By Alexandria Valdez
ORLANDO, Fla. — The life of a beat reporter is a constant juggling act between life, stories and games.
Iliana Limon, the college sports editor for the Orlando Sentinel, moderated the panel, which included Lindsay Jones, who covers the NFL for USA Today, Jenny Dial Creech, who covers the Houston Rockets for the Houston Chronicle, and Susan Miller Degnan, who covers the Miami Hurricanes football team for the Miami Herald. Each beat reporter shared her experiences and advice in a panel titled “On the beat: Trials, tribulations and triumphs.”
Before these women wrote for their respective papers, they started at the bottom. Jones was a news reporter in Florida, Creech was a freelancer for the Houston Chronicle, and Degnan wrote for a weekly. For most beat reporters, the first athletes covered are in high school.
“Covering high schools was the best training experience,” Jones said.
Covering high schools, Jones explained, gives beat reporters basic skills such as taking statistics, cultivating sources and dealing with different situations.
Cultivating sources and building relationships is a critical part of sports reporting. All the writers said coaches will notice who comes to practice and who doesn’t. Jones covered the Denver Broncos for the Denver Post before moving to USA Today and said Broncos coach John Fox took note of when writers weren’t at practice.
It’s also important to have sources who aren’t on the field. Degnan said journalists need to notice everyone and find out who they are. Family members, boosters and trustees at practice or around campus might be helpful in stories later. Creech said players’ wives or girlfriends are also good sources for stories.
The group also discussed balancing work and life. Beat reporting is a 24-hour job, said Degnan, who has three children. In the morning she’ll do laundry and tries to make lists to keep life in order. It’s hard to know when news breaks – it could sometimes be late at night.
Jones and Creech also gave advice about balancing work. Creech said she didn’t like working a nine-to-five job and that sports journalists need to find people who accept a journalist’s busy lifestyle. Jones also said that it’s OK for beat reporters to let go of their beat when they are not working.
Whether a journalist is covering a beat like the University of Miami or covering the NFL for USA Today, the tips imparted by these journalists helped conference participants gain a deeper understanding for beat reporting reporting.