iMedia Interview with Alex Kreitman

In my four-part blog series about how new media is changing the world of sports, I interviewed professionals in the field to get their perspective.

In part four, to get the perspective of a sports journalist who is front line competing with social media, I interviewed Alex Kreitman, Online Sports Editor for the Burlington Times-News in Burlington, North Carolina.

iMedia Confluence: What are your thoughts on the ever-changing world of sports journalism?

Alex Kreitman: It started a few years ago with video and sports. It used to be that TV stations went out to pro and high school games. Then once every news organization had a website, they all had to do video. For instance, working at a newspaper, we had to do video. Sports highlights has been one of the most popular forms of video. At the Times-News, we do video highlights of high school and Elon University sports. What that has affected is the sports reporter’s job. At most places–mid market to smaller market, their sports reporters are required to shoot video, sometimes even take photos, which is all put online. Because they have smaller staffs, they have to do a lot more work. At our office at least, I don’t require our sports reporters to do all that. Reason being, I used to cover sports in print and I know how hard it is to do both. When you go to a high school football game, you have to keep your own stats. You really need to be focused on that to really make sure your story is accurate. You can’t be worried about keeping stats on a clipboard on the sideline when you have a video camera in one hand and a still camera in the other. So luckily we have enough resources that we can avoid that.

Now the bigger things coming into play are text message alerts and email alerts. People are required to send those out for whatever they cover. So our Elon football writer has been sending out text alerts all season. That’s something new that he’s been doing when he’s covering a game. He’ll also update the web during the game. Before you’d just sit there, watch the game, take notes and then write your story. Now they are constantly updating the web, sending things out and putting links on social networking sites.

iMC: What are your feelings on people getting their information from blogs versus traditional news outlets?

AK: It’s made it really different. We try to have some aspect of sports blogging. Not really in the reporting sense. We try to keep all of our reporting on the news site in the news format. We may only put up a couple sentences if say, Duke’s staring point guard is out with an ankle injury and we find that out before anyone else does. We would prefer to put it on the news site and report it as news rather than put it on a separate blog.

The reason we do that is that we have a hard enough time trying to get people to think to go to our website for news in general. We don’t want to throw in a blog separate to Times-News.com. We trying to keep within the branding. Bigger markets have more resources and can have a full-time blogger. Where, if our guys are blogging–if they do it once a day, it’s kind of a miracle.

iMC: Has that advancement of blogs changed the way you write? Writing style in general?

AK: We haven’t changed our style, but it probably will soon. Very soon. The only thing that is changing is that our reporters think it’s easier now to write stories more quickly. With the format of writing a couple sentences and continuing to update, they write a lot faster. With a sports game, if you’ve got a half time update, you’ve got a lot of the story written already. In most cases it helps, especially with a deadline. I think eventually, everyone will be moving to a more simpler, almost bulleted style. Just the facts. No one wants to read stories anymore.

iMC: What are your feelings on many professional leagues and even the NCAA putting limits on the use of Twitter or other forms of microblogging during games by media?

AK: There are rules when we go cover NCAA tourney for basketball. They’re not really enforced that greatly. So many people up in the press box, it’s hard to monitor. It makes sense because schools pay for stat tracker systems, so they want to be the ones to send out the information. But in another sense we have the right to report the news, so if so and so is leading at halftime we have the right to report that. It’s kind of a fine line and with time those rules will start to become more lax. Unless they sit behind you and watch, or keep refreshing you blog page, they can’t enforce it.

iMC: Do you find there is a division between bloggers and traditional media?

AK: You can definitely see that they work differently. If you are there covering a game for a print newspaper or for television, you are going to ask certain questions framed for what you need. If you are doing it for TV you want a good sound bite. If you are doing it for print, you may be trying to get more of an understanding of the situation so you can word it a little bit better for the readers. With the bloggers, I kind of feel like in most cases they are laid back a little bit more. Not that they don’t do real reporting but the kind of just take what’s being thrown out there and regurgitate it. Sometimes they will ask questions but usually what they are reporting on is what everyone else is reporting on, so it’s kind of not all that tough to be a blogger. But there are other people like, for ESPN that stalk situations. If Drew Brees has a hamstring injury and they don’t know if he’s going to play, the ESPN blogger will constantly monitor the situation-calling team coaches and doctors to get constant updates. That’s more reporting than I would do if I were just writing a preview story for a game. I would wait until the last minute to get the most current info, but they are getting tons of updates.

iMC: Do you think sports media need a journalism credential or certification?

AK: I think at some levels it should be. The one thing I hate the most is when some people are discourteous or unprofessional at big professional or college games. It’s annoying and it makes the press corp. look bad and unprofessional as a whole. One thing our newspaper guys get frustrated with is student news reporters. We had one instance when a student reporter came to a press conference with his face paint still on his face. He went from cheering to reporting. They are students and they have the right to cover the game for their organization, but they should adhere to the same standards values and principals. But some people comes to games dressed like slobs and ask arrogant questions. That’s people. You can’t avoid that.

Essentially anybody could cover a game because what you lean in journalism school is more the technical writing, which unfortunately is going out the window a little bit. That’s where you get more bloggers or freelance writers because full-time sports writers are hard to come by now with industry cuts. At the Times-News we have a lot of students or part timers that cover games. When we’ve got eight games to cover and we’ve only got three staff members, sometimes you have to send one of those other people. In that situation you need a good editor, though.

iMC: Do you think micro-blogging is just a fad or a communications tool that will be around for a long time?

AK: I think people will be over it at some point. I know me personally as a sports fan, I would much rather have a stat tracker up on my computer than follow a twitter feed or a blog feed of someone reporting at the game with a sentence or two at a time. It goes back to the whole user experience, where I can see what I want to see when I want to see it. With the game trackers, everything is there. I click and see what I want to see.

I’d rather do that than sift through a couple sentences, where have the time there is misspelled words.

iMC: Are you worried for the future of sports journalism? Is it being replaced with athletes talking directly to the public?

AK: I don’t think so. In my experience, 95 percent of athletes and coaches–especially at the higher levels–don’t care to talk to the media or public on a regular basis. They see it as an extra chore to do, where they’d much rather go and watch the game tape or go to dinner after the game. League requirements make them talk to the media, which is a great thing because it’s public information. There are not enough Chad Ocho Cincos out there to report their own stuff. There seems to be more now with Twitter but they pick and chose what they want to say and the public is eventually going to want everything. If they lose a heartbreaking game, I doubt he’s going to pop up there and start calling out people for throwing incomplete passes, but if we in the media ask him those questions he may answer them.

iMC: Do you have any predictions on what is next on the horizon as far as sports and social media and marketing?

AK: The current trend of alerts is going to continue to be more popular. No matter where you are you’ll be able to find out if you team won their game. More organizations are offering text services, email services or desktop alerts on your computer. That’s going to become a lot more popular as it becomes more accessible and people get mobile phones and packages.

I really think that the online video–live streaming–will be what perhaps takes over and replaces the microblogging. Why do we need to sit and watch a reporters blog if you can sit and watch the game online. I think that in the last five years, so many more games are covered on TV now. We’re not going to spend all the time and energy to give you all these updates. We’re just going to show it to you. It’s what people would rather have anyway. I think that will be the future at some point, especially if you can watch that feed on your phone.

iMC

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