A Q&A with Daniel Roberts of Yahoo Finance on covering sports media, the cuts at ESPN and the “daily hamster wheel” of journalism

Every week we will run a Q&A with a wonderful reporter to talk about what’s right and wrong with journalism, their interests and random other stuff. Some are friends. Some are just people whose work we really respect. Some cover sports. Some don’t. Hopefully all will be interesting.

This week, it’s with Daniel Roberts, a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Daniel writes about a bunch of different industries, but he has done particularly great work on sports business and media and technology. Here, we discuss with him how he wound up covering sports business, what it’s like to cover layoffs and his thoughts on the recent cuts at ESPN. Daniel has fascinating insights into the world of journalism that I have no doubt you’ll want to read.

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The questions are in bold. The answers are not.

1. We start all our Q&As in the same way—at the beginning. So: How did you break into journalism, and what led you to where you are now?

This is what I wanted to do from as early as middle school, which sounds extremely lame and sentimental but is the truth. I wanted to write feature stories for a print magazine. So after Middlebury I went straight to J-school at Columbia. (Boring, and I don’t recommend J-school to younger people when they ask me advice, because of the prohibitive cost and debt, but 2009 was a bad job-market year, and it did work out well for me.) From there, my first job was at the Bronx Times Reporter, a hyperlocal paper in the Bronx that was owned by News Corp.; our stories ran online at the New York Post website. From there, I went to Fortune Magazine, was there for more than five years, and then jumped to Yahoo Finance in 2016.

2. Before you came to Yahoo you managed Fortune’s 40 Under 40 franchise. It’s always a wonder to me how a series like that comes about. Doing it once seems hard and political, let alone doing it annually. What is it like to put one of those together? How much politics is involved? How much are you being lobbied by people who want to be on it?

The entrepreneurs and executives themselves don’t lobby, but their PR/comms people do—relentlessly. Unlike numbers-based lists like the Forbes 40 Under 40, or the Fortune “Best Companies to Work For,” which is led by an outside firm, the 40 Under 40 was an editorial product, meaning subjective, and that was both freeing and stressful. Our decisions were rooted somewhat in numbers like revenue, employee base and number of users, but also in hard-to-quantify judgments about buzz and potential. Many of the businesspeople that made the list were founders, and their startups were still new and rising and certainly not profitable yet, so it wasn’t always easy to determine whether they belonged, and if so, where they should rank. It made for lots of juicy debates among the Fortune staff. (Perhaps that’s all a long way of saying: Yes, of course the process was political, but we tried our best to also keep it fair, defensible, etc.)

3. What is covering the sports-media landscape like at this time? It seems like no company is really too sure about its business model—it’s all mostly a best guess, rather than concrete. Do you find the execs to be realistic or optimistic or pessimistic? And how do you find those execs to be different from those you’ve covered in other areas?

I think sports media faces the same problems the rest of the media faces—news as a commodity that everyone has, cord-cutting, proliferation of short bite-sized clips on social media (I mean both text stories/summaries/aggregations and video clips, like those text-on-screen horrors). It is not a pretty business right now. And the execs all acknowledge that, but they all also believe (surprise!) that their outlet or publication or digital media business is the one place that gets it and will somehow magically float above it all. But the reality is that whether it’s a legacy print title like Sports Illustrated or a digital brand like BuzzFeed, everyone is in the same boat. The only answer, I think, is to constantly adapt and evolve. No strategy is permanent.

4. What is it like to report on media at a time when no job is safe? Does it ever feel a little too meta? Every time I see a story about another round of layoffs somewhere, all I think is that it’s not me this time. How do you feel as you write about the growth, machinations and, let’s be frank, preservation attempts of your own industry?

Man, writing layoff stories sucks. There’s the tiny thrill of a scoop when you have one, but the sad reality is that the information you’re reporting will be received as another new cause for dismay. I’ve had this feeling with recent stories about cuts at Time Inc., ESPN and others. (Another realization you have when you write those stories is you discover it’s really only fellow media people that care and read media stories, unless it’s a big, big company.) That being said, it’s not the case that layoffs or cuts somewhere necessarily signals a major failure or disaster at that business. Companies sometimes make cuts and add new people in the very same month. It’s just the ups and downs of this (bad) business, for now, as consumers continue to settle into how they consume news and content.

5.  As we talk about layoffs, it’s impossible to ignore the big news in sports media right now: the massive cuts at ESPN. What did you make of what happened, and what does it say about sports media moving forward? In 2017, can a “Worldwide Leader” really exist?

ESPN is facing major headwinds, but it’s not going away anytime soon. It blows my mind how every single time we write about ESPN now, you get the comments and tweets from people screaming that they WENT LIBERAL and THAT’S WHAT THEY GET and so on. Even if you do think ESPN got too political in the last few years, it’s a misunderstanding of the business to say that’s why ESPN profits are down. People don’t (can’t, really) call their cable provider saying they want to cancel just one channel. ESPN’s problem is skyrocketing rights fees. Anyway, layoffs happen; this round was more scrutinized and felt more harrowing because it was people that viewers recognize, but ESPN has had far larger layoff rounds twice in the past five years. It has to adjust but still has time to do it. And laugh if you want, but yep, as far as I’m concerned ESPN still earns the title of ‘Worldwide Leader’ in sports television. (But in 10 years, will anyone watch traditional television?)

6. You recently wrote a pretty epic story about the messy dealings of Chat Sports and the seedy side of sports media business. How did you hear about that, and how did that story come about?

I was lucky enough to get a tip from someone who knew about the situation there, and that speaks to cultivating sources and relationships and carving out a body of work in a certain beat. The person reached out to me and gave me one version of the story, but as is often the case, once you really dive down the rabbit hole and start reporting and filling in gaps, you learn more and discover some things that might paint a different picture from the one you got from your original source. Suffice it to say, yes, that was a fun one, but also depressing in some ways, and it’s understandable why it incited such a response from sports media folks. Once one of the subjects of the story sent me an email in which he impersonated me (but, he insisted, just to show me what he was accusing someone else of doing… uhhhh), I knew I had something zesty on my hands.

7. What led you to covering sports business? Did you view yourself as a business reporter who wound up in sports, or a sports reporter who wound up in business? How important is it to be a sports fan to cover sports as an industry?

I get asked that a lot, and the better answer is neither: I’d say I was a sports fan who wound up as a business reporter and pursued sports-related business stories. I never followed business deeply before I went to Fortune and never would have predicted I’d cover business. But I also believe that once people have the basic foundation of reporting skills–knowing how to pick up the phone and call people, quickly email potential sources or officials, do some deep googling, etc.–most reporters can adapt to any beat. And while it’s great to build up some cred in a beat and have an area of passion, it’s also important to be versatile and broad (I also cover a lot of tech, for example).    

8. What, if anything, would you change about how the business of media is covered at this time?

I just want more outlets to do it. You can count on two hands (okay, maybe three hands) the number of great, prominent media reporters, and that’s weird. Publications should make media reporting a valued area, but instead, many of them are doing the opposite, cutting back on it (e.g. Politico recently), because it doesn’t always click.

9. You have an entry on your blog about going to hear Salman Rushdie speak. He gives out a salient piece of advice for writers. I’m not going to run the whole quote, but this part intrigued you and now me: “There are enough books in the world…If you’re going to add to that mountain, it better feel necessary to you. It better feel like a book that you can’t avoid writing.” I love that sentiment, and I get what he’s saying for authors, but what interests me is what you think about it in terms of modern digital media. Can that same zealous approach work for the writer working today that must create #content and endless oodles of words to fill the ad space? There are mountains of posts and stories out there, and we always need more. For those that got into journalism or have stayed in it for the writing and reporting, how should they go about working in a job where selectivity and prudence is best, but asks for much more?

Great of you to notice that, and I’m sure you’re the first person to visit my blog in months. (Side note: I used to love blogging, but with the daily hamster wheel it’s hard to find the time, right? And these days, when journos do blog, they tend to do it at Medium, or they have a Tiny Letter newsletter; fewer, I feel like, are posting to a WordPress or Tumblr site. No time.) Yes, I am constantly conscious of striking a balance between doing short, newsy posts that have news value but probably are stale by tomorrow, and working on longer stories that might take a couple weeks and require reporting and interviews, but will, you hope, have a little bit longer shelf life. That’s the condition of the internet journalist, right? I’m very lucky that Yahoo Finance lets me do both. I’m well aware not all web sites are like that, but I also think that some of them do too much of the longform and give the writers too long a leash, which won’t help them if, god forbid, they end up in the job market again and have never been somewhere that required them to write quickly on a same-day news deadline.

I do think the hamster-wheel issue particularly plagues online sports media lately. Every day there’s a new viral story about a LaVar Ball comment, or a Joel Embiid Instagram post, or a Mets fan’s viral rant about the subway shutting down, and Every. Single. Sports. Site. does a post on it. And sure, they have to–some editor is cracking the whip, saying, “Hurry up, get it online, everyone is talking about this!” But it’s just a click game, and it feels pretty empty.

I did a tweet about this once and used a dumb Gronk story (him laughing at the number 69), but you could easily do one of these every day about any story you choose, but for whatever reason, the tweet got a lot of attention:

And while many of the replies were the equivalent of an eye-roll, i.e. agreeing with my implied point, some of the replies were kind of salty, from people thinking I was disparaging the writers that write these posts, etc. And I wasn’t trying to do that, but I do think there is something depressing about this daily game now where every single site writes the same post and the only difference is what headline they go with, and there has to be a better way to cover sports news online. Right?

10. You’re a Boston guy who moved to NYC. How do you compare the food scenes, and who has the better Italian food?

Ooooh, good question. I’d have to say New York (especially Brooklyn) has better food than Boston, including better pizza and pasta (uh oh), but no one–no one!–has better seafood than Massachusetts. Let me shout out the lobster rolls at Captain Frosty’s on the Cape.

In Cobble Hill, where I live, right around me there’s a slew of reliable spots I can recommend: Henry Public, Mooburger, Ghang, Joya, Hibino, Colonie, to name some of my picks. Enjoy. You can find me at Pedlar (coffee) or at Angry Wade’s (beer, popcorn, darts).

This was fun, thanks. Keep reading and supporting good work online, everybody!

A Q&A with Mike Sielski of the Philadelphia Inquirer on the role of a columnist, trolling on Twitter and running shirtless in the rain

Every week we will run a Q&A with a wonderful reporter to talk about what’s right and wrong with journalism, their interests and random other stuff. Some are friends. Some are just people whose work we really respect. Some cover sports. Some don’t. Hopefully all will be interesting.

This week, it’s with Mike Sielski, a sports columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Mike is a former colleague of Jared’s at The Wall Street Journal who went on to bigger and better things in Philly. He’s one of the smartest, funniest, most insightful sports columnists around, which makes him a perfect guest. Here, we discuss the future of the local sports columnist, his transition from the Journal to the Inquirer and some of his best and most memorable pieces.

If you want this Q&A delivered in your inbox every week and before everyone else, sign up for the -30- newsletter here and get the scoop. Or get it on Facebook and give us a like!

The questions are in bold. The answers are not.

1. We start all our Q&As in the same way–at the beginning. So: How did you break into journalism, and what led you to where you are now?

As a kid, I loved watching sports, reading about sports, and playing sports, and I always felt in my bones that my career would end up being in sports media. I worked on my high-school paper and wrote a monthly column for our local weekly, but I didn’t fall in love with writing and journalism until I was well into college at La Salle University. I started writing for the student paper as a freshman but didn’t enjoy it all that much. It seemed a chore at a time when I was trying to adjust to a new environment, take care of my studies, build a social life, etc. My second semester, I decided to pledge a fraternity. Figuring I wouldn’t have much spare time, I thought about quitting the paper. I didn’t have the chance.

One day, the sports editor asked to meet with me. He said he was quitting the paper and wanted me to take over as sports editor. I told him I wasn’t all that interested. He rolled his eyes. “Come on,” he said. “You’re the fourth person I’ve asked already!” Four people before moi? I immediately changed my mind and told him I’d take the job. My 18-year-old ego was bruised, and I was gonna show him.

There was one moment that crystallized where I was headed, where my heart was. My sophomore year, I was editing the sports section, writing a weekly column, and covering the women’s basketball beat. On a Sunday afternoon, La Salle’s women’s team crushed Notre Dame, a big upset. I was there, and I had a number of friends who played on the team, and I thought, Man, this was exciting and interesting, and I’m happy for my friends, and I want to capture what this game was really like. For the first time, I treated one of my articles like I treated all my academic assignments. I bled over the story like I bleed over my columns now. And when the piece came out, I received more positive feedback on it than I had on any of my previous stories. I had approached the article differently, more seriously, and people picked up on the difference. That was it. I was hooked.

