Massachusetts Daily Collegian

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski speaks with UMass students, faculty

‘Woj’ is the country’s premiere NBA reporter

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(Will Katcher/ Daily Collegian)

(Will Katcher/ Daily Collegian)

(Will Katcher/ Daily Collegian)

By Will Katcher, Collegian Staff

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Adrian Wojnarowski, an ESPN reporter covering the NBA, visited the University of Massachusetts on Thursday night, where he talked about the challenges and lessons he encountered as a young journalist.

Fellow ESPN reporter, Jackie MacMullan, was originally slated to visit, but was forced to cancel her appearance, according to an email from the UMass journalism department sent Tuesday.

Wojnarowski, or “Woj” as he is sometimes called, is one of the top sports journalists in the country, and a routine breaker of trade and free agent news. ESPN describes him as “among the most highly regarded voices covering the NBA” and “central in ESPN’s multimedia coverage of the NBA throughout the year.”

Senior Cameron Merritt was one of many sports journalism students who attended the event. Merritt said that he wanted to learn about developing sources and relationships.

“This industry sometimes can be tough,” Merritt said. “You keep working hard, you keep working at it and you can see where it goes.”

Thorough and devoted work was one of Wojnarowski’s central points during the talk, which he delivered to roughly 50 students and faculty in the journalism hub in the Integrative Learning Center.

“The great thing about this profession is it rewards the diligent,” Wojnarowski said.

“It rewards the workers, the people who don’t take no for an answer,” he added, pointing to The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman as an example of one of these reporters.

“I marvel at her and what she does,” he said.

Following his remarks, Wojnarowski took questions from the audience, which varied from what advice to give to young reporters to where LeBron James will head in free agency. He had no concrete answer to the latter, though he speculated that James will want to focus on his legacy, which will likely mean another championship.

Wojnarowski continuously stressed that the smartest people don’t always succeed in the journalism business, and that being connected and getting internships early on aren’t always the tools to success, as they might be in a field like banking.

He pointed to his former colleague at Yahoo Sports, Dan Wetzel, a UMass graduate and highly respected sports writer, as an example. Wetzel worked as a plumber one summer while in school, Wojnarowski noted, but operates with a “tenacity and desire” that allows him to work smarter and harder than other reporters.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from,” Wojnarowski said. “You can outwork them.”

Emilie Cowan, a junior sports journalism major, said that she attended a talk by Wetzel last semester, and was interested in the different paths both writers took to make it to ESPN and Yahoo Sports.

“I’m definitely accepting that it’s okay to start small,” Cowan said, referring to Wojnarowski’s path to ESPN, which involved working at smaller papers in Connecticut, California and New Jersey, before being hired by Yahoo Sports.

Similar to other top-tier reporters, like ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Wojnarowski is known to often be the face of breaking news. Midway through his talk, he glanced at an incoming text on his phone and noted that there may be a contract “buy-out” in the league that night. A short while later, Wojnarowski took a minute-long phone call confirming the story, which had not yet broken publically. Following the event, he tweeted the news he’d been sitting on, that the Minnesota Timberwolves had agreed to a contract buy-out with small forward Shabazz Muhammad.

However, Wojnarowski stressed the importance of being correct on a story, instead of being first to report on it, an idea often taught to new UMass journalism students. He noted that it takes a while to build credibility, but it only takes one bad tweet, moment or report to bring it all crashing down.

Among other advice given to the students present was to be ready to handle rejection. Wojnarowski described papering his college dorm walls with rejection letters, always showing up prepared to cover an event, and outworking competitors.

“It’s impossible to stand out without putting in the time,” he said.

This final point was the most repeated message of Wojnarowski’s talk. He works year-round to develop sources and relationships, so that when trade deadlines approach, he can get information other reporters can’t.

“I’m not there because I look like Brian Williams,” Wojnarowski said, “I’m there because I have information other people don’t have.”

Following the talk, Wojnarowski remained for over half an hour to speak with students. He continued to discuss the points made during the session, and to give advice to the many young journalists in the room, only taking a break to tweet developing news on the contract of situation of Shabazz Muhammad.

Will Katcher can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @will_katcher.

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