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“Technology and New Media: Reshaping the Future of Sports, Journalism, and Advocacy”

Posted by Kelly Regan on September 12, 2008

I don’t think for a single second in my 18 years of life I have ever considered myself athletic. It’s not even that I was not physically inclined or talented; I simply am not a sports fan of any nature. I can hold my own in conversation about football and I even know a fair amount about baseball, since I grew up in the hometown of the one of the greatest teams of all time, the Red Sox. I just don’t particularly care to spend my time getting sweaty or spending hours pouring over stats on the ESPN website for my fantasy team. I am, as some would say, a girly girl.

When I was assigned to cover the “ Technology and New Media: Reshaping the Future of Sports, Journalism, and Advocacy” seminar, I was less than excited. I knew, however, that it was a huge opportunity that so many kids wanted; to be able to rub elbows with some of the most renowned sports anchors in the industry, and that desire was something I could relate to.

I know that these are the kinds of journalists have the kind of passion, drive, and success I want for my own career. But what then is one with little sports background to do? Google it. And Google I did. I researched the backgrounds of all the speakers on the panel, dying to see what paths they took to get where they were. Some, like John Anderson, took a path I am well on my way to, a degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Excited finally, I was ready to see what knowledge the pros had to offer.

 The hall was absolutely packed with eager audience members, awaiting the beginning of the second half of the discussion. I swooped into one of the only open seats left in the room, with dozens of people lining the walls and sitting on the floor already. The excited buzz of the crowd was contagious; even if I had no idea what the guy next me was talking about when he mentioned something about a “safety blitz”. (For the record this is when an offensive football player tries to breakthrough the offensive line. Thanks again, Google.)

The caliber of the speakers was impressive. The panel was made up of Mike Alden, the Director of Athletics at Mizzou, Phil Bradley, former MLB outfielder and Special Assistant to the General Manager of the Major League Baseball Player’s Association, Myles Brand of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Jamie Butcher, Vice President of Sponsorship and Employee Communications for AT&T, T.J. Quinn, investigative reporter for ESPN, Sonja Steptoe of O’Melveny & Myers LLP and Wright Thompson a reporter for ESPN.

 The group discussed many topics, ranging from how they’ve adapted to new technology to why baseball is fighting technology to how the Internet has expanded the scope of their audiences. They did an excellent job too, of making the discussion enjoyable and funny, even for the non-jocks in the audience. However, the most interesting part, I felt, was the advice at the end that each panel member gave to future journalists both about how to be successful and the ever-changing technology of the industry.

Here’s a list of the most helpful tips they gave:

1.     Learn to have a thick skin. It’s not related to you or what you are doing; only what you wrote.

2.     Stay contemporary, not full of contempt.

3.     Every journalist needs to be written about to better understand the other side.

4.     Using technology inappropriately or wrongly is worse than not using it at all.

5.     Be cautious: the missing human element can make journalists more callus.

6.     Know your mission. You are a journalist.

7.     Utilize what you’ve got.

8.     Help improve standards in the industry, starting with your own writing.

9.     Make good judgment calls.

10.  And most importantly,  “If it feels icky, it’s probably wrong. The [Journalist’s] Creed actually says that,” Wright Thompson said with a chuckle.

When the session time was up, I have to admit, I was disappointed. It felt as if the speakers were just beginning to open up and give advice that had universal application. However, what they shared in the time was very valuable and I definitely took it all to heart. After all, they are the professionals.


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New Media and Sports Journalism: Where does it go from here?

Posted by Cassandra Kamp on September 11, 2008

Warm greetings, energetic conversations, and laughter filled Neff Auditorium today awaiting part one of “Technology and New Media: Reshaping the Future of Sports, Journalism, and Advocacy.” Whenever the panel started, however,  the audience sat intently in silence listening to some of the biggest names in sports journalism discuss the problems concerning new media outlets and athletics.

Both students and professors, athletes and coaches alike were all in attendance to hear John Anderson of ESPN fame lead the seven panelists in questions primarily concerning the effects of technology on college athletics. The panelists were Mike Alden, University of Missouri Director of Athletics, Phil Bradley of the Major League Baseball Players Association, Myles Brand of the NCAA, VP of Sponsorships at AT&T Jamie Butcher, T.J. Quinn of ESPN, Sonja Steptoe of O’Melveny & Myers LLP, and ESPN.com and Magazine senior writer Wright Thompson.

Brands started the panel with discussion about the exploitation of student athletes. He discussed the commercialization of college athletics and how college athletes are often treated more like professional athletes rather than student athletes. Brands suggested the problems comes from commercialization of athletics by universities caught up in a spending frenzy. After answering questions from his fellow panelists, Brands asks that journalists present games in a way that the athletes are college athletes and not pros. In rebuttal, Quinn stated that it isn’t the journalist’s job to present the values of the NCAA, but to present exactly what he or she sees.