I came across an edition of The Best American Sports Writing in a bookstore, bought it, and kept buying the latest edition year after year, reading the stories to see how the writers had reported and crafted them. I met Bill Lyon, the lead sports columnist at The Philadelphia Inquirer, whom I’d grown up reading and admiring, and he helped get me a job as a stringer covering high-school football for the paper. I wrote letters to every newspaper in the Philadelphia area, from Trenton to Wilmington, and got a summer internship at The Intelligencer, one of the two papers in Bucks County, Pa., not far from where I lived. I got into Columbia University’s grad program for journalism and decided that it was worth thousands of dollars in student loans to go to New York and learn how to report and write in that environment, with those peers and instructors. When I graduated from Columbia, The Intelligencer hired me as a full-time sportswriter—box scores over the phone, football on Friday nights, stats you kept yourself by scribbling in pencil on a legal pad (because pencils don’t smear in the rain or have ink that freezes in the cold). I was on my way.

2. One aspect of your career path in particular interests me. You left a job as a national sports reporter at The Wall Street Journal to become a sports columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer, essentially going from a smaller position at a larger publication to taking a more prominent position at a more local outlet. How did you weigh that when you decided to make the jump? What is it about being a local columnist that appeals to you? What do you miss about the national gig?

Being an Inquirer sports columnist had been my dream job since college, but I had pretty much put the possibility out of my mind. I enjoyed working at The Journal, covering the New York Jets and the National Hockey League. I loved working in the New York market. When my friend Phil Sheridan, who was one of The Inquirer’s lead sports columnists, decided to leave the paper to take a job with ESPN, I called him, talked about his decision with him, and congratulated him. Given the gloomy economics of newspapers—this was the late summer of 2013—I never considered that The Inquirer would hire someone to replace Phil. I didn’t bother applying for the opening because I assumed there would be no opening. Two weeks later, John Quinn, The Inquirer’s sports editor at the time, called me and asked if I wanted to interview. A few days after our interview, John called again and offered me the job.

There wasn’t much weighing. Don’t get me wrong: I would have stayed at The Journal as long as it would have had me, and the things I miss most about working there are easy to identify. 1) The people there are incredibly talented and smart and diligent, and I made great, lifelong friends there and within the New York sports-media market. 2) Working in New York is a thrill—the competitiveness, the sense that you’re at the center of everything. 3) One of my favorite movie lines is delivered by Al Pacino in The Insider: I’m Lowell Bergman, and I’m from ‘60 Minutes.’ You know, you take the ‘60 Minutes’ out of that sentence, nobody returns your phone call.” I felt the same way every day at The Journal.

Still, it’s not every day that someone offers you your dream job. At The Inquirer, I have freedom—in topics, in tone, in style—that being a sports reporter at The Journal just didn’t afford me, and I know Philadelphia sports: the history, the mindset of the fan base, the kinds of stories that play here. Specialization is coin of the realm these days, and I think that applies to a local sports columnist, too. It’s one of the reasons Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post is so great; nobody knows and understands the entire New York sports scene better. He’s an expert, and The Post needs an expert in that role. The Journal, with a few exceptions, is an editor-driven place, and while its sports coverage has been in many regards imaginative and innovative, The Wall Street Journal doesn’t need to cover sports. The Philadelphia Inquirer does. Sports matters more in Philadelphia, to The Inquirer, than it does to The Journal. Plus, the columnist gig made life easier for me and my family. It was closer to home (we live in Bucks County), and it was more money. I couldn’t say no.

3. You have a lot of haters. There’s nothing wrong with that. You wouldn’t be doing your job as a columnist if you didn’t! But being on the receiving end of all that on social-media hate, what’s it like? How do you keep the crazies from getting to you? And how did you develop your Twitter persona, which often results in you snarking back at the trolls? It’s somewhere between satire and reality.

The really nasty and vile emails and posts that come my way bother my wife and my father, I think, more than they bother me. They’re just words, and until someone starts egging my house or sending me death threats or becoming a bona fide threat to my precious bodily fluids (that one was for all you fellow Kubrick fans out there), I’ll do my best to laugh them off. At The Wall Street Journal, I got emails like “Is Rex Ryan related to Paul Ryan?” A week after I started at The Inquirer, I wrote a column that was critical of the Flyers, and within 10 minutes of the column’s appearance on Philly.com, I got an email from a reader who wished that someone would defecate on my chest. I knew I was home again.

My Twitter persona is snarkier than I would like it to be; it’s something I’m trying to work on. Too many times, I respond to readers (or people who clearly haven’t read my columns but have an opinion of them anyway) in a manner that makes me look like a know-it-all or a snob or a jerk, and I don’t mean to come off that way. Often, I’m just chop-busting my friends and colleagues. Usually, I’m making my lame “My column:” joke, in which I post an outrageous statement (or what I think is an outrageous statement), add the “My column:” tagline without a link, and stand back to watch how many people get fired up over something I haven’t actually written. Most of the time, I try to deflect the insults with humor. I believe self-deprecation reveals character. It shows that you don’t take yourself too seriously, that you can laugh at yourself, and it’s a nifty judo move to deploy whenever someone starts throwing 140-character haymakers at you. It gives them nowhere to go.

I’d be lying if I said the criticism and craziness didn’t get to me at times, if only because I try as hard as I can to do my job well and wish (selfishly) every single reader or social-media user understood and at least pretended to respect that. Though, obviously, I often write columns that aren’t gems, I don’t mail in any pieces. I do the work. I make phone calls. I talk to people. I think before I write. I don’t take positions that I don’t believe or know not to be true just to gin up controversy or have a “hot take.” I understand, I guess, that many people won’t separate my work from the jokes I make on Twitter. But so much of Twitter is just noise and junk and so many people who follow Philadelphia sports take things so seriously that it’s hard to resist having a little fun with them.

4. When I think “Mike Sielski,” I immediately think of many of the weird, wacky, hilarious stories you’ve written. One classic that comes to mind is when you talked to a zoologist about the football Wildcat formation. What is the inspiration behind those ideas? In a sports media landscape filled with tons of self-important work and blazing takes, how important is it to point out the absurdity of sports? How do you decide what’s too far? Is running in the rain shirtless like Tebow too far?

First, thanks for saying those stories were “hilarious.” I’ve been fortunate to work with two of the funniest sports columnists (and writers) in America, Jason Gay and Bob Ford. It’s tough to write funny, and I appreciate the kind words.

I suspect you think of the Wildcat story and others like it because I did more of those pieces when I was working at The Journal, particularly while Mike and I were covering the Jets. I mean, I spent a year covering the Mets and a year-and-a-half covering the Jets—including Tim Tebow’s entire tenure with the team—and if you can’t point out the absurdity of sports in those situations, you had better find another way to earn a living. And The Journal’s editors and readers loved those sorts of pieces, in part because most of them viewed pro sports as a diversion, a respite from the heavy financial, political, and foreign news that they were consuming in the rest of the paper and on WSJ.com.

Philly is different. Those stories were, at their core, silly, and there isn’t much room for silliness in the coverage of Philadelphia sports. Too much of the region’s collective cultural identity is tied to the success and (more often) failure of the local teams. If you laugh at Philadelphia sports, Philadelphians think you’re laughing at them, and they don’t take kindly to that. Around here, I can tackle the absurdity of sports better on Twitter than in an actual column.

As for the Tebow-style run, here’s the true story behind that: One day during the Jets’ 2012 training camp at SUNY-Cortland, Tebow was signing autographs after practice. It started to rain. By the time he finished signing, he was soaked, and with the entire media contingent looking on, he ripped off his shirt as he jogged off the field. It became a meme, as big or bigger than anything else he did during his time in New York.

A year later, we’re back at Cortland—we the media, not Tebow. The sky opens up again. Sheets of rain, lightning, the works. As the Jets stop practice and everyone starts to dash for shelter, my friend Brian Costello of The New York Post says to me, “I dare you to take off your shirt and do a Tebow.” I remove my credential, hand it to Coz, take off the gray polo shirt I was wearing, and sprint a few hundred yards until I’m underneath the concrete grandstands of the football stadium. I put my shirt back on, but Seth Walder of the Daily News asked me to take it off again so he could get a photo. I agreed to do so only on the condition that he not post the picture online. He said OK, so I took my shirt off just long enough for him to snap the photo, then headed up to the stadium press box to work.

After a few minutes, the photo appeared on Twitter. Seth had forwarded it to his co-worker Manish Mehta, who had posted it online. There was my ghostly paleness, for the world to see. One of my female colleagues approached me later and whispered to me, “You have nothing to be ashamed of.” I still don’t know if she meant it as a compliment or said it out of pity.

5. In your current job, you don’t focus just on one sport. You’re expected to be something of an authority on four professional teams and a bunch of colleges. How difficult is it to juggle all of that and stay up to date on so much? How do you go about doing that and building sources across an entire city and network of sports?

The same way you do it when you cover a single team or sport as a beat writer: You do your homework. You show up. You talk to people. When you talk to people, you try to ask thoughtful questions that make it clear you’re looking for more than a sound bite or a quote to fit into an empty space in your column. You make calls. You rely on the beat writers you work with—and we have terrific ones—for background. The notion that columnists don’t have to report, that they can write or opine from a pose of omniscience, as if God has touched them and bestowed them with insight that no other mortals possess, is ridiculous to me, especially now that everyone’s work is available online for everyone to see. You can tell who doesn’t do their homework. I don’t want to be someone like that.

Now, having said that, reporting/writing as a columnist and reporting/writing as a beat writer aren’t the same thing. As a beat writer, you have to get close to people who can give you information. At times, you have to protect them. As a columnist, I don’t want to protect or get too close to anyone. I have and have had good relationships with players, coaches, and executives, but when I criticize them, I try to be as up-front and honest as possible about why I’m doing it. Generally, they understand and respect that, especially if they see that you’re putting in the work.

6. What is the definition and value of access nowadays? You’ve said a smart rule for you is to go where the cameras aren’t. But access is also often used to give us insider-y type news and abused to write fluffy profiles. What is the right purpose and use of access?

First things first: I think we have to establish a definition of what we mean by “access.” There’s “access” in which a TV reporter gets a 30-second “exclusive” with an athlete, sticks a microphone in the athlete’s face, and asks, “How awesome is it to be so awesome?” There’s “access” in which sportswriters stand around a locker room or clubhouse, wait for athletes to show up, collect quotes, transcribe the quotes, and file a story that doesn’t reveal anything new or interesting. Then there’s “access” in which you take advantage of being around your subjects: talking to them, getting to know them a little, watching them, observing them, noticing details, understanding them and their day-to-day culture.

The purpose of access should be to let readers, fans, etc., know what it really going on with the particular franchises, teams, and people you cover—to give them a palpable sense of what it’s like to be there. I like people, as Harvey Araton once put it, to “walk around” in my columns. I like to see things, pick up on actions, facial gestures, dialogue, and let those observations and tools do the work for me. It’s the whole “Show, don’t tell” cliché, but it’s true.

When I said, “Go where the cameras aren’t,” I’m pretty sure it was in reference to a column I wrote on Thanksgiving 2014 about Mark Sanchez and his dad, Nick. Sanchez had a terrific game that day for the Eagles against the Cowboys—two years after he’d become a national embarrassment on Thanksgiving night for the “butt-fumble”—and I was there, in Arlington, to see him redeem himself. More, I had met Nick while covering the Jets. I could have written “Hey, Mark Sanchez had a great game in a big win for the Eagles” from my couch in between bites of turkey and stuffing. But I was there, and I had resources at my disposal that “access” had afforded me. If I hadn’t used them, The Inquirer would have wasted several hundred dollars on my plane ticket, rental car, and hotel room.

Here’s the thing: I definitely don’t think a media member or sportswriter needs “access” to produce excellent work. But if you have access, you should make damn good use of it.

7. You’ve written about Bill Lyon, a Philly sportswriting bulwark who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. He is a mentor and friend to you. And you’ve written about your son and autism. Is it difficult to suddenly be invested emotionally in something you write and make your work personal? Did you hesitate about writing about either subject?

I don’t often personalize my columns, for two reasons. One, there’s so much first-person writing on the Internet nowadays, and so much of it is dull and self-indulgent, that I’d rather swim against the tide. Two, I just haven’t led all that interesting a life. So I try to pick my spots.

I had a different approach for each of the two columns you mentioned. For the piece about my son Evan, the juxtaposition of his love (at the time) for the Phillies and the detached perspective I have to maintain while covering them was the key. If Evan was infatuated with snakes and killer whales then (as he is now), I wouldn’t have thought to write a column about him. The Bill Lyon piece was a bit trickier, because even though we’ve known each other for a long time, and even though the arc of our relationship shows what a great and generous man he is, I didn’t want to make the column about me. I considered not including any personal anecdotes at all, but my wife and my parents persuaded me that the piece would have more impact if I personalized it.

The funny part is, once I settled on the approaches and sat down at the laptop, the columns just poured out. It was like I knew the words by heart before I even began writing them.

