I’ve always believed that one of the journalism educator’s biggest responsibilities — in addition to teaching students how to report, write and edit — is to give them a sense of the realities of the business.
Not that learning how to write leads from a fact sheet isn’t important. But I believe that the exposure I give them to real-life reporting situations is just as significant to them.
That’s one of the reasons I love to teach Sports Reporting. It’s a class that allows me to take advantage of connections I’ve made in my media work in Charlotte to arrange off-campus experiences to cover professional sports events and gatherings of sports media people in Charlotte. (“Field trips” sounds so sixth grade.)
I took some of them to a Charlotte Hornets NBA game against the Memphis Grizzlies last week at the Spectrum Center for a taste of covering professional basketball. Here’s our group in the media interview room before the game.
The Hornets very generously provided us not only with seats in the secondary media area, but we got access to nearly everything a fully-credential member of the media would. We arrived too late for Charlotte coach Steve Clifford’s 5:15 p.m. pre-game media availability, but were able to have an informative conversation with one of the Charlotte Observer’s Hornets beat reporters, Brendan Marks. Here’s our group listening attentively as Brendan describes a typical game day.
(It’s nice when the working media guys back up all the points that you’ve been trying to get across all semester. I try to emphasize that the experience of a reporter covering the game is far different from the experience of the average fan, including showing up to work a couple of hours before the game starts. To their credit, they’ve especially taken to heart the “no cheering in the press box” dictum.)
I like to have the journalists who talk to my students describe their career paths, something that I think is particularly valuable to students who are planning theirs. I think it’s always helpful for them to see that the route to where they want to go isn’t always a straight line. Brendan, a Raleigh native and a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill a few years ago, started his career at Sports Illustrated in New York after doing an internship there as an undergraduate. He decided that he would rather work closer to home and joined the Observer staff last fall.
Even the pre-game meal in the media dining room provided some educational experiences. Thanks to veteran area journalists Brett McMillan and Steve Goldberg for talking briefly with the group and adding their insights.
We go to the seating chart pictured below in the media workroom and find our seats. I’m sure that most journalists who cover professional sports regularly don’t think twice about this, but I guess I’ve always viewed this as proof I belong to the brotherhood or sisterhood of scribes — or something like that. Anyway, that’s us from Wingate at the bottom of the middle column.
And what about the game? I honestly didn’t expect much from a meeting between two teams destined for this summer’s NBA lottery who were each playing the second game of a back-to-back, sports talk for games on consecutive days.
That expectation was largely met with a 140-79 rout of the godawful Grizzlies by Charlotte. The win improved Charlotte to 32-41 on the season. Memphis (19-53) lost for the 22nd time in their last 23 games. I remember saying something like “worst NBA team I’ve ever seen in person” to the students. In fairness, they were missing most of the players whom the casual NBA fan might have heard of.
But — and here was another good journalism lesson — there were still some good story angles, despite the fact that the game was essentially over after the first quarter. The win was the biggest margin of victory for the Hornets over anyone ever, and only five games in NBA history have been bigger routs. Charlotte missed by one point tying the franchise record for most points in a single game.
And then there was Hornets guard Kemba Walker, who scored 46 points, 35 of them in the first half, and hit 10 three-pointers in one of the best individual Charlotte performances of the season. And that was in only 28 minutes of play. He sat out the fourth quarter and the last couple minutes of the third.
Charlotte had benefitted from another outstanding individual effort in the previous night’s game — 32 points and 30 rebounds from forward Dwight Howard in a Hornets’ win at Brooklyn. He had to sit out this game on a one-game suspension for drawing his 16th technical foul of the season, one over the league’s bad behavior limit.
“Two nights in a row, it’s been fun,” Hornets coach Clifford said. “I mean what Dwight did last night and what Kemba did tonight was just fun to watch. It’s deserving for both guys.”
That quote was from Clifford’s post-game news conference, and that was pretty much it for our evening. The Hornets had let us know that we wouldn’t be able under team policies about student visitors to do the post-game locker room routine — an overrated experience sometimes, in my opinion, though I would have liked for them to talk to the players.
But as one of my media colleagues suggested, it would have been instructive to have them go into the Grizzlies’ locker room. The losing team’s emotions are more real and closer to the surface, I’ve always felt.
Still, it was a good night for the Hornets at the end of another dreary season, and a good night for education, too.