The Future of Sports Journalism

How team-media is transforming the sports journalism industry

Picture this: It’s October 18, 1924 and Notre Dame’s football team just edged Army in a competitive contest. You weren’t at the game, though, and weren’t by your radio either, so you have to wait at least a couple of hours before the New York Herald Tribune publishes Grantland Rice’s game story from the historic win in its evening edition.

Fast forward nearly a century and sports journalism doesn’t quite have the same look. It doesn’t wait for anyone. It’s immediate. Quick. Fast. Rapid.

Something a little more like this…

It’s September 6, 2014 and the Michigan football team is taking on Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. You’re nowhere near a TV but that doesn’t matter — you’ve got your phone and are following live updates from local reporters on Twitter. When the game ends, you read two stories about it that are already published within five minutes of the final whistle.

That might be a little more what you’re used to, but don’t get too comfortable for long. Change has started and more is coming.

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Could you imagine following a football game via only team media? It might be the future.

Imagine this now:

It’s October 10, 2020 and Michigan is hosting Notre Dame in football. You’re on vacation for the weekend but pull out your phone to follow the game. You watch a stream of the game on the team’s website and follow along with updates from a team reporter who has field-level access during the game and is allowed in the locker room during half time and after the game.

You stopped following local beat writers because, well, they can’t keep up with the team’s own in-house media. They don’t get the same behind-the-scenes access and that puts them at too large a disadvantage.

It’s not too hard to imagine this scene playing out in the future. In fact, it’s already playing out across the world of sports in which team-controlled media is reshaping the future of sports coverage.

Now, journalists aren’t the only ones covering teams, the teams are covering themselves. In a trend that’s scaring some traditional journalists, teams are increasingly adding in-house “journalists” to cover them on a day-in, day-out basis. Essentially, teams have decided that the press release is outdated and instead, have put out their own press — native advertising if you will — that covers the team but also always sells the team with a positive spin.

Take a recent Michigan basketball game in which Indiana walloped the Wolverines. An article from MLive called the game what it was: a “humbling loss” in which Michigan got steamrolled. The team’s official site, though, had a different take on it, emphasizing Michigan’s early temporary success with a headline that read, “After bright start, scoring drought sinks U-M against IU.”

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Coverage of a recent Michigan vs. Indiana basketball game shows the differences between traditional journalism and more biased team coverage.

One article takes an objective stance, the other talks highly about Michigan, even if underserving.

Perhaps no one knows the changing tides of sports journalism more than Steve Kornacki. Kornacki has written about sports for a living for nearly three decades. He started writing for the Detroit Free Press and moved onto gigs with the Ann Arbor News, Tampa Tribune, Orlando Sentinel and Fox Sports Detroit. For nearly his entire career he covered teams as an objective reporter, but two years ago an opportunity came up for him to work as Michigan Athletics’ in-house writer.

“I thought, ‘Well I’m going to work for a University now,’ ” Kornacki said in an interview with me. “I’m no longer working for a media connection. I’m working for a school. I’m no longer going to have an unbiased opinion. I have to cross that line to public relations — kind of a combination of public relations and writing. I thought about it, but one of the reasons that I didn’t hesitate was what was happening to the media, the newspaper industry.”

Like Kornacki acknowledged, he and other in-house media members serve as pseudo PR specialists dressed as reporters — and from a team’s perspective, it’s brilliant. It helps the team control the message. What major company wouldn’t want to be autonomous from the press? Politicians would jump at the opportunity to get to write their own coverage of their campaigns instead of being pestered by objective reporters. They would have more leverage to sell themselves. In sport’s, it’s no different: controlling the message matters.

And finding talented writers and journalists to fill these roles isn’t hard. As Kornacki notes, with newspaper circulation on the decline, PR type jobs often offer more stability.