8. You wrote a little while back about Dan Barbarisi’s book about Daily Fantasy Sports and said it made you think about the type of sports coverage you and we should provide. Have you thought more about this? What kind of coverage should we be providing? Is it journalism? Is it content? Are we in the business of fan service, or do we no longer get to dictate what the audience reads?

I have thought more about it, and I wish I had a better answer than, “There’s room for a little bit of everything.” Obviously, the days of YOU’LL GET YOUR GAME STORIES AND BOX SCORES AND LIKE IT! are all but gone, and I love doing podcasts and talk-shows and all of that stuff. So much of your mission depends on where you work, whom you work for and what you think your audience wants and needs that it’s tough to make any kind of generalization.

I’ll say this: I’m glad that I work at a place and in a role where journalism and independence are still valued. And I hold out hope that the words still matter, that there are people out there who appreciate good writing, good storytelling, and in-depth reporting. At the moment, I’m finishing a draft of a longform piece, one that I’ve been working on for months. It’s really long (probably too long) and really detailed, and its subject has been out of the public eye for a while, and it has nothing to do with any of Philadelphia’s major pro franchises, and I have no idea how many people will read it or even click on the headline. But I think it’s a great story, and I love reading these kinds of pieces when they’re at their best, and so I’m going to trying to write the kind of piece that I like to read. We’ll see.

9. If TV programming is moving away reporting and highlights and being there and prioritizing debate and mindless blathering, what does that mean for the columnist in print and digital? Do you think the professional cachet of columnists has increased? Have you had to change your style at all because of that?

The value of being a general sports columnist, on a national scale, has declined, for the reasons I mentioned earlier about God-bestowed insight. Everyone has an opinion, and most everyone has a medium through which to express it, so why should we listen to what you have to say? The best national columnists these days—Dan Wetzel and Michael Rosenberg, Adrian Wojnarowski on the NBA, Bonnie Ford on the Olympics—make reporting the fulcrum of what they do. Locally, a columnist can build up credibility through his or her knowledge and experience—Vac in New York, Bob Ryan in Boston. I became a columnist for The Bucks County Courier Times in 2003, when I was 28, and I was under no illusions that people were going to care what a 28-year-old had to say about anything. When I got that job, I set out to be the guy who would make the extra phone call, linger a little longer in the locker room, or get an athlete or coach to open up about a sensitive issue. I haven’t changed that approach much, if at all.

I do think that the emphasis on debate and pontification has changed readers’ expectations of and reactions to any column that expresses a strong opinion. If I defend Sam Bradford or note that NBA teams are going to pursue Jay Wright, the default reaction, especially among younger readers, is to assume that I must be chasing clicks or trying to stir things up for the sake of stirring things up. It doesn’t occur to them that I might sincerely believe what I’m writing. Or that there’s tangible truth to support my position. Or—in the case of the Wright column, which I wrote the day before the 2016 national-championship game—that my only priority was to get ahead of a story that would soon become a popular discussion topic anyway.

That Bradford column is a good example of what I was getting at in my answer to your previous question, about approaching things journalistically. Once the Eagles made those two trades to get the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft, there was this wave of excitement among fans and some media about the prospect of Carson Wentz’s arrival, and there seemed an expectation that everyone was supposed to ride the wave—including Sam Bradford, who had just been supplanted as the team’s likely long-term starting quarterback. But if you weren’t rooting for the Eagles, if you took a step back and looked at the situation dispassionately, it was easier to see what was going on.

10. Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think you’ve gotten political on Twitter or in your work. That kind of makes you an outlier. Was there a conscious choice to avoid the politicization of sports journalism — it’s a thing, I’m told — or Inquirer policy? Is there any negligence in not covering the politics of and in sports, or should we still be separating court and state?

It’s a conscious choice. (We do have a company policy on the subject, but I don’t know the particulars of it off the top of my head.) I avoid getting political on Twitter and on Facebook, though, again, we have to define our terms. When I say “I avoid getting political,” I don’t mean that I don’t follow politics closely or have strong political views (I do), and I don’t mean that I avoid writing about topics where sports and politics intersect (I don’t avoid those topics). But I do refrain from posting any support or criticism of politicians and/or hot-button political issues, and I generally don’t insert politically related commentary or asides into my columns. I made a Donald Trump reference once in a column about the Flyers, but it was a reference to his hair, not to Russia or Justice Neil Gorsuch.

My view on this is pretty simple: Not everyone agrees with everyone about everything, and there’s way too much (digital and actual) screaming and yelling and screed-posting about politics nowadays as it is. So if I’m going to risk losing readers because of the positions I take, I’ll risk losing them because of the positions I take on sports, because my job is to take positions on sports. The morning after the presidential election, I appeared on a sports-radio show, and immediately the host asked me what I thought of the election’s outcome, and I said what I believed to be true: that no one listening cared what I thought about the election’s outcome. I was on to talk sports. Let’s talk sports.

If I weigh in on politics because I’m angry or pleased or just feel like weighing in, I figure one of three things could happen, and two of them are unhelpful. 1) A reader who agrees with me politically cheers me on and keeps reading me. 2) A reader who disagrees with me politically either stops reading me or doesn’t enjoy reading me as much. 3) A reader who agrees with me politically but is nonetheless tired of politics bleeding into every aspect of his or her daily existence gets annoyed and, maybe, stops reading me. The point of persuasive writing is to persuade, not to reaffirm your own self-righteousness.

A Q&A with Grace Raynor of the Post and Courier on her quick rise, covering Clemson and the state of journalism as a young writer

Every week we will run a Q&A with a wonderful reporter to talk about what’s right and wrong with journalism, their interests and random other stuff. Some are friends. Some are just people whose work we really respect. Some cover sports. Some don’t. Hopefully all will be interesting.

This week, it’s with Grace Raynor, the Clemson beat writer for Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C. Grace is barely out of school, but at age 23 is already covering a major college athletics program for a daily newspaper, even having the experience of covering the football national championship game. Here, we discuss her quick rise, her experience with the Tigers and her views on the state of journalism as a young writer.

If you want this Q&A delivered in your inbox every week and before everyone else, sign up for the -30- newsletter here and get the scoop. Or get it on Facebook and give us a like!

The questions are in bold. The answers are not.

1. We start all our Q&As in the same way–at the beginning. So: How did you break into journalism, and what led you to where you are now?

I always laugh a little bit on the inside when I get asked this question, because I feel like for many sports writers, they have really cool stories about why they broke into the business. Or they dreamed of growing up to be reporters when they were little kids. My decision to be a sports reporter was pretty nonchalant, if we’re being honest. I grew up in western North Carolina and my dad went to UNC, so like many kids in the state, my childhood involved watching many a Carolina basketball game. When I got to UNC my freshman year, I knew that one day in the next four years I wanted to witness UNC-Duke upclose at both Cameron Indoor Stadium and the Dean Dome. I figured the only way to do that would be to join the student newspaper, so I did.

My first year, I covered volleyball and gymnastics for The Daily Tar Heel and realized I enjoyed the storytelling side of sports writing. I then began to apply to some internships and landed my first one at The Fayetteville Observer, covering a collegiate summer baseball league. From there, the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM) took a chance on me and sent me to MLB.com, where I interned for two summers with the Rangers and Yankees. Now I’m at the Post and Courier covering Clemson. I chose to go to UNC basically because I just wanted to watch good basketball, and it just so happened to lead me down this exciting path in the process. And I got that Duke game my senior year — it even went into overtime!

2. When Mike was a senior in college, a prominent columnist told him to avoid making journalism a career. He told him to go to law school instead (repeatedly). This was in 2009. Things haven’t gotten better since then. But you’re young and just out of school yourself. Obviously, if you received that advice, you ignored it. So what made you believe that sportswriting could still be a viable career for you in spite of those challenges? How often did people — parents, teachers, advisers — try to dissuade you? What was your response?

It’s funny you mention that, because I got that exact same advice about law school when I was a senior. And of course every time I told someone I was going into sports writing, I’d be reminded about the state of newspapers. One time I was in the restroom at a function with my mom, and while we were washing our hands, one of the ladies from our neighborhood told me I needed to get a job waiting tables on the side because she didn’t think I could pay the bills in sports writing. Luckily, the people who are most important in my life — my parents, two brothers, friends, professors, etc. — never, ever discouraged me from going after it because they knew I was passionate about sports writing. What made me think that it could still be a viable career was my belief that people are never going to stop consuming sports news. It’s an escape. There will always be a demand for it, and that’s not changing. The only major thing in my mind that is changing is the medium. Sure, we might get to a point where everything becomes digital
and newspapers are obsolete, but that doesn’t mean the journalists become obsolete, too. It just means perhaps our work will appear on a screen instead of in a paper. We’re still needed.

3. It used to be that growth in journalism meant you went from being a lowly daily or weekly newspaper reporter to being a beat writer to being a columnist, and the best of the best then went to magazines or books. There doesn’t really seem to be a linear model of career advancement anymore. Mike remembers being asked on a job interview what he hoped to be doing in five years, and it’s a hard question to answer because there are many variables to consider. What do you think career growth in journalism is nowadays? What should (and do) young journalists (we’re not even 30, and this makes us sound ancient) strive for in their careers now? TV? Magazines? Just keeping a job through age 50?

Not gonna lie, Jared, this one stumped me! You’re right — it is a hard question to answer, because journalism is changing so quickly and everyone has a different path. I have some friends that started out at a smaller daily paper and paid their dues, like the traditional trajectory. Then, I have other friends who immediately shot up to ESPN or SI or the Washington Post right out of school. In an industry that is rapidly changing, I personally think career growth is simply making sure that whenever you do make a move in the industry, it’s a forward move and not a lateral one. And sometimes that can be hard to do. I think young journalists as a whole still strive for the magazine/long-form journalism path eventually, after spending some time as a beat writer first. I’m biased because I now am a beat writer, but I think every young journalist should at some point spend some time covering a beat. In my opinion it makes you a better reporter when you do decide you want to make the jump to magazines or TV.

4. Lately, there has been a good amount of hullabaloo over the idea of taking unpaid internships in order to make it in the business, something that is extremely common for young writers. Have you ever written for free or considered writing for free? To what extent do you believe writing for free is a necessary evil for people just starting out? How would you advise, say, a classmate who might be considering such a job?

Kudos for using the word hullabaloo in a sentence. That’s amazing. I’ve only written for free once, when I was a sophomore in college, and because it was during the school year, it was not too much of an issue. Had it been a summer internship where I needed to pay rent and bills and such, that would have been a different story. But I was already living in a dorm at UNC, and I only wrote about once a week. I never took an unpaid summer internship when I was in college. I totally understand that often that’s the name of the game to crack into the industry, but I just always felt pretty strongly that if I was going to move to a new city and pay rent there for at least 10 weeks, I wanted to have an income. I also felt like I was providing a valuable service, and that deserved compensation. Thankfully, I interned at wonderful places with awesome people (The Fayetteville
Observer and MLB.com) where pay was not an issue. I think there’s a case to be made that it can be a necessary evil for young journalists, but my philosophy is that if you’re a strong writer, you get to be picky. And no matter where you intern, your clips will speak for themselves. If I was advising a classmate, my advice would be to not work a summer internship for free. Sports writing can be a grind as is, and to be stressed out financially on top of that would be tough. The only circumstance I would have considered doing an internship for free in college would have been if the internship was in my hometown and I could have lived at home for the summer.

5. As the newly named Clemson beat writer for The Post & Courier (congrats!) you’re now covering one of the most important college sports programs in the country and, in Dabo Swinney, a towering college coach. College sports coverage is usually coach-dominant because he’s the one that survives all the turnover and has the most sway in a program. How do you plan to cover Swinney? He is obviously successful and has developed a golden sheen to him, but he has also said some unsavory and wrongheaded things over the last few months.

Thank you! I’m very excited about the Clemson beat and certainly I’m coming in at a time when there’s a lot of stuff happening around here. My hope is that I cover Dabo in the same way that my predecessor, Aaron Brenner (who’s awesome), covered him. Aaron and Dabo seemed to have a very strong working relationship, where there was a mutual
respect. Aaron gave Clemson credit where it was due and wrote some awesome profiles on Dabo’s players. When Clemson made the run to the national title, Aaron documented it nicely. But Dabo also understood Aaron was not a Clemson fan — and there are Clemson fans on the Clemson beat. Aaron asked him the tough questions, covered his comments objectively and challenged him on certain things. I remember an engaging back and forth they once had in a press conference about concussions, and I admired so much how Aaron followed up three and four times until he was satisfied. I hope my relationship with Dabo is similar. What’s unique about him is that because he does have such a huge personality and is so personable, the Clemson beat writers get to form a deeper relationship with him than other beat writers at other schools might with the coaches they cover. I want to use that to my advantage and get to know him. We met recently, and he was very friendly to me. I’m looking forward to seeing how our relationship develops.

6. You recently had an incredible opportunity: to cover Clemson in the football national championship game. I imagine you were one of the youngest professional journalists in the press box that night. What was that experience like as a young reporter? How did you fight off the urge to feel overwhelmed? What do you think you learned from the experience?

