By James H. Williams

The role of a general sports columnist continues to hold prominence and value as culture, race and politics continue to intersect with the sports world, but like everything else, is evolving.

Four columnists from different parts of the country sat with moderator Bill Eichenberger on an APSE panel this week in Las Vegas to discuss their careers and the changing role of a general interest columnist within a newsroom.

Even for sports-specific columnists, current events and hot-button topics such as the pandemic and Black Lives Matters have helped put into perspective why it’s important for them to be human interest storytellers who can help paint a picture, and how their reporting and opinions can have impact locally and nationally on and off the field.

USA Today columnist Christine Brennan spoke about her experiences coming from years of reporting and cultivating relationships. She has worked at every Olympics, including the 2021 Games in Tokyo, since 1984 when it was hosted in Los Angeles.

Brennan’s ability to make connections and have contacts with International Olympic Committee members allowed her to make a phone call to an official in 2020 and find out that the Games were canceled due to the pandemic before it was officially publicly announced.

She expressed the importance of having to “work harder than everyone else” and “reporting the heck out” of your stories.

The panelists shared their experiences and offered their time as mentors to the younger journalists in their respective newsrooms and at the conference.

“We’re here for you,” Brennan said. “We want you to be us. … You will have longevity and be that person.”

Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke encouraged journalists to take advantage of television and radio opportunities.

He has been a frequent contributor to ESPN’s “Around the Horn” for more than a decade and has made close to 400 appearances on the show. He told the panel’s audience that being on the show, in 5 p.m. ET time slot, broadened his audience to a younger crowd and helped drive traffic back to the LAT’s website.

Plaschke also spoke on making sure those media appearances don’t take away from the work you are doing as a writer and reporter. He said being on the West Coast works to his advantage to be heavily involved with the show while still leaving him enough time in the day to produce his columns.

Las Vegas Review columnist Ed Graney talked about the changes within his city and adjusting as three professional sports teams arrived since 2017.

John Bednarowski, the sports editor and columnist at the Marietta Daily Journal, said that because his publication consists of a smaller staff, he has leaned on his managing editor and other section editors to provide feedback on his columns before they are published.

Photo of Christine Brennan and Bill Plaschke: Chip Murdock / For APSE