When it comes to reporting, it’s all about the Four Bs: build relationships, break stories, show behind the scenes (Hatcher story link) and get the big picture.
Brandon George of The Dallas Morning News, a UT Arlington alumnus who spent much of his time working at The Shorthorn, shared his experience covering the Cowboys and his advice for breaking into the business with Shorthorn staff. Here are some takeaways from his four Bs:
- In the locker room, I say hello to as many players as I can. I build personality folders for different players that reminds me whether they are an introvert/extrovert, what do they like to do. When you strike up a conversation, find a middle ground with them based on what they like or about their children.
- It’s about building trust while also guarding against conflict of interest. Have to report the negative, too. It’s not your job to protect your source. Ethics exist in sports journalism. It’s not easy to write something negative if it’s happened, but it has to be done. If a source does something good, you write that. If a source does something bad, you write that.
- Be fair, balanced and accountable. If I write a negative story, I face the player the next day in the locker room. They’ll have more respect for you than if you don’t. Give them the chance to disagree. Man up. You have to face your sources. Always keep your distance so that you don’t put yourself in a conflict of interest.
- Wives and girlfriends of athletes make great sources. Don’t discount anyone. Be respectful.
- It will be rare that you get something in print that hasn’t been reported somewhere before. There’s constant pressure to break stories. People will remember you more when you break news that isn’t correct – that’s not good. Correct, not first. Urgency matters, though.
- FOIs and open records: You need to know them regardless of your beat. You can find out remarkable stats that make real stories. Do random background checks on players. Get it before others do.
Show behind the scenes
- Give people something they can’t get on the ESPN screens. Have your ears open, pay attention to the details. Look in open lockers, on desks, keep your eyes wide open, etc.
- Be ready to change on a dime – that could mean ripping up a story when you get a new interview that goes another direction. Or if you notice something that shifts the direction of your story. Don’t be lazy – your eyes must always be open.
Get the big picture.
- Think beyond the field, into homes and what these sources go through. Think trends and features. I keep a book of plays I chart to spot plays (where a sack happened, when in the game, etc.). It can be time consuming but it’s so important, especially on deadline. Think about anniversaries, timelines on things, etc.
- It’s not unusual to turn a story in 30 minutes or 40 minutes. I had to do one in 10. Sports writing is similar to other writing. Have a base in newswriting. Things I learned covering meetings, fires, crime, etc., help me now.
- You have to do things that distinguish your work from others. (He pointed out that his coverage of the Movin’ Mavs helped get him a job because it is unique to what everyone else vying for a job was including in their clip packages.)
- Get practice; be versatile now while you are in college. Work at The Shorthorn.