Certainly that was a bucket-list moment for me that I’ll never forget. But it’s also so easy to feel overwhelmed in a chaotic situation like that! Obviously with a national title game, it’s going to be televised at prime time, which is great for viewers and horrible for newspaper writers on a deadline. I learned so much that night about the importance of staying calm and really paying attention to details that we as journalists sometimes miss when we’re frantically typing on our keyboards and not watching the game. Obviously that was a game that came down to the last second, and had I not been looking up at the field when Deshaun Watson threw that pass to Hunter Renfrow, I literally would have missed the most important moment of the entire college football season. I have never learned more about attention to detail than I did that night. Viewers already saw the game and the replays, so it was crucial that writers tell them something they didn’t already know. In a situation like that, the postgame locker room scene is so important to take in, because that’s the part viewers don’t get to see. You have to be their eyes and ears, and I learned that firsthand that night. I feel so spoiled, though to have gotten
to cover that game at 23 years old. I will never forget that night.

7. This is cool: You just won an APSE award for feature writing! Awesome! That’s quite an honor. Which story or stories do you think really resonated with the judges, and why? How much do you think being able to say “APSE award-winning sports writer Grace Raynor” will mean or your career? Basically, do these kinds of journalism awards matter?

Thank you, friend! Our college sports editor and columnist, Gene Sapakoff, guided me through the whole process and read countless drafts of the story that eventually won. (He is the bomb). The story I wrote was about minor league pay, which as a baseball writer, I know you understand all too well. That story’s been done a million times, so I wanted mine to be different. As you know, Charleston’s Low-A team is an affiliate of the Yankees. I had a good relationship with the players by the time I wrote that story, so I asked if any of them would go on the record about their financial struggles. Pitcher Sean Carley did. He held nothing back about how he had to be an Uber driver and how he slept on an air mattress to save money instead of buying a bed. He was a dream source and gave me a local angle for a bigger-issue story. I’m so honored APSE liked the story. Obviously I never write a story specifically for an award. I just want to write stories that make people feel and evoke some emotion. But if it happens to win an award, that’s the cherry on top and I’m so appreciative to APSE! I think awards help get our names out there for sure and can only boost a resume. But I don’t think they should be the primary focus when we write.

8. You covered plenty of college sports during your time at the Daily Tar Heel when you were a student at UNC. What are the biggest differences between covering college sports as a student journalist versus as a pro journalist? To what extent do you think athletes view you differently now?

What I loved about being a student journalist was the built-in advantage of also being the athletes’ peers. When I covered UNC basketball, I would see Marcus Paige on a Wednesday night in a locker room and then on Thursday afternoon walking through the journalism school. I just think there’s an extra level of comfort athletes feel around their classmates and around the student newspaper. But I also feel like I’m taken more seriously and respected more now that I’m a professional. I love the position I’m in now because I sort of get the best of both worlds. I’m 23, so I can still very much relate to
college athletes and what it’s like to be in our young 20s, but I also have that extra sense of respect now that I’m no longer a student. I’ve also just learned so much about reporting, now that I’m surrounded by people who have been professional journalists for decades. I have the BEST mentors at the Post and Courier who I could brag about for hours.

9. If you could, what would you change about how college sports are covered?

I think the one thing I would change would be the access. Let it be known, Clemson is very, very good to the media in terms of access. Dabo will talk to us for 45 minutes or so every press conference. We get coordinators and players every time. We can talk to freshmen as soon as they play in a game. But that’s not the case at other programs. Many schools have rules in place that prohibit the media talking to freshmen. Alabama is one of them, meaning Alabama readers went the entire regular season without hearing from the Crimson Tide’s quarterback. That’s bizarre to me. I’m lucky that I landed on a beat that offers so much access. But other beats aren’t like that and I think college coverage as a whole would be way more entertaining if the access plan was a little more consistent among schools. I also think there’s a need for less aggregating and more feature writing. With box scores and play-by-play and TV, readers can get all of their information anywhere, but  features can still be unique.

10. Mike’s made two trips to the Chapel Hill campus and loved it. So this is a three-part question. A) Do they still sell Santa’s Secret from the Carolina Brewery? B) Will you buy some for us and send it up here? C) Give us a tour of the food scene in the ACC and SEC. What do we need to know?

This makes my heart so happy because Chapel Hill is among my favorite places in the world. A.) I’m not sure, but I think so/don’t see why not! So let’s go with yes to please the crowd. B.) Obvi. C.) I know Kansas City gets the reputation for having the best BBQ, yeah yeah, but y’all should definitely check out North Carolina BBQ if you haven’t already. It’s amazing. The best places in the Chapel Hill/Raleigh/Durham area are Bullock’s (family style), Q Shack and The Pit. I see you’ve been to Carolina Brewery, which is a great place to catch a game. Chapel Hill also has an iconic drugstore/food counter called Sutton’s that’s 90-plus years old with amazing burgers. It’s the staple of UNC and for sure you’ve gotta make a trip there. I haven’t explored the SEC too much. When I was in Lexington, Ky., I did hit up this place called Darlin’ Jean’s! That was an experience. And last but not least — you’re going to laugh at me, but go to Bojangles. It’s fast food, but you can’t leave the south without it!

A Q&A with Tommy Tomlinson on picking a profile subject, the process of writing and authoring a memoir

Every week we will run a Q&A with a wonderful reporter to talk about what’s right and wrong with journalism, their interests and random other stuff. Some are friends. Some are just people whose work we really respect. Some cover sports. Some don’t. Hopefully all will be interesting.

This week, it’s with Tommy Tomlinson, who can accurately be described as one of the best writers on the planet. When Tommy writes something, it’s appointment reading. Here, he discusses his process as a writer, how he picks his subjects, the experience of writing a memoir. Plus, he names “the best writer of any kind in America right now.”

If you want this Q&A delivered in your inbox every week and before everyone else, sign up for the -30- newsletter here and get the scoop. Or get it on Facebook and give us a like!

The questions are in bold. The answers are not.

1. We start all our Q&As in the same way–at the beginning. So: How did you break into journalism, and what led you to where you are now?

In a lot of ways I’m the worst storyteller in my family. When we’d get together for family reunions, down where I grew up in Georgia, everybody would sit around after supper and tell jokes and tall tales. As a kid I absorbed it all without even knowing it. My mom and dad were big readers, and when the afternoon paper arrived, everything stopped — we’d split up the sections and read it together. So I learned to love stories and was taught to be curious about the world. That’s ideal training for a journalist.

I learned a ton from Conrad Fink, the late great J-school guru at the University of Georgia, and even more writing for the campus paper, The Red & Black. After school I spent three years at the paper in Augusta, Ga., and seven-plus in various jobs at the Charlotte Observer before the paper gave me a job as local columnist. I did that for 15 years and loved nearly every minute. But eventually I wanted to try some other things, and left the paper in 2012 to write for Sports on Earth, which was just starting up. I’ve mainly done sports since, mostly for ESPN until my contract expired at the end of January. But over the course of a year I might write about pretty much anything.

2. You’re best known for writing deeply emotional, deeply reported profiles. Your story on UNC coach Dean Smith comes to mind. What’s your process for stories like these? How do you go about finding them and decide what is worth pursuing? At what point does the narrative for the story start to form? I know this is something best discussed over a beer or a glass of bourbon, but what do you think about when you think about writing?

The story about Dean started with the idea to describe what his life was like after his dementia set in — he had always been known for his astonishing memory. Then, once it became clear that Dean was too ill to to talk to me, the idea shifted to how the people close to him were dealing with his illness — sometimes, when someone close to you has dementia, it’s worse to be the person who still remembers. Early on in the reporting it became clear that Dean’s wife, Linnea, was the key gatekeeper. Several people I talked to had amazing stories, but they wouldn’t go on the record unless Linnea gave her OK. It took three or four months from the day I first contacted her to the day she agreed to talk to me. (One of the great things about writing these longer features is the luxury of patience.) She sat down with me at their house, and she was generous and gracious, and once she talked to me everything else fell into place.

To get back to the first part of your question, what I always look for in a story is something that moves me emotionally. Sometimes I’ll take an assignment because it sounds like fun (or the paycheck sounds like fun), but if I’m doing the choosing, the idea has to have some deep core — often something small and specific that can stand for something big and universal. Not everybody has dealt with dementia (although I heard from hundreds of readers who have, which was amazing and gratifying). But everybody has dealt with loss, or wished for a time they can’t get back.

I guess another way to think about it is that the best stories work on two levels — the literal narrative of what it’s about, and the undercurrent of what it’s REALLY about. The plot and the subtext.

3. Those stories obviously resonated with readers. Has any one of them in particular stuck with you? Which one left you most affected after you wrote it?

Man, they all stick with me. I try to come to stories with empathy — even if I don’t like the particular person I’m writing about, I always end up caring about them. I don’t often keep up a relationship with people I’ve written about — it feels a little weird, here’s that writer guy still hanging around — but I still think about them all the time. Every time I watch a Carolina basketball game, I think about Dean and Linnea. And I think about Roy Williams, sitting in his half-lit office the morning after UNC lost to Belmont, trying to talk to me about Dean and getting choked up every five seconds.

One of the reasons I left my job as a columnist is that the stories stuck with me a little too much. I covered a lot of dark stuff. My dear friend Joe Posnanski reminded me the other day that a few years ago, when he and some of our buddies went to Vegas for a comedy festival, I had to stay home and witness an execution. I haven’t forgotten that night, either. All those stories are still in there.

4. In the diction you use, it’s clear that you’re from the South. How much do you think about your language and word choice in stories? Do you look as it being regional? Or do you see it more as personal expression? I’m thinking of lines like this one from your Dale Earnhardt Jr. profile: “Sometimes he believes he is what he is only because of who his daddy was.” We Northerners would probably use “father,” but using “daddy” made me feel more immersed in the story because I assume that’s the language used around Dale Jr. and the culture he grew up in.

I went back and forth on “daddy” and “father” and “dad” in that story — I think I use all three at one point or another, and Dale Jr. does, too. It’s all in the context. The main thing I think about in language is to make it as simple and clear as I can. My mom and dad grew up as sharecroppers and didn’t have a chance at much of an education, but my dad was one of the smartest men I ever knew, and my mom is still sharp at 84. My goal is to write about profound feelings and complex thoughts in the simplest language I can get by with. Big ideas, little words.

5. You’ve been very open about your weight, describing your upcoming book, “The Elephant in the Room,” as a “memoir about my life as a fat man in a growing America.” Why are you so open about this part of your life? What are you hoping to accomplish? Do you believe it serves as some connective tissue between your readers or, occasionally, your subjects?

For the longest time, I wasn’t open about my weight — obviously it was out there for anyone who saw me, but I hated talking about it. But one thing I preach in my writing classes is to write about what scares you, and I figured at some point I ought to take my own advice. I put it off and put it off until I wrote a story a few years ago about Jared Lorenzen, the former Kentucky QB who is still struggling with his weight. That story scared me, too, because I knew that I needed to be a part of it. But as I worked on it, I could see a way to write about my own struggle. I’ll always admire Jared for his honesty, and the way he helped me be honest.

I mentioned up above about writing on two levels. If I can pull it off, I hope the top level of this book is a straightforward tale of how one guy got to be so fat, what that does to your body and mind, and how hard it is to turn your life around. The subtext, I hope, is that everybody struggles with something — maybe not their weight, but everybody’s got a thing they just can’t get past. Maybe some of those people can see their story in my story.

6. We often (OK, like, all the time) ask our guests to reimagine how coverage of their particular beat should be done. But you don’t cover a specific sport — you write about people. What, if anything, would you change about the way profiles are done industry-wide?

The first answer to that is, there are SO MANY great profiles and longform features being written these days — I get the Sunday Long Read newsletter, and the Longreads emails, and there’s so much amazing stuff I can’t possibly catch up with it all. So the problem is not a lack of great work.

I do think the economics of journalism tend to gravitate to stories that suck up to their subjects. Also, the economics of celebrity — if that’s the right phrase — lean toward micromanaging access and smoothing out the rough edges. So there’s a lot of stuff out there, even in the best publications, that’s written basically as part of a deal to promote somebody’s new movie or to put their photo on the cover. Only the very best writers can make chicken salad out of stories like that. I’d be terrible at it. I like to write about people at the edge of the spotlight. That gray area is always a more interesting place.

7. You worked for a long while (23 years) as a columnist and reporter at The Charlotte Observer. Then you went national. Do you ever miss the parochialism of a local columnist? What don’t you miss?

It’s arrogant to think that you can sum up any person, any event, any subject in 600 words — but on that rare occasion when you hit it just right, you feel like you invented a magic trick on deadline. There’s no rush quite like it.

There’s also no more direct connection to readers — they see your face in the paper so they come up to you in the street and talk to you like family. To have somebody pull a clipping of yours out of their pocketbook, something they’ve kept for years — no award can match that. There’s another group of readers, of course — the ones who wake up angry and hate everything and decide to holler at you because you’re handy. I don’t miss those folks.

