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Vol. 57, No. 3 • February 2020 • .pdf version
Worthy discussion: analytics' place in sports writing, USBWA
By MALCOLM MORAN
Who are we?
I usually try to avoid existential questions, particularly after an unfortunate experience at Fordham University when a strong performance in intro philosophy led me to decide I should take on a 300-level course as a freshman.
For an entire nightmarish semester, I felt as if I was riding the Moscow subway. People were talking all around, but I had no idea what anyone was saying. But I digress.
An existential question for our organization has become an important conversation. Because more and more of our industry, fueled by emerging technologies, has started to appear unrecognizable when compared with the model many of us once knew.
That evolution has already inspired a discussion that could expand our membership, tap into new forms of communication, and determine how we identify and honor outstanding work.
Brendan Quinn of The Athletic, the District V representative, crystallized the discussion in a recent email exchange of board members.
"Analytics-driven writing is a massive, growing, unavoidable field," Quinn wrote. "It is not a matter of nerds and geeks. The general public is increasingly wanting tangible evidence of player and coach performances, over narrative-driven opinion. It's worthwhile for this organization to advance and embrace it and encourage these media members to be active members. IMO, analytics are analytics, and journalism is journalism, but basketball writing is basketball writing."
The immediate question is how we should determine the most effective way to encourage new forms of communication to come under our tent. The question can become complicated when carefully produced, high-quality work creates a growing audience while exhibiting little connection to our traditional core responsibilities of reporting and writing.
About a quarter century ago, the discussion was about how to handle bloggers, remember? What if they don't belong to mainstream organizations? How do we evaluate their level of professionalism? How do we decide if they should become members?
While newspaper industry economics have led to a radical and too-often-painful contraction, technology has created possibilities.
So, who are we?
The question is not so simple.
What if that communicator's work does not require any interviews?
What if it does not require obtaining a credential and appearing in a gym, arena or stadium?
Is the work close enough to what we have traditionally done to expand our scope?
Can we provide the level of service and support that would make membership worthwhile?
Should we consider creating an award for communication driven by analytics?
"The primary goal of the USBWA has remained constant since its inception: to serve the interests of journalists who cover college basketball," our mission statement reads.
As the definition of journalism continues to change, our responsibility as an organization is to make sure we are responsive. So let's have that conversation. Please reach out to your district representative, or one of the officers, or to me. Please share your ideas. A collective vision can give us the best possible chance of producing the smartest way to proceed.
I can remember when established freelance journalists that were assigned by a news organization were denied Final Four credentials because they were freelance journalists. That discussion seems silly now. Ten years from now, or 20 or more, how will we look back on this discussion?
Malcolm Moran is Executive Director of the USBWA and Director of the Sports Capital Journalism Program at IUPUI.
Lodge Notes: Teel, Markus, Miller leave jobs after 30 years
Three USBWA members with a combined century of experience at Virginia and Maryland newspapers resigned newspapers within days of each other.
David Teel, a recent USBWA president and Hall of Fame inductee, announced on Feb. 7 his departure after 36 years at the Newport News Daily Press, though he plans to continue in the business.
"There are more stories to tell, more issues to examine, and I hope to remain in the fray," he wrote. "Whether and when that happens is uncertain and, full disclosure, a little scary."
Teel, a 13-time Virginia sports writer of the year, also was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.
Don Markus also announced on Feb. 7 that he was taking a buyout after 35 years at the Baltimore Sun. Markus, a longtime Maryland beat writer, wrote that also plans to "continue my three careers of writing, teaching and playing basketball." Markus has taught sports journalism at American University since 2005.
Ed Miller also announced on Feb. 6 his resignation from the Virginia-Pilot, where he had worked for nearly 30 years, most recently covering Old Dominion.
Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader, a 2005 inductee into the USBWA Hall of Fame who has covered Kentucky basketball for nearly 40 years, was named to the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame.
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