By PAUL VIGNA, APSE Mid-Atlantic chair

The annual spring meeting of the APSE Mid-Atlantic region drew more than 40 editors, writers and students to Penn State University on April 15. It began with women’s basketball coach Coquese Washington offering a reflective give and take with those in attendance and ended with students and editors sitting in the same room talking about coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings as the story unfolded.

Special thanks to Steve Sampsell, director of college relations for Penn State’s School of Communications, for assisting with the live streaming, and to Malcolm Moran and AWSM adviser Lori Shontz for assembling the students for the reverse panel that wrapped up the day. The workshop was held, as usual, at The Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center.

Here’s how the panels went:

9:30 to 10:20: A chat with Coquese Washington, Penn State women’s basketball coach.

Communication is harder than ever these days for young adults, which is why Coquese Washington focuses on it daily with her young women. It’s not the only focus, though.

The Penn State Lady Lions head coach covered that and more, speaking before a packed room to kick-off the APSE Mid-Atlantic region meeting.

“One of things that we spend a ton of time on with our team is teaching these kids how to talk to each other, to coaches, to the media, and not just to you guys [the media], but how you communicate effectively, and positively, to other people,” Washington said. “They don’t know how to give compliments. It’s really, really interesting that this age has made it easier for us to communicate, but also much more difficult for kids to communicate with people face to face.”

Coming off her sixth season at the helm of Penn State’s program, Washington described herself as competitive to the obsessive, while also noting that she and other college head coaches are CEOs of their respective programs. They are in control of the growth and resources of a program, along with expectations of success, too.

Washington also fielded questions about current events, including taking on the hot topics in the college basketball world: the firing, and actions that led to it, of Rutgers head coach Mike Rice; the addition of the Scarlet Knights, plus Maryland, to the Big Ten; and life as a non-revenue sport coach.

“First of all, I’m thrilled that Rutgers and Maryland are joining our conference. It’s certainly going to make our conference much more competitive,” she said. 

“Those are two of the marquee programs in the country. It’s just going to be great for women’s basketball.

“I think that it’s no secret that decisions are made for football, and decisions have always been made for football,” Washington continued. “Football is the economic engine that runs college sports, so I have no problems with it at all. Until you’re in a position where you’re having an impact on the financial outcome, you have very little say. And that’s business.”

As for Rice, Washington noted her belief that physical abuse crosses the line. However, she was quick to point out that motivation by men’s and women’s coaches to men’s and women’s players tend to differ a good bit.

Washington went on to add that women need to be built up to what she termed “another level of confidence,” one that men might already have. The Lion coach provided anecdotal evident of this fact, relaying that her nephew, who she described as an “OK player,” believes he will one day play in the NBA, while the top female recruits in the country struggle to believe they are good enough to play at the highest level.

“Every person has a different approach to discipline on the court, to motivation on the court, and I think that’s a personal thing. For me, and our program, one of the important things we do is build very strong relationships with our players when we’re recruiting them,” Washington said.

“It’s important to me that I know who I’m talking to, and what they need to me in order to get them to perform the way that I know they’re capable of performing, and the way they want to perform. And I think that might be a female thing.”

Washington’s session, as well as the rest of the sessions from the daylong event can be found at the APSE website, courtesy of the Penn State John Curley Center for Sports Journalism.

— Greg Pickel, Penn State sophomore and APSE student member

10:30 to 11:30: We’ll talk about putting together a top-notch project/special section, and get the input from three editors whose papers were recent top 10 winners for project or special section: Mike Harris, Washington Times; Judy Connelly, Middletown (N.Y.) Herald-Review; Steve Feitl, Asbury (N.J.) Park Press

The three editors discussed the publishing process of their award winning special sections and emphasized teamwork among all staffs. Harris and his staff previewed the much-anticipated arrival of quarterback Robert Griffin III to the Washington Redskins, emphasizing Washington, D.C., as a “quarterback town.”

Branching outside of the sports world, Connelly and her staff focused on sexual violence in youth recreational sports in light of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, but this idea became a community-wide section.

Feitl aimed to reinvent the way his staff covered high school sports. Because it was an election year, he said, he found a way to build out the special section throughout the year and interact with readers.

Each editor said the planning began anywhere from six weeks to three months ahead of time.

“Special sections are the one time we go all hand on deck with the staff,” Harris said. “We might start three months out with planning.”

Teamwork is a big emphasis in designing a special section, as Connelly said each member of the staff has their own area of expertise that they bring to the table.

Feitl said winning the award and working on the special section was a shining moment for his staff.

Often there is a fine line between print coverage and the online version of a special section, but Harris said his staff put the full PDF file on the front page of the website.

While Connelly created a microsite that had live video and a live chat for the length of time that the section was running. Feitl said that they had polls online and all of the stories were linked together, but said he would have liked to have done more videos and other aspects.