What I miss most of all? Just walking in the newsroom every day and talking with all those smart and funny and talented people. I’ll never be in a better club.

8. You were a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2008-09. This is, to put it simply, an incredibly prestigious honor in our industry. Why did you pursue the fellowship, and what did you hope to get out of it? What can you tell us about the work you did during your time there?

Several writers and editors at the Observer were Niemans before me, and they all talked about it as one of their best years of their lives. It was absolutely one of the best years of mine. I’m not sure exactly what I hoped to get out of it, but here’s what I got — time to think and breathe; access to the teachers and resources at the greatest university in the world; a new appreciation for Sam Adams in the bottle; and most of all, a big new group of lifetime friends. A bunch of us still call and text and visit one another. The friendships alone are priceless.

I’m not sure if what I did there could be classified as work. I took an English class from James Wood of the New Yorker and a sociology class from William Julius Wilson, who was a consultant to “The Wire.” (Sonja Sohn — Kima — spoke to our class one day.) We hung out with Desmond Tutu and saw Jeremy Lin play college ball. And that doesn’t even count all the long nights just talking and laughing and telling stories, knowing we didn’t have to go to work the next morning. Just writing all that, I can barely believe it happened. APPLY FOR A NIEMAN. DO IT.

9. We ask people often about their jobs and their old jobs and their new jobs, but I’m wondering, what would be your dream job? Is there something still out there in journalism you have wanted to do?

My life has lapped my dreams. I hope I get to write more books, and there are a few places I’d still like to land a story — like most everyone else, I’d love to have something in the New Yorker one day. But my main hope is that I get to keep doing what I do, and keep trying to get better.

Having said that, my secret dream job is to be a songwriter. Jason Isbell is the best writer of any kind in America right now. Some day I’d like to write just one song that somebody could mistake for one of his.

10. Generally speaking, this is a journalism Q&A series. Non-generally speaking, it’s a way to find out about the best places to eat across the country by quizzing other sportswriters. In your travels, and when you’re home, what meals or restaurants have stuck out to you? And where do we go eat if we’re in Charlotte?

Most of the memorable meals I’ve had on the road are about the people. A couple of summers ago I ended up having dinner in Vegas with Ramona Shelburne and Kurt Streeter and a couple of other folks. Ramona and Kurt are two of ESPN’s very best writers and very best people. I honestly can’t remember where we ate — it was a tapas place, and I think it had “fire” in the name somewhere — but that night was so fun and so rewarding, I hope it sticks with me forever.

When you’re in Charlotte, go to Brooks’ Sandwich House. The building is the size of a Hollywood closet. No seats, just long tables outside. Eat standing up or in your car. Cheeseburgers delivered straight from God. I’ve been avoiding it since I seriously started trying to lose weight. It’s killing me.

A Q&A with Daniel Barbarisi on leaving newspapers, writing his first book and diving into the world of daily fantasy sports

Every week we will run a Q&A with a wonderful reporter to talk about what’s right and wrong with journalism, their interests and random other stuff. Some are friends. Some are just people whose work we really respect. Some cover sports. Some don’t. Hopefully all will be interesting.

This week, it’s with Daniel Barbarisi, a longtime baseball writer, a former colleague of Jared’s at The Wall Street Journal and now a published author. Dan’s first book “Dueling with Kings” just came out, so we thought this was a perfect time to have him as a guest. (We already had his wife, Amalie Benjamin, so it’s only fair.) Here, we discuss Dan’s career to this point and talk in-depth about why he decided to leave the newspaper world, how he decided to pursue this project and what writing a book is really like. 

If you want this Q&A delivered in your inbox every week and before everyone else, sign up for the -30- newsletter here and get the scoop. Or get it on Facebook and give us a like!

The questions are in bold. The answers are not.

  1. We start all our Q&As in the same way–at the beginning. So: How did you break into journalism, and what led you to where you are now?

I remember the first time I saw my name in a real, live, non-school newspaper. It was the local Westmore News, and they paid me $40 to cover mundane school board and town council meetings in my minuscule hometown of Rye Brook, N.Y. I was around 16 at the time, say 1995, and it completely blew my mind that someone would pay me actual hard currency for going to something and writing what I saw. It was intoxicating. I’ve always loved telling stories, and always loved being someone who could tell other people what was going on. Being a journalist was really the only thing I’d ever wanted to be, as far back as I can remember. I just never fully believed it would happen, because to me, going from writing local stuff for a tiny local paper to actually getting a job at a major metro daily seemed like going from the Earth to the moon. But I got a few breaks, most notably when the excellent Neil Swidey helped me to land a good internship at the Boston Globe when I was at Tufts University. One thing led to another, and soon I was covering crime and Politics at the Providence Journal. My favorite assignment there was spending a few years as the Providence City Hall reporter; I felt like I was part of the fabric of the city.

Then, one day in 2008, I was in Florida for my grandfather’s funeral. And I got a call from one of the editors, who told me, “When you come back, we want you to cover the Red Sox.” They were in the playoffs at the time, and I figured they needed an extra hand. That sounded like fun, even though I don’t think I’d written a sports story since high school, and even then only a couple. So I asked if I’d be helping out for a week or so. And he said, “No, you’re going to be a full-time beat writer now. It’ll be fine. You’ll figure it out.”


But I guess I did figure it out, because a couple years later, the WSJ called and asked me to cover the Yankees for them, and so I moved over there at the end of 2010, and did the Yanks for five seasons, before leaving to do the book full time. Segue please….

2. You just published your first book! It’s called Dueling with Kings, and it’s a deep dive into the strange and sordid world of daily fantasy sports. What about that topic made you think it was worth dedicating the time and effort into to write as a book? What made you want to pursue the story?

I first encountered the daily fantasy phenomenon in the spring of 2015. At the time, it blew my mind that this existed at all — it sure seemed like a form of nationalized, legalized sports betting to me — and even more so, it shocked me that seemingly nobody was talking about it. The game was fun, there was an insane amount of money flowing into it, and there were small problems wherever I looked, thanks to the Wild West nature of the industry at the time. I was certain it was going to explode before long — the one thing, in this process, that I really got right — and that pretty soon, everyone everywhere would be talking about it. So I decided to get inside it early, trying to be there for when the inevitable tumult did happen. I just feel like it’s so rare to find a story that’s big and has so many tentacles — money, drama, spectacular growth, characters, legal intrigue, potential cheating — but where nobody is really talking about it in more than a surface-level sense. I think if you’re lucky enough to encounter one of those, a huge tale waiting to be told sitting in plain sight, you gotta grab it and ride it wherever it goes. That’s what I tried to do here, as terrifying as that was.

3. We’ll get back to the book in a second, but before that, I’m curious about your situation leading up to writing it: You had a pretty sweet job covering the Yankees for The Wall Street Journal. Plenty of great journalists would give a lot to be in that position. Yet, you decided to leave that gig to pursue the book. So… why? How did you know this was the right moment to take the plunge? How much did you worry about the risks involved — financially, professionally, etc.?

I believed in the story completely, and I believed I had gotten myself in a position to tell it, and that the chance to do something potentially transcendent like that is worth the inevitable and painful costs. Believe me, I didn’t do so lightly, and if there was a way to get a book leave, for instance, and be able to keep my job long-term, I would have taken it. But such is life. There were also logistical factors at play. At the time, because of the job, I was living in New York, and my wife, Amalie Benjamin, was living in Boston. So something had to give. Doing the book allowed me to solve that life issue in the short-and-long term, though it obviously introduced a series of other problems, like, um, what I do next now that the book is out. Anybody got any ideas…?

  1. Now, back to Dueling with Kings: What were some of the challenges you faced while going through the process? What surprised you? How much did the seemingly unending cycle of litigation against FanDuel and DraftKings impact your process?

The process itself was the challenge. So, to explain, in the book, I try to tell the story of the origins, growth, rise-fall-rise again of daily fantasy sports, explaining just what the heck this thing is and where it came from and what the heck happened with it when the world of DraftKings and FanDuel went from nobodies to the biggest advertisers in America to scandal-plagued companies and then to the targets of a sprawling legal battle. But I actually thought the best way to tell that story was from the inside, trying to see if I could make the journey from money-losing “fish” to fearsome “shark,” which is why I quit my job to see if I could make it as a professional DFS player — a similar style to books like Neil Strauss’s The Game or James McManus’s Positively Fifth Street.

From an book-writing perspective, I did that for two reasons. First, I didn’t want to write a straight business book. The compelling stuff about this world is what happens deep inside it, the personalities, the characters, the drama, and not just how much money the companies raised and how they squandered it trying to kill each other. That’s the skeleton of the book, the framework, the larger story I am trying to tell, but I believed that I could bring that story to life if I made it human at the ground level, not the $3 billion sky-high perspective.

Second, I couldn’t really wait to see how it turned out and then write from the back. It would take too long, in my mind, and the industry was so darn chaotic that I couldn’t predict where it would go. But if I could live inside it and tell the story of everything that happened around me, it would enable me to create a compelling narrative that helped the reader to understand that world no matter where it ended up — and also, would let me write and create mid-stream, allowing the production process to happen so, so much faster.

This basically worked out just the way I’d hoped. But it was incredibly stressful, because I’d be writing as it all unfolded, and then some huge thing would change — the New York attorney general shutting the companies down in New York, for example, or later, the companies deciding to merge — and that would invalidate some of my reporting, and enhance other parts. So it required an insane amount of shifting on the fly, whacking things that were so good but suddenly weren’t relevant or vice versa as the ground shifted underfoot seemingly every other week. The most terrifying part was after I could no longer make changes; if something dramatic happened between then and publication, around 4 months, I couldn’t account for it at all, and it might make half of what I wrote instantly outdated. Fortunately, things stayed calm, finally, long enough for me to get to publication day unscathed.

5. Hopefully this isn’t stealing from the book at all, but you’re more than just a daily fantasy sports writer — you also got pretty good at them! What sort of credibility with sources did that give you, since you weren’t a schlub like most of us who get hosed on these platforms? Also, why “pimpbotlove?”

Well, I only got good about 7/10 of the way through the book. For most of it, I’m a schlub trying not to get hosed too badly. And not a terribly successful one. But yes, I did eventually get pretty good. Once I did, that afforded me a certain level of cred in that world, but almost every single relationship I’d made and needed for the book was built long before that. That said, most of those people seemed genuinely happy to see me succeed, like they’d played a role in creating me… which, in many cases, they did.

Pimpbotlove is explained in chapter 12… so you’ll just have to read the book to see!

6. At which part of the book process did you lose more sleep: Reporting it or writing it? Having gone through it once, what do you think you learned from the experience that you would do differently when and if you decide to write a second book?

I was doing both at the same time, so it was kinda one process. But basically, the writing part was really, really fun. Since I’m a character in it, and my opinions and thoughts and comic asides are part of the story, it was a completely different experience to write this than anything I’ve done before. I’d never done anything, ever, that wasn’t straight, dry newspaper style, and I’d very, very, very rarely included myself in the story. I’ve never wanted to be a columnist, never done creative writing. So this was a departure, but honestly, it was a blast.

But that definitely took some adjustments, and that’s what I understand better now and for any future works: It took a dramatically different method, for me, to write this book than in what I did writing a newspaper story.

For 15-plus years at newspapers, the idea was to report, report, report, and then vomit everything out onto the page around 4-7 p.m., hammer it into something usable, hope it’s good, make a few tweaks, and then send it out into the world. Then forget it ever happened and move on to the next thing. I thought that’s what this would be like, too, just in a longer-term way. I was totally wrong.

When I tried to write this the way I’d written newspaper stories — without a ton of forethought or planning as to more than just what the lede might be and what information I needed to impart — I failed miserably. Everything came out flat, dead. I realized, slowly, that I needed to put much, much more planning into each section, and I began diagramming out each paragraph in my head long before I’d actually write anything. Then, once I had about 2-3,000 words-ish written in my head, knowing how one idea would flow to the next, what the transition would be, what the next thing I wanted to communicate was, etc. etc., I would finally go write. That would sometimes mean days without writing anything at all. But when I did, it all came gushing out and was far more effective.

7. What do you see as the future for you? You’ve been a politics reporter, a sports reporter and now an author. Do you think of yourself as a full-time author now? What would it take to get you back into the newspaper/short-form journalism world?

I just like having new challenges, new adventures and getting to feel like I’m using my brain in new and different ways. This has certainly been that. I’m certainly trying to give it a go as a real author now, but a lot of that will depend on what the next project turns out to be. But I never say no to at least exploring an interesting possibility, in whatever discipline.

8. What, if anything, do you miss about covering baseball every day? It’s not the easiest lifestyle, but it is a lot of fun. What was that first spring training like, to see the Yankees report to Tampa, and you’re not there?

