By Jake Adams
It’ll be 16 months between visits to friends in Philadelphia.
I’ve never gone more than three months until now, and now an anticipated trip this month will end this long, miserable drought. That’s just one of the things that the pandemic took away from me in the last year. Regular visits to family, seeing friends, laid off, the safety of my girlfriend and mom, who are at-risk. COVID-19 turned a lot of things upside down.
I’m not alone, and I consider myself among the lucky ones. I’d venture everyone reading this right now has felt the sting of COVID personally or tangentially. Lost loved ones. Lost jobs. Gotten sick. Missed lifetime milestones.
I’m not going to say the cliché thing that COVID changed everything (I guess I just did).
Instead, I want this newsletter to be a quick snapshot, more than 12 months in, of what our peers are experiencing and what they expect to see post-pandemic. So I reached out to a half-dozen reporters and editors from various backgrounds around the country asking them to share their thoughts on a few things about the past year.
Here’s what they had to say:
What’s been the most difficult change in the last 12 months?
AP director of vertical products Barry Bedlan: “AP and most other media have wasted far too much time and resources arguing for basic access to games as organizers limit access in the name of COVID while allowing their own photographers or preferred partners full access. We’ve seen this at all levels, around the world.”
The Manhattan Mercury sports editor Ryan Black: “I’ll be honest: I don’t think things altered for my shop as much as some others. I’ve already been told that we’ll go back to doing in-person interviews like we used to as soon as it’s safe to do so.”
The Richmond Times-Dispatch sports editor Michael Phillips: “Our best ideas have always come from the spontaneous collaboration of having people bounce ideas off each other, turning small ideas into big packages and takeouts. Zoom just isn’t a natural replication of that, so I think we’ve been a lot more “siloed,” where everybody works their beat and you have to be really intentional about creating cross-beat projects and stories.
APSE Mizzou president Emily Leiker: “It can already be intimidating enough as a woman to ask a question in a scrum full of men. Add in the fact that you can see everyone’s facial reactions to your question, the fact that there might be extra people on a call, and the limited ability to ask follow-ups, and it makes things a lot more difficult.”
The Salt Lake Tribune BYU reporter Norma Gonzalez: “Literally, everything. I had just moved to a completely new state six months prior and was working almost every single day before the pandemic started, so I never got the chance to really get to know the new community I was part of or make friends. Suddenly, instead of constantly going out to cover practices and games, whether local or out of state, I was confined to my room. (I rent a single room in a random family’s house.)”
What’s changed in how you cover your beat(s) that you think is here to stay?
Phillips: “We found that readers really responded to hearing about past events, and what was a one-off idea to fill space last April has turned into a weekly “Sports Memories” piece that looks back on something from the deep past (I was particularly amused by our coverage of the Tobacco Bowl, which of course ended with the crowning of Richmond’s annual Tobacco Queen, a local college student, as she rode in on a parade float made to look like a giant pack of Marlboros).”
Leiker: “Something that’s changed in the way I’ve covered my beats over the past year is that I’ve used a lot more secondary sourcing. … I’ve found myself having to do a lot more research and spending more time looking at secondary sources to fill in some of those gaps from not being able to talk with people. For example, while working on my piece on ECU’s swim and dive program being cut, I probably spent more time going over finance reports and reading about similar situations at other schools than I did actually talking to people.”
What are you most pessimistic about in the future?
Phillips: “The No. 1 fight right now is getting back to regular in-person interviews and locker room access. Nothing else ranks even remotely close for me. That access is at the heart of what we do, and losing it would further alienate fans from the sports they love and follow.”
Leiker: “It seems like colleges are greatly enjoying their ability to more closely moderate interactions with players than they were able to previously, and I can’t imagine they’ll transition media availabilities back to in-person events with much haste.”
Gonzalez: “I’m most pessimistic about people still not realizing the gravity of the pandemic, both in the near and distant future. I’ve come across too many people that downplay the virus and precautions because they haven’t been affected, yet more than 500,000 Americans have died due to COVID.”
Clarion Ledger/USA Today Network reporter Rashad Milligan: “I’m pessimistic about the sports media’s general access across the board. I think this has been a perfect opportunity for control freaks in the world of PR to hijack the way of doing things, so we won’t be able to connect with our subjects like we used to.”
APSE PSU vice president Jake Aferiat: “One thing I’m most pessimistic about after the pandemic ends, especially as a graduating senior in college, is that the job market will be oversaturated and that by the time sports come back and places are hiring or re-hiring, they’re going to look first at previously unemployed sportswriters of some renown rather than taking a chance on kids coming out of school. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing and not that they don’t deserve to be rehired, but it is something I’ve worried about a bit.”
How about most optimistic?
Aferiat: “One thing I’m most optimistic about is the push all over the country, especially in big newsrooms and in newsrooms run by bigger parent companies, is the push to unionize. I think that’s a great step forward and should hopefully provide people with more security and safety in their jobs as well as just more rights in general going forward.”
Milligan: “Being able to hug my mom again and not worry if I put her in danger of death. That would be cool. On the work side of things, being in packed basketball gyms and not having the thoughts if I would have trouble breathing a couple of days later is going to be nice, and more job opportunities for my friends.”
Bedlan: “As for optimism, it has become apparent to more people how valuable sports is to our society and normalcy. Here’s hoping that value translates into more revenue opportunities for all media organizations in the years ahead, whether it’s the emerging interest in sports betting and esports or more fully realizing the value of established beats.”
Personally, nothing else compares to getting my girlfriend fully vaccinated (April 8!), and later myself, and being able to laugh with friends. Just in time for turning 30.
Jake Adams is the sports editor at The Sentinel in Carlisle, Pa. If you would like to subscribe to the APSE newsletter, please email Jake at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also featured in this month’s APSE newsletter: Q&A with Garry D. Howard by Reese Levin.