New IU National Sports Journalism director: young writers have advantage over veterans in market

Teaching sports journalism at the big U these days would seem to be as valuable as starting classes on how to make a typewriter.

Journalism is a dying industry, we’re told. Read about it in the papers. What’s left of them, that is.

Malcolm Moran is here to say don’t believe everything you read and hear. And listen to this: He contends in many respects the market never has been better for young journalists. So are the opportunities to make an immediate impact.

Moran has seen it up close as the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society at the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism since 2006. And it isn’t just about young equaling cheaper.

“For the first time in the history of the industry, a 20-something journalist could have an advantage over a 40-something candidate,” Moran said.

In January, Moran will be molding those young writers as the new director of the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana. He takes over a program launched in 2009 by my old Tribune boss Tim Franklin. Moran said there are 100 students affiliated with the NJSC. Those students recently participated in compiling the hiring report card for the Black Coaches and Administrators Association, yet another example of the opportunity to make an early impact.

Moran obviously has the credentials with distinguished stops at the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and USA Today. He has covered more college bowl games and Final Fours than he cares to count.

Now Moran is making his presence felt on the academic side during a time of great transition for the profession. Here’s my Q/A.

What makes you say 20-somethings have an advantage over 40-somethings?

For the first time in the history of the industry, a 20-something journalist could have an advantage over a 40-something candidate. Graduates as recent as the class of 2007 have told me they feel as though they missed out on having the new technology included in their course work. If a younger candidate can meet all the timeless expectations of the industry, and demonstrate that he or she can tell stories across platforms, the assumption is that the candidate will handle the technology more easily than the more experienced veteran. Media outlets are willing to sacrifice institutional memory – and the higher salaries that comes with that – for more cost-effective, techno-savvy candidates. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m just saying it’s happening.

But what about the job cuts in the market. Aren’t there diminished opportunities?

Yes, there is a distribution problem on the print side, but think about how many outlets that didn’t exist 10 years ago. There are staffers from our program at Penn State who are working at the Big Ten Network. When I started, the Big Ten Network was on the drawing board. was a small core of writers and a lot of wire copy 10-15 years ago. Now look at it.

In the spring of 2009, it seemed like there was no movement. The students who were graduating had a hard time finding jobs. But now we’re seeing more opportunities.

At Penn State, we had a student, Mark Viera, who wound up covering a lot of the Sandusky story for the New York Times. If you opened up the paper, you would assume he was a staff writer. He and Pete Thamel won the APSE award for breaking news. Those kinds of places would rarely use a free lancer 10-15 years ago. Now they do. The opportunity to make a name for yourself now is much greater.

Why would somebody want a sports journalism program as opposed to a regular journalism program?

Part of it is the nature of the industry and the changes we’ve seen. It’s so much more fragmented. Can a journalism major succeed in sports? Of course. However, last year, the students at Penn State covered the men’s Final Four, the BCS game, and the Olympics. If you’re 22 and have that on your resume, you’re in good shape.

We had nine students at the Olympics in London. They produced the digital newsletter daily for the USOC. There were only 15 U.S. media outlets that had more people in London than we did.

You can’t replicate what we did in London in a classroom. When we first got there, they were, ‘OK, what do we do now?’ By the end, they were veterans. It was fun to watch them discover that they can do this.

How is teaching sports journalism different now than 10 years ago?

It’s different than even three or four years ago. I guarantee you the word ‘tweet’ was nowhere to be found in my syllabus. Now I do a class on tweeting and how to use it in an intelligent way. We stress the same standards apply to a 140-character tweet as they do to a 2,000 word story.

Tweeting wasn’t on our radar three years ago, but if you don’t do it now, you’re not doing yourself justice.

What is the key for a young writer to get a job today?

You have to be able to cross every platform. You have to be able to tell your story in more ways than you used to. You can’t show up with a notebook in your pocket and expect to be relevant. You have to market yourself by demonstrating you can work across all the platforms. If you can do that and retain your core values, then you’re marketable.

What are your hopes for NSJC?

I’d like to grow the program and identify people who can make a difference. I have relationships with people they have relationships with. They’ve done a lot in a short period of time. I hope to be able to build upon it.








Wilbon on sports writing today: Not as much good stuff as there used to be

Second of three parts

Michael Wilbon repeatedly stressed he isn’t looking to pass judgment or that he longs for another era.

“I don’t want to sound like some grumpy old man telling you to get off my lawn,” he said.