I miss the other writers, getting to be a part of that rambling, traveling beat crew. That was a heckuva lot of fun, and some really great people were on there during the times I was on the Yankees and Red Sox beats. I actually didn’t mind the travel itself. Someone was paying me to see the country, and that was wonderful. Sure, there was work all afternoon and night, but that left mornings mostly free to run along the rivers of Chicago, go to museums in Kansas City (the very underrated WWI museum is awesome!) climb the hills of San Francisco… what an opportunity. The baseball part? Well, that happens every year, whether I’m there or not. I don’t think about it a ton.

9. We usually ask our guests here what they would change about the sport they cover. But you’re not covering a specific sport, so let’s try this: What about the book process would you change if you could? I’ve never written a book but have seen a little bit of the process, dealing with agents, writing the proposal. What could be improved if you could change anything? (Yes, we know this will give you cover to praise your agent and publisher first)

Woo… lemme see, I’m still just a first-timer, so really, what do I know? But I can definitely say that I was a little surprised as to how little control the author has at points in the process. Maybe that’s not the case for Michael Lewis, but for me, it definitely felt like I was along for the ride at various points, which was quite interesting.

10. You shared a story a few years ago about an episode in which you tweeted about Hannah Davis — then Derek Jeter’s girlfriend, now his wife, and an SI swimsuit model throughout. You got caught major flak from Jeter over it. You recounted the story here, so I’m not asking for a rehash, but what did that teach you about the privacy of athletes and celebrities and how reporters should go about reporting/tweeting/blogging/Snapchatting about them? How did it change your thought process about what is and isn’t for public consumption?

Sometimes we forget the platform we have. I think — I certainly thought at the time, at least — that my random musings did not matter a whit to someone like Derek Jeter. Why should he or his care what I say? But with the diffusion of voices now, I think it actually matters less who is saying it and simply that it is being said. Certainly in that period, 2013-ish, the line between what it was okay for writers to talk about on Twitter and what wasn’t was still in flux — it still is today, of course, but back then it was even blurrier. It’s funny, because I’m generally not someone who is particularly Twitter-active, or funny, or looking to use it as that kind of platform. It was more just, “Huh, this is a funny tidbit/observation.” But sometimes, the famous people who exist apart from us actually exist a little closer than we think after all. I do wonder if it would have elicited the same response from him in the world of 2017. I guess I’ll have to try again and find out.

BONUS: Hey, we really appreciate you doing this Q&A, and we hope your book does well. Want to give our readers a reason they should go buy this mighty tome?

It’s funny. I wrote this book to tell the story of this crazy world for non-daily fantasy players. That was the whole point, to explain that world for people who WEREN’T part of it but who saw those commercials, paid a little attention to the scandals and wondered what the heck happened there. I was trying to tell the definitive story for those people. But many seem to think this book is FOR daily fantasy players. I’m glad they’re liking it and thinking it’s authentic, but I was trying to tell their story to the larger world, not write a tale for them. So, I’d say, if you have ever had a fantasy team of any kind and ever wondered what all that fuss was about, what was really going on inside those companies, whether the whole thing was good or bad or criminal or screwed up or fun or if you just wanted to read a really, really crazy yarn, then this is the book for you. No need to have ever played a second of daily fantasy to enjoy it.

A Q&A with Adam Rubin on 15 years covering the Mets, his departure from ESPN and what really happened with Omar Minaya

Every week we will run a Q&A with a wonderful reporter to talk about what’s right and wrong with journalism, their interests and random other stuff. Some are friends. Some are just people whose work we really respect. Some cover sports. Some don’t. Hopefully all will be interesting.

This week, it’s with Adam Rubin, a longtime baseball writer and now the assistant athletic director for strategic communications at the New York Institute of Technology. For 15 years, Adam was one of the best beat writers in the country, amassing an enormous following and serving as the primary source of New York Mets news, information and analysis for a generation. Here, we discuss his career on the beat, the circumstances surrounding his departure from ESPN and what he’s doing now. Plus, what really did happen that time with Omar Minaya?

If you want this Q&A delivered in your inbox every week and before everyone else, sign up for the -30- newsletter here and get the scoop. Or get it on Facebook and give us a like!

The questions are in bold. The answers are not.

  1. Usually, we start this thing by asking people how they got to their current journalism job. But since you just left, can you recount your career to this point?

How much time do you have? I’m getting older, so the résumé—which I’ve recently had to update—is getting a little lengthier. I went to college intending to pursue a business career but got hooked by my college newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, and pursued internships in journalism.

I spent the fall semester of my junior year interning at The Birmingham (Ala.) News, and took classes at UAB so I could graduate on time from Penn. That newspaper hired me when I graduated, first as a one-year intern, then as a metro reporter.

With the News’ blessing, I took a detour to The (Shreveport, La.) Times for a year on the sports staff, then returned to Birmingham when a sports position opened.

During nearly five years overall in Birmingham, I covered the Olympics, UAB as a beat writer, pitched in with SEC coverage, did a ton of prep sports and served as the beat writer for the Double-A baseball and East Coast Hockey League teams.

Birmingham was a great training ground. The staff at the time, now decimated like the other Advance/Newhouse newspapers, was as solid as any I’ve ever encountered. It was the destination paper for that region, and the staff was eager to teach.

So many young journalists now bypass working in smaller markets and just jump into covering MLB or something similar out of college because of the economics of newspapers. I’m so glad I had that training ground, and wish the model still worked like that.

Anyway, Mark Kriegel, then a New York Daily News sports columnist, and I had a mutual acquaintance. And Mark lobbied the sports editor, Leon Carter, for a full year to hire me, even though Mark barely knew me. I’m forever indebted to him for that.

I got hired by the Daily News in December 2000, and initially did general-assignment reporting for the sports staff—filling in for Frank Isola at a Knicks practice one day, Rich Cimini with the Jets another day and doing sidebars at MLB games, etc. When T.J. Quinn moved from the Mets beat to investigative reporting at the Daily News, Leon put me on that baseball beat—saying just do it for a couple of years and then you can rotate to something else. Although fans think it’s a dream job, the number of people on a sports staff eager to cover baseball as a beat are few and far between because of the travel and time demands, the latter of which has only worsened with the technological changes.

Well, I ended up covering the Mets full time for 15 years, following Leon to ESPN New York in 2010, as that company created a handful of local websites.

In the last few weeks I departed that position to serve as the assistant athletic director for strategic communications at The New York Institute of Technology. I’m essentially the SID, promoting the Old Westbury school’s Division I baseball program and the dozen other sports competing in Division II. We’ve been very successful so far, including getting the startup lacrosse team on the front page of The New York Times’ sports section.

I’ll actually still keeping a toe in the water with journalism. Although it’s not yet cemented, I’m expecting to do limited TV and website work for SNY, the Mets-owned TV network. And I’m still planning to do a Sunday morning baseball-themed radio show on ESPN 98.7 in New York this season, provided they can sell the advertising to make the show viable. I may even do some stringing for one of the tabloids during the summer at Citi Field.

2. At what point did you start contemplating a career change? Why did you start having those thoughts? Why did you eventually settle on college SID as the right landing spot?

The mechanics of baseball beat reporting have seismically shifted since I started on the Mets beat. It used to be that either you had the story in the newspaper or you didn’t have it in the newspaper. And if you got beat by the Post, you had 24 hours to come back and do better the next day.

Now, thanks to social media and other technology, every second of every day can be consumed by providing tidbits of information or advancing a story. I don’t know how Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman have the stamina to do it nonstop throughout the year with a national scope.

There are several reasons I wanted to change. The impact of the technological revolution probably ranked No. 1, even though I adapted very well and believe I had built the largest social-media audience of any team-specific MLB beat reporter.

I’m a workaholic, and I was determined to be a one-stop shop for Mets news. So that meant providing content nonstop. I would watch the games on TV when I was off and live tweet. I created a morning aggregation I called “Morning Briefing,” which I tried to pattern off MSNBC’s “First Read,” in order to be the first place people went in the morning for Mets news. And I wanted comprehensive coverage of the minors, too. So I would post daily recaps of all the Mets affiliates’ minor-league games, which was particularly grueling once the Mets got booted from Buffalo and ended up in Las Vegas as a Triple-A affiliate. The games would end at 1:30 a.m. ET or beyond.

There were other reasons I wanted to depart:

*I don’t think I’m alone in saying the relationship between reporters and players has changed over the years. Probably rightfully so because of the scrutiny they receive in the social-media age, but the players are much more guarded now. It’s not viewed as frequently as a mutually beneficial business relationship. And I didn’t like being treated as a nuisance.

* It’s become much harder these days for team-specific reporters to break news—at least the transactions. The structure tilts toward favoring the national reporters. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that there are now a ton of reporters getting paychecks from entities affiliated with MLB. It’s not a level playing field.

*When the Mets reached the World Series in 2015, my traffic was off the charts. I was told the Mets had generated the second-most traffic for ESPN of any team in MLB for the entire 2015 season (behind the Cubs), partly because of the team’s success and partly because of the way I covered the team. But when the Mets reached the World Series, I was chronicling someone else’s moment. Contrast that with the high school basketball team my brother coaches (which people who follow me on Twitter are more acquainted with than they’d like). When that team notched the school’s first boys basketball playoff win in 10 seasons that same year, it was much more fun for me than covering the World Series, because I had played some small part in it—preparing programs for their tournament, sending articles to The Levittown Tribune weekly community paper to promote the team, and scouting—or at least videotaping—upcoming opponents. My new position allows me to be a part of NYIT’s success.

*Any beat reporter who doesn’t get a call returned from an executive or has to stand around waiting to speak with a particular player—only to be blown off on occasion—questions why his sports-reporting job is appealing. As you get older, standing around to get a banal soundbite gets less and less appealing. At least it did for me.

I fortunately had a ton of opportunities to go to work for colleges in recent years and came close to pulling the trigger a few times.

I’ll break a little news here and reveal that ESPN declined to renew my contract, so I would have been out later this year anyway. ESPN seems to be bleeding money because of cord-cutting, so my salary was unattractive to them. And the new MLB editor at ESPN wants to get away from “thorough” beat coverage—that’s the precise word she used—and I suppose I was the sacrificial lamb to hammer home that point. Anyway, ESPN agreed to give me a buyout to leave now. And I get to do what I planned to do anyway. So it worked out tremendously.

3. You were known as a dogged reporter. We saw it on the beat firsthand. We can say, with no embellishment, that no one worked longer or harder. Now that you’re out of the game, can you take us into your process?  What was Adam Rubin’s day on the beat? What were your days like around the trade deadline or one of the Mets’ many crises?

It’s really nonstop, at least in-season. I mentioned I produced a morning aggregation. Over the years, as more content got posted by newspapers in real time rather than at 4 a.m., the aggregation could be done the night before and be set to post at 6:30 a.m. Then the link would auto-tweet. So I think I fooled some people into thinking I was working 24/7. A lot of times I was sleeping when the “Morning Briefing” went live and the link tweeted.

That said, I wanted people to visit the site multiple times a day. So that required daytime content. My mornings would consist of writing series previews, a weekly minor league “Farm Report” that included a feature on a prospect, etc.

And it meant interacting with fans throughout the day, which can be quite time consuming. One of the reasons I believe I built a sizable Twitter following is that I would try to answer every (reasonable) question directed at me.

Anyway, as you know, beat reporters get to the stadium quite early for a 7 p.m. game. I would be at Citi Field generally by 2 p.m., with the clubhouse opening to media at 3:10 p.m. Like other reporters, I’d interact with players for 50 minutes, then attend Terry Collins’ press conference.

In the olden days, you would hang out by the batting cage during BP. Not anymore. After Terry spoke, I generally would race up to the press box to produce content based upon what was said in the clubhouse and at the manager’s interview session.

Then, of course, I would live tweet during games, mixing a little play-by-play with relevant stats. (Mark Simon at ESPN is such a great statistical resource, and I’d generate plenty of my own stuff using Baseball-Reference.) You used to be able to watch the games. Now, it’s mostly staring at your computer screen.

ESPN killed it during my final year there (a sore subject), but one of the popular things I did was “Rapid Reaction.” In essence, I wrote a game story that was posted the second the game ended. Because there’s a delay on TV, people marveled that I often had tweeted the link to a game story before they saw the final pitch on their TV sets.

Then we’d go down to the clubhouse, get postgame reaction, and produce more content. Then there would be the game recaps of the minor league affiliates and producing the next day’s Morning Briefing. I probably wouldn’t get to sleep until after 2 a.m. most nights. It’s like Groundhog Day.

I found myself over the years liking the trade deadline and winter meetings less and less. I really, really dislike bugging people at all hours. Having a conscious is not always good when you’re competing for information.

4. When you get to ESPN, it seems like it becomes a national gig no matter what you cover. There are radio shows and TV hits and Twitter. How much of the job for you was brand management and upkeep? I’d say there are some reporters who focus as much on that as reporting. Is that wrong as a career strategy?

