Ask A Pro
Examples of Work
And now it's Sherman's way
Marquette's Cords not afraid to take on critics
Sports Writer, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
How did you get interested in journalism?
When I was in high school, the only subject I was any good at was English. Trust me, there weren't any sports I was good at either, and I tried three. But as a junior in high school, I was also given the rare opportunity to travel to the Soviet Union with a few of my classmates. The trip jolted me our of my comfortable Midwest life and introduced me to communism, poverty and a whole other way of life I'd never seen before. I wrote about the trip for my high school newspaper (the Riverside University High School Tiger Times) and was hooked. What a dream job - telling people a story. It seemed too good to be true. When I got to college, I thought I would just go into news journalism, but I was a sports geek. Watched football and hoops all the time. One of the senior sports writers at my college newspaper told me that getting a job out of school would be really tough, and he asked me if I liked sports at all. I loved sports! He said if I could as much as put a sentence together, I could get any sports job I wanted, since I was female and they were just handing our jobs to under-qualified females. So that's exactly how I started out . . . by taking his job.
Tell us about your beat.
I cover men's college basketball and my specific beat is Marquette University. I cover all of the games, home and away, and write a column about the team and notes on the conference. Last year I was one of the voters for the Associated Press poll that comes out every week during the season, and I covered the tournament all the way to the Final Four. I also cover the Green Bay Packers three days a week, where I write game sidebars and features.
How did you learn to take thorough notes?
Experience. After a while, you get tired of editors asking you questions about your story. You learn, in time, to think of almost everything, or at least the important things. I am never afraid to ask too many questions. Even if they seem obvious, and I don't ever rely on being able to look up things later. Your best source is often the person you are talking to. I even make everyone spell his or her first and last name. Hey, you never know. She could be Jayne Doew.
Is it hard to interview team members when they lose a game?
High school athletes tend to be more emotional and distraught after a big loss, but in today's obsessed society with sports, even 15-year-olds are media savvy. They can usually deal with the questions. College athletes tend to genuinely care about a loss, and they tend to be the most honest and open about a loss. Professional athletes hide in the training room and avoid reporters.
How do you cover a local team without turning into a public relations person?
You simply cannot befriend the people you cover or get attached to them personally. I may like working with the Marquette coach and think he's a swell guy, but I don't care if the Golden Eagles go 0-30 or 30-0. I really don't. Same with the Packers, even though my entire family worships the team. When players succeed and a team does well, you may heap on the praise. But you must also be able to criticize, more so on the college level and even more so at the professional level, to give your articles some meat. That what you are paid for, to analyze and call the games and the players they way you see them. Players may not like you for it, but that's part of your job. If you're buddy-buddy with them, or you can't cover your old school objectively, you need to switch beats.
What are the biggest differences in covering teen sports, college sports and pro sports?
I only emphasized the positives in my high school reporting because these kids should be out there to have fun. They do not get paid or get scholarships for their hard work. If a kid blew a 35-yard field goal with :01 left on the game clock, I mentioned that but didn't dwell on it. You don't need to send any 17-year-olds into therapy. College sports can be the most rewarding to cover because they are very popular and well read, and because you'll still find college kids who play just because they love the game. (Yes! It's true!) You must be careful with this unique blend. In college sports you must watch out for infractions that happen, the cheating, scandals, recruiting and the business end of college sports. In pro sports, anything is game as long as you are accurate in your reporting. Rip away if you so please. They get paid millions. They can deal with it.
What's it like filing on deadline from a game? How do you concentrate?
I am still a frantic mess
on deadline. I tune out almost everyone. I once asked my boss to move because
he was freaking me out, talking during the whole game (he still gives me grief
over that one). If you are talking to me during a game time, you are distracting
me and you are in my way! How rude, right? But I am not on deadline that often
and when I am I have to hear myself think. I have to hear myself read my story
so it makes sense. If I don't do that I don't do my job, so people who want
to chit-chat about the press lunch food or the game they saw earlier that day
are going to have to find someone else to discuss it with because I am not the
one. I take my job very seriously. I also write down a lot, even weird observations.
Sometimes I'll just follow one player and see if he'll fidget with that Band-Aid
one more time. The more observant you are, the better your reporting will be,
and the better your copy will be.
Do you work a lot of nights and weekends?
Less now than before, but
don't ask my husband of two months. You have no life if you cover high school
sports (which is where any sports reporter worth his or her letter jacket starts).
Every Friday night there is football or basketball game and every Saturday is
an all-day volleyball or tennis tournament. You put a lot of miles on the car.
When you move up to covering college or professional sports, it seems like it
should get better, but it doesn't. I put 1,000 miles on my car in two weeks
covering the Green Bay Packers. Every road trip for college basketball means
two or three days a week, on average, away from home. Did I mention I hate flying
too? The General Mitchell airport becomes my second home. In March of 2000,
I was covering the NIT Tournament and then the Wisconsin Badgers to the NCAA
Final Four, and I was home for a grand total of five days that month. On a two-week
road trip I simply had to buy more clothes. Remember, most of our games are
played at night, and now on Christmas and New Year's too. Covering sports is
the greatest job in the world, but you pay for it in time spent away from your
family and friends.
Are you a sports junkie when you're not working?
Heavens no. Well, during college basketball season I still am. I'll watch two games, or four hours, worth of basketball a night whenever I am not covering a game myself. Friends know they won't see me from December until March. Other than that, I love to get away from sports and read a really good book, or see a play or go sailing or crank up the CD player to music that most of you would call, um, very '80s. I don't watch the basketball stats the way some people chart stock quotes. I want a life! You'll burn out on sports if you don't give your brain something quality to digest.
What advice do you have for aspiring sports writers and editors?
Be honest with yourself. Do you like to write or do you have to write? Does this sound like something you could do or is this exactly what you always wanted to do? Can you talk and listen to people or would you rather just talk? This isn't a job for the meek. Or the passive. Or for people who don't know what else to do with their lives. You will work long hours and will not get rich and there will always be someone who criticizes your work. You will have to hound editors for your first job, and then your second and third jobs because you probably won't like your first job of answering phones and delivering mail and fact-checking someone else's work (my first three jobs, actually). Everyone thinks he or she can be a journalist, but sometimes the best writers do not get the jobs. The most aggressive and dedicated ones do.