Povich Center Hosts Symposium to Discuss Changes in Sports Writing

by JUSTIN FITZGERALD

The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism hosted its 10th annual symposium Nov. 10. The symposium has a different theme every year, usually centered around hot-button interests in sports both locally and nationally.

This year’s theme was Sportswriting Then & Now: With a Look at the Past & Future. The discussion featured six panelists – USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan, Washington Post sports writer Chelsea Janes, Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins, former Washington Post columnists and “Pardon the Interruption” hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon and ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap.

TV star Maury Povich and former Washington Post sports editor George Solomon moderated the discussion, which mainly discussed the changing climate of sports media. An open question-and-answer session concluded the event.

The first part of the discussion focused on the influence of social media, which drew mixed answers from the panelists.

Kornheiser said he does not bother with social media because he cannot keep up with it, while Brennan described following news as it breaks on social media as “pure fun.” Brennan, however, did emphasize a concern with today’s media in that the constant news cycle can burn out young journalists. This then funneled into a discussion about how journalists should use Twitter.

“There is a difference between creating and consuming Twitter,” Schaap said. Schaap and Wilbon both said they have Twitter accounts and send out tweets but do not interact with followers. All the panelists agreed that it is best to tune out the noise of Twitter, because there will always be people out there who do not like you.

For some of the panelists, they also tune out their Twitter followers because of the sheer interaction they get. After the symposium, Schaap said that when he was doing work on an interview with Manti Te’o during his fake girlfriend scandal, he did not look at Twitter for three weeks because of all the traffic on his Twitter account.

Wilbon had a different opinion about Twitter at first, as he would let followers send him questions once a week about sports. He enjoyed the banter at first, but eventually found that he would get into uncivil disagreements with followers. It took a text message from San Antonio Spurs general manager R.C. Buford to get him to stop, as Buford told Wilbon that the interactions were unprofessional and would eventually get him fired. Now, Wilbon sends tweets but does not respond to any of his followers.

From his interaction, Wilbon feels that the civility of sports is declining. Jenkins emphasized how important it is to keep relationships with people, as you want to be able to go back to them for another story.

“You’re only as smart as the people you talk too,” Jenkins said.

Brennan agreed, and said that she made mistakes in the industry but still puts value on respecting others. Although the panelists emphasized building trustworthy relationships, they also have noticed that relationships with athletes are more adversarial now than they were in the past.

Schaap’s father, legendary writer Dick Schaap, was also a ghostwriter for many athletes’ autobiographies. But today, Jeremy Schaap cannot write books with athletes, much less attend events as a friend because ESPN sees that as too intimate.

Additionally, Janes mentioned that today’s athletes are trained to handle the media and know exactly what to say, for fear of being misquoted.

In regards to aspiring journalists that attended the symposium, Brennan emphasized why she wanted to be a journalist in the first place.

“We didn’t come into this for fame and fortune, we came in it because we love journalism.”