Yet Wilbon’s role as editor of The Best American Sports Writing 2012 confirmed what he already knew.

“There’s not as much good stuff being written as there used to be,” said the former Washington Post columnist.

Make no mistake, he said, he found plenty of good stuff in the book. Make that, tremendous stuff. As I wrote Sunday, there are several stories in the book that will stand the test of time in any era. It is a great reminder of what sports writing still can produce.

Wilbon, though, laments that the volume simply isn’t the same. He says the impact of social media and the post-it-first mentality of sports websites have altered the craft. It’s all about information, and less about style and quality, he said.

“Tony Kornheiser likes to say, ‘This is the golden age for sportswriters,'” Wilbon said. “‘He said, ‘Don’t confuse that with the golden age for sports writing.'”

Here’s my Q/A with Wilbon on sports writing, 2012:

Why did you want to edit the book?

I don’t get to write as much anymore, so I wanted to be connected to it in that way. I wanted to look where we are now and assess where it’s going.

It was interesting. People don’t write takeouts and profiles anymore. There’s a few, but that used to be a staple of sports journalism. It’s not a driving force now. It’s all news and information driven now. It’s all this metrics and stuff I don’t give a shit about. I’m not saying it was better 30 years ago. It’s just different.

But you have profile pieces in the book.

Yes, but I went out of my way because I thought they were really good. I wanted a good mix of stories. There’s some columns, some shorter stories, issue and enterprise pieces. There’s a writing and awareness of where we are as a culture.

Oh my God, the hockey piece (John Branch, “Punched out: The life and death of a hockey enforcer,” New York Times) stands out among the best sports writing I’ve ever seen. I had bets with myself. ‘What’s going to be better than this?’ Nothing. It’s a stunning, stunning piece of work. There were a couple along those lines.

How did a story pass the test and get into the book?

Good question. Did I find it compelling? Did I not put it down? If the phone rang, will I answer it or not? What I like is so varied. What’s going to hold my interest is not uniform. I want to feel compelled. I want to feel something.

What was your overall impression from editing the book?

There’s not as much good stuff as there used to be. Don’t get me wrong. I turned down some good pieces. But I know what it used to be. There’s not enough stuff that compels me. The volume (of quality writing) is not close.

We’re all chasing the same story. Most of it I don’t care about. Where’s LeBron going? Even the great writers aren’t as great as they used to be. They’re smarter. They may be good reporters. They may get information we care about, but they’re not as good at writing. I’m not as great as I used to be. You’re too busy trying to get it posted before Yahoo! does. It’s all a rush to get it posted, to be first.

That’s why Grantland is important. There’s a void. People don’t do (the longer stories). They don’t read anymore.

I don’t want to sound like the old man with the rolled up newspaper saying, ‘Get off the lawn.’ But it’s the truth. If people want to get mad at me for saying that, they can.

Weren’t they saying the same thing in the 80s when you were coming up at the Post? Didn’t the veterans talk about how good things were back in the glory days of Red Smith and Grantland Rice?

Listen, there’s still good sports writing. Great sports writing. But is there as much of it as there was 30 years ago? No, not in my opinion. Who’s the Frank Deford out there now? Leigh Montville? Dave Kindred? Our Ralph Wiley? Is there anybody out there writing a column like Tony Kornheiser did 20 years ago? Is the Republic going to fall if nobody can turn a phrase like Barry Lorge did? No, but I like that.

It’s just different. The biggest development: Beat writers don’t watch the game. They’re tweeting. When I was at the Post, I told the beat writers, ‘Would you put that down and watch the game.’ They’re sending the editors the inactives just before kickoff. For what? It’s going to be on TV in two minutes. It’s hard to do all that and then produce great writing.

I’m on the board of (Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism). We changed the whole curriculum because it’s not the same. They don’t write as well. Why is that? They’re taking classes in multi-media. They have to learn how to operate a camera. It’s stuff I didn’t have to do.

You say all that, and yet the book you did could have been as representative of 1989 as 2012.

That’s the best compliment I could get. I wasn’t doing it consciously, but I think I was putting together a book of stories that I care about. It reflects my point of view. It might look like something in 1988, because it’s going to reflect what I believe in.

They asked me to edit this. I chose stories I liked. It’s not edited in the style of a 28-year-old. The book reflects my feelings about what the good journalism is, not somebody else.

Thursday: Wilbon doesn’t have to write anymore, but he does. Why?