Enhancing journalism without the injection

By Jay Asser

T.J. Quinn and Mark Fainaru-Wada, two prominent investigative sports journalists for ESPN’s enterprise/investigative unit, spoke to an Issue in Sports class at the University of Massachusetts Thursday night.

Prior to joining ESPN, Quinn was an investigative sportswriter and baseball beat writer for the New York Daily News from 2000-07. Quinn earned his bachelor of journalism degree from the Missouri School of Journalism.

After graduating from Northwestern University, Fainaru-Wada reported at the Knoxville News-Sentinel, the Los Angeles Daily News, the National Sports Daily, Scripps Howard News Service and the San Francisco Examiner. When the Examiner merged with the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000, Fainaru-Wada worked extensively as an investigative reporter there.

The two crossed paths while chasing the scandal on performance enhancing drugs in professional baeball. Working essentially as rivals on the story, the two produced eye-opening reports that unearthed the immense and encouraged steroid culture in baseball.

Fainaru-Wada is most widely known for coauthoring, with Lance Williams, “Game of Shadows,” which shook loose some of the controversy surrounding Barry Bonds and steroid lab BALCO, the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, in the San Francisco Bay Area, which allegedly supplied performance enhancing drugs to major baseball players.

In the nationally-acclaimed book, Fainaru-Wada and Williams explained how, through extensive research and investigative reporting, Bonds, along with other superstar players, obtained and took illegal drugs from BALCO.

Quinn and Fainaru-Wada were competitors on the Bonds story. When the case went before a grand jury, Quinn actually broke the story at the Daily News first. But, after Fainaru-Wada and Williams obtained the papers and testimony from the trial, the book came out and the Chronicle duo was praised for the work they each did to report it.

The two men, who now work together at ESPN, shared their journeys through reporting on the steroid scandal, as well as their transition from print to broadcast journalism.

Fainaru-Wada admitted he has had trouble reporting from a television point of view on Thursday. Instead of removing himself from the story, yet painting a picture with his words for a newspaper, Fainaru-Wada said he has had to learn how to be a part of the story, while moving aside and allowing images to form the narrative.

Quinn echoed his thoughts, describing the perception some writers have of broadcasters and television anchors. He said he never expected telling a story on live television would be so difficult, citing how interviewing in particular is entirely, in his experience, different than in print form.

Fainaru-Wada and Quinn also shared their thoughts on social media and how it has revolutionized journalism. In particular, working for a media outlet like ESPN allows millions of people to view the work they do and comment on it in real time.

“With social media today, [writing and publishing] are totally different than they ever were before,” Fainaru-Wada said. “There are so many people reading your stuff, sometimes even before it’s been published for five minutes, who can react to it.”

“Sometimes, it’s like you’re playing defense on a story before you’re playing offense,” he added.

Quinn agreed, saying that being a part of ESPN and reporting on major stories has put a target on his back for the general public. In fact, Quinn read aloud many of the hostile tweets which have been directed at him, especially after breaking the Ryan Braun PED story along with Fainaru-Wada.

When asked about the biggest piece of advice they could give students about to enter the ever-evolving world of journalism, both writers had the same answer, diversify portfolios.

“The most important thing I could say is, ‘diversify, diversify, diversify,’” Quinn said. “Get as much experience as you can from as many different places as you can. Cover cops, news, sports and anything else you’re remotely interested in.”

“You never know where you might gain an important source or friend.”

Jay Asser can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Asser. Michael Wood can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MCWsports