Sports writers, coach speak at sports journalism symposium


For the News-Register

Linfield College hosted its first ever Sports Journalism Symposium last Thursday, showcasing Sports Illustrated reporters Chris Ballard and Lindsay Schnell, as well as decorated player and Linfield baseball head coach Scott Brosius.

Finding stories and developing a beat and relationships with those journalists cover were the symposium's main themes, with the panel fielding questions from the audience and each other.

Ballard is a senior writer for the storied magazine and joined its staff in 2000. Schnell joined Sports Illustrated as a staff writer in 2014 after a four-year stint with The Oregonian.

The panel said the easiest way for journalists to find interesting stories is through genuinely investing in athletes and coaches. Building genuine relationships are at the center of a journalists' work.

"You never know who has a great story," Schnell said.

"I believe new stories are everywhere" Ballard said. "Everyone in this room has a great story idea."

The writers on the panel stressed that there was no one right way to discover an important or interesting story – and no one right way to tell it. They discussed building relationships with individuals they cover or meet in other areas as the building blocks of story generation

"Introduce yourself to anyone and everyone; you never know who has a great story," Schnell said during the panel.

Schnell said she tries to get at least a couple stories out of each business trip.

Great stories include great details, and fleshing out a story means talking to as many sources as possible. Some of those sources – top professional athletes – may be inured to the constant presence of media in the locker room or arena.

Getting athletes to open up is an obstacle reporters like Ballard and Schnell often face.

"It's important to show someone you're a human being and that you want to tell their story empathetically," Ballard said. "Have a human interaction, not a conflict."

Linfield mass communication professor Brad Thompson, the panel’s mediator, asked the writers how they might approach an interview with Marshawn Lynch, the Seattle Seahawks’ notoriously press-shy running back.

Ballard stressed the importance of talking to him in a one-on-one setting and approaching him as a human being.

In general, showing genuine interest in an athlete or a coach is monumental for building trust and establishing a working sports media relationship.

Schnell said she would use an act of humanity involving Lynch to her advantage in order to get Lynch to open up.

Curious about a coach's perspective. Schnell quizzed Brosius about what would encourage him to open up with the media.

Brosius said building trust, knowing when to ask what questions and time allotted are things he considers before interacting with the media.

"Be prepared and be professional," he said.

The panelists offered advice about what makes a great sports storyteller.

The specter of objectivity was raised, but fandom and love of sports was held in importance.

"In order to be successful in sports journalism, you have to have fun and love your job," Ballard said.

"It's okay to love it," he said. "And don't forget that."

An enthusiasm for sports is rooted in a natural curiosity about the players, statistics, coaching staff, and other elements of the game. Keeping a natural level of curiosity about the world is essential, according to Schnell in an interview following the panel discussion.

"I think all reporters at their core love to learn," Schnell said. "That's what reporting is - learning new information. You have to be naturally curious about the world around you. Someone once shared with Ballard that, if you don't know the story of how your parents met, you have no business being a journalist. It shows you don't have any natural curiosity."