There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle, but one of the seismic shifts that relates to the technological changes is the need for self-promotion. When I started in the business, you were taught to be a fly on the wall—an invisible observer. Now, you have to be a personality in order to build up the social-media following that drives traffic.

During the height of the baseball season, I’d be sending more than 30,000 link clicks a day from my Twitter account to ESPN.com. That’s probably a drop in the bucket for ESPN, but it was still nearly 1 million link clicks a month that I sent via my Twitter account to my employer’s site.

I wish I could have remained invisible, but that’s not practical anymore. I devised shticks like tweeting “OH NO” in-game when something bad had happened to the Mets, such as an opponent homer. Because of that little delay on TV, it became quite the talk. People knew something bad was about to happen on their screens.

5. After more than a decade on the beat, to what extent do you think you can ever go back to simply enjoying baseball as a fan? How much baseball do you think you’ll watch? You had a reputation for having a very active and thorough Twitter account. How often do you find yourself reaching for your phone to check Twitter, only to remember you don’t need to anymore?

I’m going to keep a toe in the water contributing to SNY and do the ESPN radio show if everything goes as planned. So I’m keeping close track of the content being produced down in Port St. Lucie by the beat reporters. I’m actually still having scouts ask me questions about the team, even though I’m not around it full time. If I had no upcoming reporting involvement, I probably would not watch another MLB game, at least for a year or two.

I enjoy watching the Islanders, but my sports interests have considerably waned. I enjoy being on the SID side and being a part of things—taking the six-hour bus ride back with the team after a women’s basketball win in the conference tournament, hearing which juggernauts the NYIT men’s basketball coach has scheduled for next season well before it becomes public and promoting the student-athletes. But I rarely go to sporting events just for the sake of being at a sporting event.

I did constantly reach for my phone the first couple of weeks after departing ESPN. I still reach for it too frequently. The best thing about being out of the baseball-beat-writer pressure-cooker is that I don’t have to be tethered to my phone (although it’s still important in my new job).

6. To what extent do you think your journalism experience has prepared you to immediately be successful in your new role? What aspects do you think will require a learning curve?

With three weeks under my belt as an SID, I can say the skill sets are very similar. We’re an incredibly small staff at NYIT, so it’s challenging. But I’m trying to replicate an MLB.com model at NYITBears.com. That means not just game recaps, but regular features and notebooks. Similar to MLB.com, it’s a news site, but it has a positive tone. For example, though, I asked my athletic director whether I should put a photo of dejected women’s basketball players on the site after they lost a heartbreaker in the finals of the conference tournament. He was all for it. So we’re pushing the envelope a little.

One sad thing is people don’t distinguish between whether they’re getting their news from an independent organization or someone with a vested interest. I suppose we’re trying to take advantage of that and produce content that is news, but with a positive slant.

My social-media skills are being put to good use. I’ve grown the Twitter and Instagram followings at NYIT roughly 5 percent in three weeks.

And I’m doing the same type of video content that I would do at ESPN. Mostly I have a student do a stand-up style report, then have a player and/or coach interview follow it, with some B-roll from the event mixed in.

I believe I was ahead of the curve at ESPN in producing photography and video content. I bought my own sophisticated camera, taught myself Adobe Premiere Pro, and cut up my own video, etc. I’m now in the process of learning After Effects to take it to a completely different level, and I find that very enjoyable.

The one area I’m not at all fluent in is the NCAA statistical software, which is called Stat Crew. Fortunately, the AD at NYIT was impressed enough with my content-creation ability that he’s contracted for people well-versed in it to enter the statistical data during games. I need to learn that. But I ultimately don’t want to be tied to a computer entering balls and strikes during a game, because that will prevent me from content creation, which I believe is what successful universities are doing.

7. You were involved in a high-profile incident with Omar Minaya. It was one of the first big media lurker moments as Deadspin and the like took off. Did that have an effect on your career? How difficult did it become to cover the Mets? Was there consideration to leave the beat? Do you have a relationship with Omar now?

People wrongly presume that Omar and I have a bad relationship. That’s the opposite of the truth. He actually called me—multiple times—when I announced I was leaving ESPN, until we finally connected. He was very complimentary. A couple of years ago, when he was working for the Padres, he actually gave me and a few other reporters his breakfast reservation at a fashionable San Diego spot so we didn’t get shut out. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Jared can vouch for this—he was there.)

That said, I’m still upset about that press conference to this day for multiple reasons. Journalism can be a cesspool sometimes, and I always felt I carried myself very ethically. So to be accused of something that was not even true really hurt. Even if the public generally was very supportive, if anyone thought lesser of me because of it, it stung because I really believe I’ve done things the right way throughout my career.

Even though I would gladly expunge the event if it were possible, it was probably good for my career. As we discussed, so much of being a successful journalist is branding. And I cannot dispute that the incident considerably increased my name recognition.

With respect to the incident itself, I’ve always felt wronged, even though Omar was apologetic from the moment it happened.

Tony Bernazard, who was fired by the Mets after my reporting brought some incidents to light, desperately wanted to become a GM. And when Tony struck out elsewhere, Omar was warned by folks that Tony was angling with ownership for his job with the Mets. Omar chose not to accept it at the time.

Anyway, Tony and I had an interesting relationship. He liked me, or at least respected my work ethic. And he very much envied how much I knew about the minor leaguers. I think I knew a lot more than him about some things because the players trusted me, especially some bad stuff I never wrote (like a guy around the Binghamton team whom I heard was peddling drugs). Tony admired the information I could get, and often told me, and this is a direct quote, “You’re on my list.” What he meant by that is that when he became a GM, I was on his list to hire because I could get info about minor leaguers.

He said it so many times, I started to think maybe it’s a viable path for me down the road. In spring training annually, the Mets front office invited the beat writers to dinner for an off-the-record session. During it, I asked Tony and Jeff Wilpon what it would take to pursue a career like that. That was the extent of it. I was invited to have a meeting back in New York after spring training to speak in general about a position like that—nothing specific to the Mets—but I never pursued it. Months later, at the fateful press conference, Omar accused me of lobbying for a job. I’m sure Tony unloaded on me when he was told he was fired and concocted some fancy story about the whole thing. The Daily News, the day after the incident, ran a first-person thing from me about it. I never typed a word of that. I did dictate some things, but I believe what was printed was almost like a compromise with the Mets to get through it rather than a fully accurate portrayal of what occurred.

I have pretty good sources, and I was told Omar didn’t even know what “lobby” meant when he said it at the press conference. He had to ask someone afterward. As I mentioned, though, I have no ill will toward Omar. He’s a very nice man. It was a regrettable moment all of us wished never happened.

I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to cover the team, regardless of the truth. And Tony seemed particularly close with the Latin American players in the clubhouse. But when I finally returned after about a week, there seemed to be mostly euphoria in the clubhouse, with players and staff privately patting me on the back for helping get Tony ousted with my reporting. I was concerned the Puerto Rican players would particularly be upset with me. But Pedro Feliciano probably said the nicest thing of anyone to me. And Alex Cora, whose family was raised alongside Tony’s family, if my memory is correct, also was very kind.

I will say this: I’ll always be fond of David Wright. The night of that incident, he called me to make sure I was OK.

8. What do you see as the role of the modern beat writer? I imagine it’s changed dramatically since you started — probably multiple times. The internet has undoubtedly devalued some kinds of reporting that was once crucial in the newspaper age. So what makes a good beat writer in 2017?

What I’m finding now confirms my suspicions and is pretty depressing for journalism. After losing about 2,500 followers the first couple of days after I announced I was leaving the beat, not only did the number stabilize, but it’s started to climb again as I simply retweet other reporters who actually are in Port St. Lucie. That I can maintain a following simply by sharing information reported by others does not speak positively about the economic model for the business.

A modern beat writer needs to excel at print, video and still photography, interact nonstop with folks on social media, be an expert on the subject and basically work nonstop.

There will always be a place for thoughtful features. But to me what builds a following these days is always being first—or at least always having credible information quickly—on a nonstop basis. Short bursts of information. That’s why it boggles my mind that ESPN is going the opposite direction, eschewing thoroughness for features that might have national appeal. Coming from a business-school background, I believe it’s more lucrative ultimately to sell the same customer a $1 bagel each day of the year, rather than try to make a big sale with a feature on a less regular basis. I believe the new MLB editor at ESPN will see eroding traffic over time because of the model she is selecting.

9. In general, what would you change about how baseball is reported on and covered?

After a ton of long-winded answers, I’m really not sure I have a good answer on this. I do believe things are being covered thoroughly. I would advise reporters to spend more time writing about the minor leaguers on a regular basis. There’s a larger audience for that than many people realize. And the coverage pays dividends when those players reach the major-league clubhouse and already are acquainted with you.

10. What’s the best part of Golden Corral, your favorite Port St. Lucie hangout during spring training?

I got a lot of ribbing for eating at Golden Corral. But it was quick and inexpensive, and allowed me to get back to work. You just have to get over people licking their fingers and then touching the serving utensils. I liked the roasted chicken and sweet potato. I tried to stay away from the bread, but the rolls are excellent too. Wish they would open one on Long Island.

A Q&A with Erik Malinowski on how to survive life as a freelancer, writing a book about the Warriors and why you should Never Tweet

Every week we will run a Q&A with a wonderful reporter to talk about what’s right and wrong with journalism, their interests and random other stuff. Some are friends. Some are just people whose work we really respect. Some cover sports. Some don’t. Hopefully all will be interesting.

This week, it’s with Erik Malinowski, the lead Golden State Warriors writer for Bleacher Report, the author of an upcoming book about the Warriors and so much more. Erik has written for a lot of media outlets about a lot of different topics, which makes him a perfect guest for a Q&A. Here, we discuss what life is like as a freelancer, how to come up with a creative and original story idea and why you should Never Tweet.

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The questions are in bold. The answers are not.

  1. We start all our Q&As in the same way–at the beginning. So: How did you break into journalism and what led you to where you are now?

I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a writer, but there were two Sports Illustrated stories that changed how I looked at sports-writing as a craft. During my senior year of high school, Rick Reilly wrote about Ian Baker-Finch’s struggles with the yips. A year later, as a freshman studying journalism at Boston University, Gary Smith profiled golfer David Duval. These two pieces, more than almost any others I’d read to that point, taught me how writing long, how digging deep into a person’s life and analyzing the moments that shaped them along the way, could affect readers on a visceral level. I wanted to write about the impact that sports had on people’s lives, but these stories were, for me, truly epiphanic. Reading each for the first time gave me chills. (I still have many years of clipped Gary Smith articles tucked away in a binder somewhere.)

I practically lived at The Daily Free Press (the BU student newspaper) during my time on Commonwealth Avenue. I covered the men’s hockey team for three years. I was even editor-in-chief for a semester. During my senior year, I interned in the sports department of The Boston Globe, and that was a truly insane few months, topped off by some no-name backup named Tom Brady winning a Super Bowl. (For reference, this was at a time when you could still buy same-day bleacher seats to a Wednesday matinee at Fenway for less than the cost of a cheap textbook.) Working at the Globe was so much fun; some of my fellow interns were Chris Mannix (The Vertical), Jon Morosi (MLB Network), and Chris Forsberg (ESPN Boston). And as graduation approached, I figured I was on my way!

But this was all pre-everything in social media. I knew I’d be moving out west eventually, following my girlfriend (now wife), but no one at the Globe knew anyone in the Bay Area. I made it here in August, when the “Moneyball” A’s were in the midst of their 20-game winning streak and the Giants were embarking on a World Series run. But by October, I was still jobless and two weeks away from having to start repaying my student loans. That was when I answered a job posting on Craigslist for a fact-checking intern at Wired magazine in San Francisco. The pay was $10 an hour, which felt like a lot of money.

Not only did I get the job, somehow, but I stayed at the magazine for nearly a decade. I was a staff fact-checker until 2010. Occasionally, I would write sportscentric pieces, but I mostly fact-checked — around 120 features, including two dozen cover stories — and it was an incredible experience, getting to work alongside some of the best writers and editors in the industry. You learn a lot about process and professionalism, what can elevate a good magazine to a great one, how to pitch a feature story, and so forth. I wasn’t a sportswriter yet, but those years were as valuable for a young journalist like myself as anything I could imagine doing.

My first real break came in the summer of 2010, when Wired.com (which was located across the hall from the mag) hired me as its first sports editor. I was tasked with running Playbook, the site’s fledgling sports blog, which meant I was staff writer/assigning editor/everything all rolled into one. It was a blast — I got to write this early, somewhat prescient piece on the Warriors and how their new owners’ investment in technology and analytics could one day pay off — but I was burned out after a year and left for the freelance life. I wrote mostly for tech trade publications and waited for something else to come along.

That came in early 2012, when I pitched Tommy Craggs (who had just taken over as Deadspin editor) on an idea I had for doing a piece pegged to the 20th anniversary of “Homer at the Bat,” the famous episode of “The Simpsons” that featured everyone’s favorite ballplayers from that era. When that piece ran on Feb. 20, 2012, it felt like my whole career had finally started to fall into place. Craggs let me write for Deadspin at night a few times a week, and I continued freelancing for larger publications during the day.

