ESPN editors visit UMass
A panel of three employees from ESPN spoke in Bartlett Hall Wednesday afternoon regarding the changing environment of journalism, and how it affects the day-to-day activities of their jobs.
The panel featured ESPN.com Senior Editors Jena Janovy and Matthew Lee, along with Associate Editor for the News Desk Sarah Goldstein, and the three ESPN employees used the opportunity to discuss how the Web is changing the speed at which journalism is delivered, but still opens the door for feature writing and quality reporting to exist.
Many students, who expressed concern over a more competitive job market, left the panel optimistic after learning of the different ways journalism is evolving.
“It’s interesting that rather than talking about the death and dying industry of journalism, it’s just changing,” junior B.J. McDonald said.
All three panelists agreed that in order to do their jobs, having a basic grasp of journalism skills are important.
“First and foremost, journalism and basic skills you need to write a proper story are the same no matter what,” Goldstein said.
“Those fundamentals will always be valued among anything else,” Janovy added. “You’ll be able to take that knowledge and adapt it to whatever you’ll need.”
Janovy, who is in charge of assigning, planning, editing and producing long-form features for ESPN.com, said that online journalism allows her staff the time, resources and energy it takes to put together a long-form feature.
One example of how online media has an advantage over print is the ESPN feature published by writer Wayne Drehs in October 2007 of former North Carolina Tar Heels mascot Jason Ray, who died after a car struck him earlier that year. However, the feature was not about his death, but the lives he saved.
Ray agreed to be an organ donor right before he died, and his action helped save the life of four people in New Jersey.
Drehs’s story took six months to produce and was also in cooperation with E:60, ESPN’s weekly investigative newsmagazine show, which debuted with the story on Ray.
The story took six months to produce and eventually won an Emmy. But for Janovy, she cared more about the impact it had, instead of the recognition the story received.
There were links throughout the story where people could volunteer to become organ donors and thanks to the story, 50 to 60,000 people signed up as donors.
“This is one of the reasons we get into this business, to change lives,” Janovy said. “To this day, we feel that’s one of the most amazing stories we’ve ever worked on as journalists and probably the most amazing story we will ever work on.”
She said that unlike newspapers, the online platform has no page limit and doesn’t have to worry about being too understaffed for a writer to spend as much time as Drehs spent on his story. Being online also helps with speed.
While Janovy said the average reader spends about eight minutes on a long-form story, Lee never expects anyone to spend more than three minutes on his story. He not only has to worry about making the story a quick read, but also easy to find.
“Users will spend three seconds on a site looking for what they want, and if they don’t get it, they will go to another site or type it in the search bar,” Lee said.
As a result of the reader’s need for information quickly, Lee, who is the site’s editor for the NFL, college football and MLB blogs, has 15-16 writers who have to write at least eight posts per day.
Part of the change that Lee has seen over the years is not just the need for more updates faster, but also the importance of localizing the stories. Having many bloggers allows for ESPN to give updates on more teams so the fans are more interested.
Localizing the stories also includes a recent initiative where ESPN now has hyperlocal sites for Boston, Chicago and Dallas. Lee said New York and Los Angeles are on the way.
“We want to get in there and cover teams and compete with local papers,” Lee said.
The constantly-changing field of journalism allows Lee to have a department that is still growing and hire cheap talent that otherwise would be without a job. But for student journalists, he sees limited opportunities available since they now have to compete with veteran writers for a position.
All three panelists said that the best way to break into the industry is to get experience with internships at local newspapers, even if they are unpaid.
Adam Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.