The panel then transitioned to Alden’s discussion of the exploitation of student athletes using new media outlets such as Facebook, Myspace, and text messaging. He stated that he can try to manage student athletes and these medias, but he cannot control them.  His job is to remind student athletes to be responsible when using Facebook, YouTube, or any other site similar to these. Alden also talked about the importance of keeping some things private from the media, such as hiring a new coach, while keeping himself accessible to the media for timing appropriate questioning.

All panel members expressed concern for new media, such as blogs and message boards, allowing anyone to put their opinion into the sports journalism world. Quinn summed it up best by saying, ” We were the gatekeepers, but now there is no gate around it [news].” Thompson explained that there may be 1000 rumors on a message board and 998 may be false, but he, as a reporter, still needed to go through them to find the two posts that are leads to a bigger story. He also said that he will follow a story through to the publication date no matter what another news source, credible or otherwise, publishes about the topic preceding his piece. Steptoe contributed that sometimes these new forms of media can be used as an offensive weapon against the people using blogs and message boards.

After taking questions from the audience, the session recessed for a short break before the second session. Unfortunately, I had another obligation and couldn’t attend Part Two to see what conclusions the panel came to regarding new media and sports journalism. I’d like to end this post with a thought form panelist Phil Bradley.

“You can still be a good journalist covering a bad team, just like a good player on a bad team.” – Phil Bradley on covering sports fairly and accurately

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Covering Conflict

Posted by sjbutterfield on September 11, 2008

How do we rationally analyze the murky haze which shrouds conflict in biased ambiguity?

That is what MU professors Michael Grinfeld and Richard Reuben of the Center for the Study of Conflict, Law and Media set forth to explain on Thursday morning in Lee Hills Hall. Their presentation, titled “Covering Conflict,” outlined the goals of their organization, the Center for the Study of Conflict, Law and Media, which focuses on the interaction between conflict and the media.

The Center has researched everything from health care and domestic violence to its most recent undertaking, a death row innocence project headed by MU professor Steve Wineberg.

Seven years after the attacks of 9/11, Reuben elaborated that the media has made some mistakes in its presentation of conflict, as it tends to omit the underlying causes for tension while focusing on manifest causes. Reuben began his presentation by explaining why conflict is important, citing its pervasiveness and the unique nature of writing a conflict story as primary reasons.

Reuben continued to explain that covering conflict is especially complex because the manner in which it is reported can impact the outcome of the conflict and the severity with which it is viewed. The traditional style of news reporting, the “5 W and H” model, Reuben stated, is part of what contributes to the media “not doing a very good job covering conflict.” By using the present model, Reuben continued, the media polarizes the story, antagonizing the opposing sides rather than presenting the nuanced, foggy picture that is any conflict.

In order to effectively cover conflict, Reuben and Grinfeld sought to lay out some ground rules which their research has shown presents the most accurate picture of conflict. Reuben explained that the media often covers a group’s positions because they are more salacious and sensational than a group’s interests. Where interests are the bedrock behind any group’s positions, a group will tout its staunch, firm positions in order to attract more attention. Furthermore, Reuben said, the media tends to focus on the immediate dispute in a conflict rather than the underlying causes. For instance, Reuben said, a reporter might explain that a suicide bomber attacked a bus in Jerusalem. He might report how many people were killed, where it took place, what group claimed responsibility, but would largely ignore the overarching roots of the Palestinian Israeli conflict.

To effectively cover conflict, Reuben presented a slideshow outlining tips for conflict coverage. He advocated probing past positions to get to the underlying source of a conflict in order to resolve and create a discourse which represents the views of both sides. He encouraged journalists to “situate the dispute within the context of the conflict,” rather than reporting the semantics of the individual event. Furthermore, he said journalists must broaden their source base to get as many sides to the story as possible and that journalists must temper their language so as not to be incendiary.

Wrapping up their program, Grinfeld and Reuben presented a role playing activity to simulate a controversial story in small town America to reflect the intricacies of conflict coverage. In their game, two students played the role of reporter and editor attempting to toe the line in covering a story where a group of students at a small Nevada high school attempt to form a Gay and Lesbian Outreach Club, naturally igniting controversy from the town’s denizens.

The activity reinforced for the audience the multiple levels of interest at work in covering any story, as party politics assure that no group wants to tip the scales enough to make their goals unreachable. Ultimately, Reuben and Grinfeld hope their work pays dividends, as Grinfeld summed up his aspirations for conflict journalism with “if journalists did a good job of looking at interests, of looking at context instead of just reporting what happened, the coverage would be a lot better.”

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