January 19, 2022

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When I was a student newspaper editor at the University of Missouri in 2015, sports were what pushed a local news story into the national spotlight.

A graduate student had launched a hunger strike after a series of racist incidents on campus. Students protested to draw attention to their cause. But it wasn’t until Black football players launched a boycott, soon joined by the rest of the team, that Mizzou was in the national spotlight.

I previously wrote for The Lead about how strange it is to cover a campus story that turns into national news. Now I’m suggesting a different lesson to be learned: Sports journalism is about much more than just sports, and student publications need to recognize that. It’s only by fully integrating sports that college newsrooms can cover athletics to their full potential.

There are student journalists who couldn’t care less about their school’s games. I get it (even though, full disclosure, I do enjoy sports and attended many heartbreaking Mizzou football games). But if you’re not integrating sports into your newsroom, you’re missing an opportunity to fully cover a topic that’s hugely important to a segment of your audience.

In student and professional publications alike, sports departments can feel siloed from the rest of the newsroom. Sports journalists often have different schedules (nights and weekends all the time). The bigger the newsroom, the more likely it is that a sports department has its own copy editors, designers and workflow.

But why do we separate sports from news when sports are a microcosm of society, full of newsy topics? Along with game stories and profiles, sports journalists need to competently cover breaking news, criminal charges, athletic department finances, racial justice movements and gender equality. For all these reasons and more, it’s imperative that sports sections are integrated into the newsroom at large.

This responsibility falls on news staffs, too. Copy editors need to know the fundamentals of sports to catch errors in stories. Managing and executive editors need to understand enough to exercise news judgment when sports stories break. News reporters need to be able to collaborate with sports reporters when stories call for it.

The Maneater’s sports and news departments collaborated on the football boycott story and others that year. It wasn’t a flawless process, but I think we all learned from each other. The football boycott, which eventually ended when both the university president and chancellor stepped down, underscored how closely sports and news can be intertwined.

I’m excited to tackle sports journalism from a student journalism perspective over the next month. We’ll explore how to better integrate the sports department into your newsroom, how to find a job as an early-career sports journalist, and how to maintain a working relationship with your school’s athletic department while getting access to the information you need. Even if you work outside the sports department, these issues will have applicable lessons for any student journalist.

Pitch The Lead

I’m looking for students and recent graduates to guest write for The Lead. No one knows student journalism better than student journalists, and I want to hear how you’ve solved problems, innovated or tackled complex subjects at your student publication.

All students will be paid for their writing, thanks to The Lead’s partnership with Poynter. I’m especially interested right now in pitches on these topics:

  • Publishing across platforms
  • Photo + video journalism

The most successful pitches are specific and concise. Think about lessons other student journalists can learn from your personal experience, and show your understanding of The Lead’s purpose and audience. There’s no deadline, but the sooner you pitch, the better.

Read more and submit pitches here.

One piece of student journalism worth reading

College sports shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic hurt Boise State University’s budget. That didn’t stop the university from hiring a new football coach with a $7.75 million contract, Brad Verbout reported for The Arbiter at Boise State University. Verbout examined the athletic department budget and the school’s expenditures. In 2019, four of the five highest-paid public employees in the state of Idaho were coaches at Boise State.

College athletic departments have enormous budgets, particularly at bigger schools. Consider how your student publication can examine where this money goes and whether it’s being misused.

Opportunities and trainings

💌 Most recent newsletter: The work student journalists are most proud of from 2021

📣 I want to hear from you. What would you like to see in the newsletter? Have a cool project to share? Email thelead@poynter.org.

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Taylor Blatchford is a journalist at The Seattle Times who independently writes The Lead, a newsletter for student journalists. She can be reached at blatchfordtaylor@gmail.com…
Taylor Blatchford

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