Assessing access in the SEC

Bob Holt remembers the early-80s fondly. When Holt began covering the Arkansas football program in 1981, Lou Holtz was the coach and media access was practically unrestricted — at least compared to today’s limited and controlled arrangements across the country. Every practice was open to the media. When practice ended, a reporter “just grabbed whoever

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Layoffs, Schmayoffs; Patrick Stevens keeps working

When the Washington Times wiped out its sports department at the end of 2009, Patrick Stevens, newly unemployed, went to work the next day. He’d been covering college sports, and didn’t see any reason to stop. So he started a blog and continued to write about D.C.-area basketball programs in his well-researched (and sometimes snarky)

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A master class with Don Van Natta Jr.

This was a complex story — one with a most secretive institution to crack — but Don Van Natta Jr. is “the best reporter in America,” according to the guy who just worked with him for four months. Because of that, Van Natta and ESPN colleague Seth Wickersham were able to deconstruct Roger Goodell’s NFL —

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Fainaru’s system helps him distill months of research

You followed a man for five months, and now you have 18 days to write 7,500 words about him. Go! ESPN investigative reporter Steve Fainaru faced that challenge for his August story on Chris Borland, a 49ers linebacker who retired after his rookie season because of concerns about head injuries. The volume of writing —

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Joan Niesen on ‘voice’ and her fast-rising career

To advance in this industry, Joan Niesen says, your writing needs voice.

Niesen knows a bit about advancement: She ascended from intern to NBA beat writer to NFL beat writer to Sports Illustrated staff writer all in her mid-20s.

She knows about voice, too. Read her recent story on Tulane football and Hurricane Katrina. It’s packed with expressive phrases that reveal something about the city of New Orleans, the Tulane football team and the deprivation both overcame 10 years ago.

Voice is a bit intangible for the fast-talking Niesen, who struggled to define her own voice beyond that it’s “conversational.” It’s apparent in her writing.

Niesen describes Katrina as “a giant counterclockwise mess of moisture and wind.” She describes the football players who stayed on the team “loyal, dedicated or delightfully insane.” To write with that type of voice, a reporter needs an intimate familiarity with his/her subjects.

Journalists are taught to be impartial, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be invested.

Niesen, who has family from New Orleans, considers the city “a second home,” and it shows with the way she writes about it. She lets her larynx do work and gives the reader a sense of place, especially in this passage.

It’s a place where you learn by doing, by winding up with your sandal drenched in a puddle of Bourbon Street piss water, by waking up with a saccharine hangover headache, by drinking tap water you later learn might have been contaminated. You don’t ask questions. (Why should I suck the crawfish’s head? Who dips eggplant in powdered sugar? Does the streetcar ever come on time? Do the cops arrest anyone?) Instead, you simply do. You suck and you dip and you wait and you hope you don’t do anything that’ll land you in the Orleans Parish Prison. Along the way, you’ll find out all about the Rebirth Brass Band and turtle soup and general human decency, of which New Orleans has a mother lode to spare. No storm could wash that away.

Listen to my conversation with Joan, who discusses her career, how she manages the challenges of being a woman in sports journalism and, of course, voice.

Jerry Brewer tries to establish himself again at The Washington Post

Sports columnist at The Washington Frickin’ Post. It’s a job title thousands of sports writers would give their right and left hands for, and then learn to type with their noses. Jerry Brewer long wanted that job, but when the 37-year-old landed it last spring, he froze. How does a writer, even an accomplished one,

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Mark’s Picks (August)

This is the third installment of my monthly picks. It includes stories that entertained me, gave me a broader idea of a subject and, in some cases, made me think how’d they do that? This month is heavy on football (and on the juxtaposition between its inherent problems and our love for it). Scroll about halfway

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Little League a big event for little paper

Every August, Ben Brigandi faces a similar but daunting challenge. “How much bubblegum pop music of Taylor Swift and One Direction can you listen to,” he asks, “while it’s blaring on the speakers and you have one headphone in your ear, trying to write?” Williamsport, Pennsylvania hosts the Little League World Series every year, providing

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‘Silence at Baylor’ now a thunderous topic

A freelance writer received a tip, and less than three weeks later, it led to tangible change in big-time college athletics. Jessica Luther has written more than a dozen articles about sexual assaults in college football, so it’s common for her to receive the type of message she did this month, when someone — she won’t reveal

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Coming out to media

David Denson, a prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers’ farm system, came out as gay to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this month. He is the first active player affiliated with an MLB team to be openly gay. Veteran Brewers beat writer Tom Haudricourt helped tell Denson’s story, which appeared on A1 of the Sunday paper. I asked

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