From there, good things started to happen. I worked on staff at BuzzFeed for a year, then moved on to Fox Sports for a year. Then I went back to freelancing. All the while, I prioritized writing long features and also started getting credentialed for events here in the Bay Area. (Getting to cover the Giants’ World Series run in 2014 remains a professional highlight to this day.)

Getting to cover the Warriors’ championship run during the 2014-15 season was also something special. Steve Kerr’s arrival in Oakland really changed the landscape around here and Golden State was suddenly a Very Big Deal. I covered every home playoff game in 2015, trying to immerse myself in the moment as much as I could. Writing on deadline for Sports on Earth, with so many memorable moments night in and night out, made for an indescribably fun time.

I concentrated on the Warriors (again for Sports for Earth) throughout the 2015-16 season and then joined Bleacher Report as their Warriors’ lead writer for this current season.

  1. You’ve bounced around a bunch in the industry, worked at quite a few places and written for lots of outlets. What are the benefits to being a freelancer? While freelancing, to what extent are you looking for a full-time job? What are the keys for a freelancer to actually, you know, make a living?

Being a freelancer (which I technically still am) is great because you get to basically set your own schedule and hours. You’re only really answerable to your editor (and whatever time you promised them copy). If you can make the finances work — and that’s a big if — the flexibility is a perk that can’t be beat.

Having said that, I’ll be the first to admit that freelancing generates no small amount of stress for me. The hustle is hard. When you’re juggling five different assignments at various stages of gestation and you’ve got to get more pitches out but did you actually send those invoices in or are you mistaken and what about those edits that were due this morning and … it’s a real grind. I’ve been able to do it well for maybe a year or 18 months at a time but it takes its toll and then you start remembering what it was like to have real health insurance and not have to submit estimated quarterly taxes and you start rationalizing how easy it’d be to give up the flexible schedule for something a bit more stable.

So I view freelancing largely as a means to an end. You show you can work with different publications writing various kinds of stories. You make new connections. You grow as a writer. (You also learn which publications treat freelancers poorly and then you don’t ever have to write for them again!) There’s no better feeling I get when I see someone in our industry who has worked their ass off as a freelancer get rewarded with a deserving staff job. I know there’s cachet in poaching someone from a big-time publication but the talent available nowadays in the freelance pool is unreal.

  1.  You currently cover the Golden State Warriors for Bleacher Report. On the surface, that’s a strange sentence to type. B/R does a lot of things well, but it’s never really been known for having a full-time beat writer on one team. Why do you think B/R believed the Warriors were the team to commit those resources to? What does it mean to cover the Warriors for Bleacher Report, as opposed to, say, the San Francisco Chronicle?

At Bleacher Report, I’m technically known as a “lead writer.” We have a few of them covering the large-market teams you’d expect — Knicks, Celtics, Lakers, Clippers, and so forth — but the job is not like that of the typical beat writer you’d find at a newspaper. I cover every home game and attend most practices and shootarounds, but I’m not writing up every piece of news that comes out and (unless something remarkable happens) I’m not doing game recaps. I do a reported column once a week, often related to something that’s going on with the team at that moment or something that’s coming up on the horizon. That pace was appealing to me because I felt like I could take my time with pieces — to breathe a little more — and that my writing would benefit from that. Now, more than halfway through the season, I feel that has largely born out and it’s been more gratifying than I could’ve imagined. And we have such an all-star contingent of writers on the beat — Tim Kawakami, Ethan Sherwood Strauss, Anthony Slater, Connor Letourneau, Sam Amick, and Tim Bontemps, just to name a few — that covering this team is more fun than it has any right to be.

But I also knew that B/R was on the verge of launching a new longform initiative and that was very appealing to me. I’ve now got a couple of features in the works now that should run over the next few months.

So to have the opportunity to cover this team as well as pitch/write longform pieces on the side was everything I was looking for, and I give B/R credit for realizing the Warriors warranted such focused coverage from one of their writers.

  1. Not only do you cover the Warriors, but you’re also writing a book on the Warriors! How did that happen? At what point did it occur to you that this team warranted a whole book about it? How did the Warriors blowing a 3-1 lead to the Cavaliers in last year’s Finals affect the trajectory of the project?

I got the idea during the middle of the 2015-16 season, when the team was 48-4 at the All-Star break. It seemed like they had a legit chance at breaking the 1996 Chicago Bulls’ record for wins and I just felt like maybe the time was right to propose something ambitious. People outside the Bay Area don’t really appreciate just how bad it was here for so many years and just how fast this ascension has happened (and how many ways it all could’ve still gone horribly awry along the way). I wanted to write something that would convey that sense of history and I thought framing their rise around an embrace of science and Silicon Valley (which they’ve done since the new ownership arrived in 2010) was the right move, so I contacted a book agent I’d met years earlier through my Wired connections. He thought it was compelling enough that I should write up a proposal.

I was 75 percent done with the proposal when The New York Times Magazine ran its cover story on the Warriors. The piece echoed a lot of the same themes I was already focusing on, and I was devastated at first, thinking they had blown up my spot in some way. Joe Lacob’s “light years” comment became a national punchline. I thought maybe I was screwed, but then I realized that the piece helped show the true viability of what I was thinking. As writers, we often labor through a piece and start thinking, “Is this even a good idea?” Well, that piece running in a major magazine not only confirmed my idea was good but also that there was much more to the narrative that wasn’t being fleshed out. That story, despite being several thousand words long, only scratched the surface of how the Warriors had become so good in such a short period of time. It glossed over (or entirely skipped) so many critical moments. In short order, I was motivated by the prospect of writing a book that would satisfy the people who were left wanting more by that piece.

I finished my proposal in early April and we submitted it to publishers when the Warriors were 69-9 so they had to win their final four games to get to 73 wins. Once they did that, I was confident we would find a publisher because, even if the Warriors didn’t win the title, they did get to 73 wins and set a record that may never be eclipsed. That, if nothing else, could be a selling point. That’s also why I never wanted the book to be dependent on Golden State actually winning the title; I was explicit about this in the proposal. I would’ve been a nervous wreck through the playoffs and, as we all saw, even the improbable can happen when you least expect. (Also, I would’ve felt incredibly weird about investing some kind of emotional stake in the outcome. I’m a Knicks fan going back 20-plus years and the Warriors winning or losing just doesn’t ever affect me one way or the other. I would’ve been loathe to alter that calculus in any way.)

The Warriors losing the Finals was probably a net-positive for me because it made their whole story exponentially more interesting from there on. (I think that’s the dirty little secret of beat writing, that teams are always more interesting when they lose.) Once Golden State signed Kevin Durant, now you have the redemption narrative in place heading into the 2016-17 season. I started writing the book in May and the Finals loss (plus Durant) likely added thousands of words to my workload and delayed everything by weeks, but it did make the final third of the book — which will be out this October! — a whole lot more exciting than expected.

I should also note that my Wired.com piece from 2011 served as my “sample chapter” in the proposal, so if I don’t write that piece more than five years ago, we’re probably not talking about any kind of book right now.

5. One of my favorite Erik Malinowski Joints is this in-depth look at the Space Jam website, which somehow remains on the internet, in its original form, more than 20 years after its creation. This is the kind of story where the idea is so clever and creative that it’s almost impossible to mess up. Where do these good ideas come from? What’s your “process,” so to speak?

This story was from when I was writing a feature a month for Rolling Stone’s website. (This piece on the untold origins of the SI football phone is my personal fave from that time.) I don’t truly know where these ideas come from — mostly from just futzing around on the internet, if I’m being honest. But I’m always thinking, “Has this ever been written about before?” That was the thought behind the “Homer at the Bat” history for Deadspin. That was the thought behind my Tom Emanski profile for Fox Sports. No one had ever profiled Emanski and I thought to myself, “Why me?” And where I would always end up is, “Why not me?” If you think you have a good idea, you just can’t get hung up on thoughts like that.

Once I commit myself to a story like this, I go all in. I contact every source I can. I’m scouring LinkedIn, public records, even Whois domain registrations for email addresses and other contact info, and the whole endeavor becomes something of a research project. You never know where that one anecdote is going to come from that changes the whole story’s trajectory. And when I think about the benefits of having been a fact-checker for all those years, this is where I think all those good habits I learned ultimately pay off.

My goal with these pieces is for them to be definitive in nature. If you’re going to read about “Homer at the Bat,” I want my piece to be the one. Same for Tom Emanski, the SI football phone, the Space Jam website, and so forth. I don’t want any writer to feel like they have to revisit any of these topics again. But I do love doing these deep dives on quirky moments of sports/pop culture ephemera because they’re tangentially about sports but also largely about society at certain snapshots in time.

But the danger I’ve found with these pieces is that it’s really easy to turn off a reader if the subject matter is too far out of the mainstream. I spent two years researching the story of a ragtag group of Bay Area rugby players who, back in 1983, started an improbable, somewhat incredible attempt at becoming Olympic-caliber rowers, in the hopes of qualifying for the Summer Games in Los Angeles. The piece was 12,000 words long, chock full of archival video that I tracked down and a compelling narrative that had never been reported out in 30 years. I’m prouder of that piece than any other I’ve done, but I’m sure a lot of people were turned off by the fact it was about rowing and the audience for that sport is infinitesimal. So it’s often a calculated risk with these pieces and it can be hard to tell which ones will truly resonate with readers.

  1. You are the originator of an important movement: NeverTweet. It’s a very simple philosophy — people should never tweet under any circumstance for any reason whatsoever. Why should people never tweet? Have you seen anyone copying your “Never Tweet” campaign and been like, whoa, this thing has caught on?

Well, I don’t think I’m the originator, but I guess I’ve helped popularize it? There can be great value in tweeting, no doubt, but the idea behind “never tweet” is that eventually you mess up or you go too far. When I see other people take up the cause of not tweeting, I feel like that kind of self-awareness can only ever be a good thing. We’ve all had moments on social media we wish we could take back, but I think as long as you’re cognizant of the inherent dangers and are willing to take a step back now and again to breathe and think it all over before you tweet, then you can limit those instances and their repercussions.

Easier said than done, of course. Thus, never tweet.

7. You are primarily writing about basketball now, but in the past, you’ve written about all different sports. In today’s media landscape, what are the advantages and disadvantages of being a specialist — an “expert” in a particular sport — versus trying to be a generalist? Should a young writer focus his or her efforts into one sport, or try to branch out?

To be honest, I still consider myself a generalist at heart. That’s probably to my detriment, though I once had an editor at a top magazine talk about how he truly values writers who can jump in and tackle various sports without much of a learning curve. I’d really like to think that’s true and that if you’re good, you’re good. (Lee Jenkins, let’s remember, was primarily a baseball writer before he started focusing on the NBA for Sports Illustrated.)

But the industry has become so specialized over the last couple of years and I feel like the idea of being “an expert” in your field has taken on far more importance than maybe it should. I would love to advise a young writer to cast a wide net of interests and to not limit themselves, but I don’t think I could do so with a clear conscience. I think, for the most part, when editors are trying to think of someone to write a given piece, they’re not thinking, “Who’s my best writer?” They’re thinking, “Who’s my basketball writer? Who’s my football writer?”

I think any outlet that prioritizes agile talent over strict specialization is doing the right thing. New York Times writers change beats all the time. SI (as evinced by Jenkins and others) also does this well. At B/R, we had Jonathan Abrams, who is a hell of an NBA writer, profile an NFL punter. I think publications that don’t get hung up on pigeonholing writers into one specific beat are the ones ultimately getting the most out of their employees.

  1. Over the past few weeks, there’s been a lot written about “Stick to Sports” — whether sports writers should share political opinions and the like. Where do you stand on the issue? Does the answer depend on the reporter’s employer?

I don’t think any writer should be expected to stick to sports. Ever. Politics and sports have been always been intertwined and perhaps more so these days than ever before. For at least the next few years, sports and politics will be near-inseparable. If you think you can avoid one for the other, you’re living in an era that doesn’t exist anymore.

I think some employers are more open to this than others and I think that transparency (followed by acceptance) will grow with time. Writers are (believe it or not!) sentient beings with feelings and opinions, and suppressing those inclinations is, I believe, foolhardy and, on some level, inherently hypocritical.

  1. If you could, what would you change about how basketball is covered on the internet?

There’s often a rush to coalesce around a certain narrative that I find reductive, self-defeating, and lazy. You’re just asking to be wrong, often spectacularly so. When I sit down to write, I’m always thinking of how I can give a topic its necessary and proper context. Twitter, especially, can be immensely fun during big-time events and certain singular moments, but the group-think that often follows in their wake is something we could all do without.

  1. What tweet of yours do you wish you NeverTweeted?

That’s an easy one! The first time I ever advised people to not tweet. I mean, I’ve clearly failed in that effort.