give an interview. I printed out the rosters from his Florida Gators teams and just went down the list. Dozens of calls and e-mails and Facebook messages. Probably the most important discovery was Tony Joiner, his former roommate, because Joiner knew a lot about Tebow and the program but had essentially fallen off the map. After many dead ends, I tracked him down in Fort Myers, Fla., where he was working for a bail-bonds company. Joiner gave me a long, candid and deeply insightful interview that laid the foundation for the second and third sections of the story. Then I interviewed many other Gators who confirmed what Joiner said.

How did you ultimately convince Tebow, or his people, to grant you an interview?

New England Patriots spokesman Stacey James arranged my first interview with Tebow. That took weeks of negotiations. Once I met Tebow face-to-face, other doors began to open. He authorized a visit to his foundation headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla. His older brother Robby talked to me. But after Tebow left the Patriots, it was very hard to get that follow-up interview in Los Angeles. Five months of effort led to only six minutes on the record.

You know how it works, though. We take what we get and we make the best of it. Six minutes are better than zero.

Were you ever apprehensive about profiling someone who had been covered so aggressively by so many reporters for so long?

Of course. I find it easier to write about people who have never been famous, or people who left the spotlight a long time ago. There’s so much more undiscovered material. But even with Tim Tebow, there was plenty left to discover. And even more to explain.

How many people did you interview, and how long did the process take from when the reporting first began to the day the story published?

I wanted to interview 100 people, but it was astonishing how many former teammates declined to talk about him. In the end it was probably 30. That’s just a guess. About seven months passed from the day I got the initial assignment to the day the story went live. (I was working on other stories during that time as well.)

The story ran at 15,000 words. How long was the first draft, and was anything cut that you wish had survived?

Very little was cut from this story. The assignment came with a prescribed length, and I turned it in very close to that length. Gary Smith, my mentor at Sports Illustrated, gave it a read and a fine-toothed edit before I sent it to the bosses in New York. (I also sent it to my writer friends Chris Goffard and John Timpe, as I do with many stories, and they were helpful, as always.)

It’s funny, though: Gary has won more National Magazine Awards than anyone else, and discussions about him often center on empathy and diligent reporting and having a heart and all that. Which they should. But you know what else gets Gary fired up? Grammar. Shortening a nine-word sentence to seven words. The correct placement of a comma.

Gary is obsessive about those small things. Listen up, young writers. Spell everything right. Double-check all names and facts. Study the work of Roy Peter Clark and William Zinsser. Become a skilled technician of the English language. The small things make a huge difference.

I think Chris Jones from Esquire said it best on Gangrey.com: Your story is brave. To me, that’s due in large part because of how open you were with your faith. Why did you decide to be so honest, and what did your editors say about that choice?

If I ever have to fight my way out of a dark alley, I hope Jones is there to lead the charge. Come to think of it, Tebow would do pretty well there, too. The guy is fearless.

I write stories for a living, and a few years ago I came to this conclusion: The story of Jesus Christ really is the greatest story ever told. Tim Tebow believes that, too. In a story like this one, that connection is a powerful thing. We can pretend to be “objective” or “unbiased” all we want, but we all believe in something. Atheism is just another kind of belief.

All that aside, the facts are the facts. I’m a reporter, and I want to be judged on the quality of my reporting. Which is why I didn’t shy away from Tebow’s shortcomings as a quarterback. Likewise, when I wrote “The Boy Who Died of Football,” I didn’t give the coach a pass. The fact that he was a Christian didn’t change the fact that he had behaved irresponsibly on the day one of his players literally ran himself to death in practice.

As for the editors, I guess they said all they needed to say by publishing the Tebow story the way I wrote it.

At times, you seem to let the reader know that you like Tebow, even quoting yourself after an interview with him: “ ‘Kinda gets you all fired up,’ the reporter said on the way down the tunnel.” Why did you reveal that?

Tebow was as likable as anyone I’ve met in my career, and there was no sense in pretending otherwise. I wanted the reader to know that explicitly.

The story sparked lots of discussion, including some criticism, particularly from Deadspin. Their review alleged, among other things, that your story offered little new information about Tebow. How do you respond to that (or any of the other criticisms)?

I’ll respond with a question of my own. At your funeral, what do you want people to say about you? Do you want them to say “the guy was great at cutting people down.” Or “he sure knew how to dish out ridicule and scorn.” Or “he proved his brilliance through relentless cruelty.” The smartest people I know are also the kindest. And that’s no coincidence.

How did you expect readers to react to the story?

I was pretty sure some people would like it, some would hate it, and some wouldn’t bother to read it. It’s very long.

How have they reacted?

The response has been 95 percent positive. A few criticisms here and there, but mostly people liked the story. The most pleasant surprise came from the frontman of a well-known indie-rock band, who followed me on Twitter and then responded to my direct message to say he enjoyed the story. I told him how much I enjoy his songwriting.

What was the hardest part about reporting the story?

All the rejection, I guess — all the dozens of calls and emails and letters that went unreturned. Sometimes it felt like punching a stone wall.

What’s your least favorite thing about the story?

I wish it had been an inside look at Tebow’s life — a piece about what it’s actually like to be him. I had to settle for “Tebow, From a Distance.”

What’s your favorite thing about the story?

The seventh section is the best one. But you have to read an awful lot of words to get there.

If you run into a work of journalism that deserves this kind of close inspection, please email us at ExcellenceProject@poynter.org. If we use your suggestions, we’ll give you discounts on courses and webinars at Poynter News University. Read more

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