“The staff liked coming together and they like to put out something big,” Connelly said. “Some of them are very competitive and they kind of like to outdo each other.”

Harris said that planning a special section involves the entire staff, including other departments in the building that see final budget for sales and marketing.

— Katie McKenna, Penn State student and member of the school’s AWSM chapter

11:45 to 12:15: A couple of us have switched to a three-day-a-week paper. Paul Vigna, PA Media Group sports manager, and Hank Domin, managing producer for sports for Syracuse Media Group, will explain a little bit about what that world is like

Domin said that most of the negative feedback of cutting down to three days a week has been split between age groups. “The older generation seems to care more [that there isn’t print], but the younger folks realize that there are more stories [online],” Domin said.

Both publications publish a paper on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. However, every day there are updates and stories around the clock on the web.

“It is strange to walk into the office on Sunday night and to have only a police writer and one writer besides yourself in the office,” Vigna said.

Domin arrived at four months ago to a job he was unaccustomed to. He said he has been kept separate from the rest of the newsroom, as his position is managing producer for college sports. He is charge of curating content for the newspaper, finding stories on the web to fill two-thirds of the sports section.

“It has been a huge difference in thinking, every part of the job,” Domin said.

Vigna said that he has had much of the same experience at As sports manager, he now has given up a lot of control about what goes into the section. He noted one of the differences in the operation now is the idea of posting everything online before it goes in the paper. That’s true even for print staples such as season previews and all-star teams. went to three days a week on Jan. 1, making Vigna’s job a little bit more difficult because it was in the middle of the high school season instead of between seasons.
— Megan K. Flood, Penn State student and president of the school’s AWSM chapter 

1:15 to 2:15: The use of analytics for sports organizations and sports writers. Rob Shaw and Jamal Salmon, both of Bloomberg Sports, and Patrick Stevens, formerly of Washington Times, will offer a presentation and answer questions.

The group discussed the vastly increasing interest in sports analytics. From broadcast to print to online, there is hunger and need for data analysis. It ranges from deep saber-metrics to less intricate numbers. 

"We're all looking for different ways to tell stories and I think this is a great way to do it," Domin said. "It gets to a different audience than you normally would."

Shaw explained how Bloomberg analyzes and manipulates data to "try to tell a story with numbers."

"There is quite an appetite for analytics," Shaw said.

For example, 26 of 30 Major League Baseball teams as well as many of their affiliates are contracted with Bloomberg to provide analyzed data.

Salmon spoke about NBA statistics, specifically his analysis of the Los Angeles Lakers' Dwight Howard and perhaps why he was struggling to perform early this season.

He created a matrix to rate individual defensive performance that he called "Bark vs. Bite." The results show which NBA players stop opponents from getting to the rim, as well as stopping them from scoring when they get there.

"Presenting this type of info in easy-to-understand graphics helps reader," Salmon said.

Stevens explained how data analysis, especially with online platforms can be a big advantage.

"One of the beauties of having blogs at this point," he said," is in the past you file an 18-inch story and that's all you got. Maybe you find something interesting and toss a nugget in and it’s in the eighth paragraph and nobody pays attention to it. Now you can flesh all that stuff out in a very useful way for everyone involved.

"That is something than has really provided an opportunity to expanded what everyone is looking for. Provide an extra platform, minimize research in a way to add something you couldn't have added in the past."

Added Domin: "On the web, it can be as long or as short as you want."

— Chris Imperiale, Scranton Time-Tribune sports editor

2:30 to 3:30: Finding a place (still) for the long-form story, Frank Fitzpatrick, Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Frank Fitzpatrick has won many APSE awards during his 30-plus years as a sports writer and he was very succinct when he spoke about long-form journalism.

“A long time ago, a sports editor gave some smart advice,” Fitzpatrick said. “Find an interesting topic and write the hell out of it.”

Fitzpatrick talked about his series on wrestling, which ran in 2011 in conjunction with and leading up to the NCAA championships in Philadelphia. Fitzpatrick found an interesting topic, the small towns in rural Pennsylvania where wrestling is a religion, and wrote the hell out of it.

Inquirer sports editor John Quinn acknowledged that getting the proper space on a regular basis as well as devoting staff members to projects both short term and long term is key.

3:45 to 5: Reverse panel with Penn State students.

News of the bombing broke during Fitzpatrick’s discussion, and many in the audience began to follow the news via Twitter. It provided a compelling backdrop for the reverse panel, where many of the editors who attended the conference took questions from a dozen students.

Much of the conversation centered on how to cover a story like the bombings, especially with so much information getting tangled with misinformation. There were several points where news that was reported as found to be incorrect, serving as outstanding talking points for students with their reporting careers ahead of them. The session ran until 5, with editors heading home and students heading to the nearest TVs.