Concerns

While in-house team media might scare traditional reporters, it’s by no means unethical. Team media doesn’t hide from who it is or take steps to disguise itself. Michigan’s official athletic site is called MGoBlue.com. Anyone reading an article on that site doesn’t need to go further than the name of it to understand they’re getting information with a certain bias.

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Michigan’s official team site is called MGoBlue.com, not shying away from its obvious bias in favor of Michigan athletics.

Kornacki admits this, but says that some teams, Michigan included, are allowing their own media to be more critical than might be expected from in-house work. After Michigan lost to Notre Dame in football 31-0 two seasons ago, Kornacki wrote an article about what went wrong.

“Here’s why Michigan lost,” Kornacki recalls writing. “Because they didn’t do this, they didn’t do that, they didn’t do the other. … And then I was concerned — because there was some negative stuff — that maybe I didn’t do what I should have done.”

Kornacki’s supervisor applauded his work and Kornacki says it helped give him credibility — that despite being a part of the team, he can still provide a somewhat objective view.

Former Michigan Daily sports editor Max Cohen isn’t scared of team media growing, but said he has learned to view them as more than simply PR agents.

“I don’t think it really changes the approach all that much,” Cohen said. “I think you realize that the team is now your competition, they want those website hits just like you want those website hits.”

His biggest concern, though, is that consumers may not understand the difference between team-produced media and that from traditional outlets.

“The average reader doesn’t know the difference between the biased team media outlet and an unbiased newspaper article,” Cohen said.

The Future

My take: Team media will continue to grow, but ultimately it will not mean the elimination of traditional media because at the end of the day, they have different goals.

Kornacki agrees.

“I think they’ll both exist,” he said. “I think you’ll have university websites that become even more prominent and even more numerous…but I also think that there’s also going to be the traditional journalistic ventures and entities that are going to continue to be successful.”

Kurt Svoboda, Michigan’s associate athletic director for communications, doesn’t just think the two sides will coexist, he thinks they’re dependent on each other.

“I think it has to coexist,” Svoboda said. “I think the old adage might be an organization — a sports team and the media — it’s a marriage where divorce isn’t an option.”

 

Team media wants to sell the team. Behind-the-scenes access and videos will help do that. What fan doesn’t want to feel like he or she was in the locker room after their team just won a championship? That sort of stuff sells. But fans also want to know the truth about their teams. Why isn’t this guy playing? Is someone injured? That’s the sort of stuff a reporter may be able to find with some good reporting but something the team media would not publish. 

Derek Jeter, who founded The Players’ Tribune, a site where athletes can self publish stories they author, believes his sort of new media is good for both sides.

“We’re not trying to take away from sportswriters. Sportswriters are what makes sports successful,” Jeter said. “I think we’re sort of working in conjunction with them. We’re not covering day-to-day sports scores. We don’t have sports highlights. This is completely different. We’re starting the conversation. I think we can coexist.”

As of now, there’s an audience for both team-media content and traditional journalism content. In a poll I conducted via Twitter I found that nearly 1 in 10 fans prefers to go to the team site to get news, 1 in 5 use traditional outlets (newspapers) and that nearly half prefer getting their news via social media sources such as Facebook and Twitter. The numbers show that even though team-media sites get clicks, it’s still not a preferred destination. That’s changing everyday, though.

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As of now, consumers still prefer traditional outlets to team-media sites for getting their sports news (Via infogr.am)

So long as there is an appetite for both traditional outlets and team-media coverage, both will keep serving consumers. Looking further into the future, the evolution of non-traditional sources including blogs and social media outlets will also compete for eyeballs as sports fans try to get their news down the road.

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Blog Post -Personal Brand Interview

Scott Bell is an assistant sports editor for The Dallas Morning News … but he’s also University of Michigan alum and a BIG Michigan sports fan.

This presents him with a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand, as a sports editor of a prominent newspaper, he’s tasked with covering sports objectively. However, as a diehard Michigan fan, he’s not entirely unbiased.

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Scott Bell is an assistant sports editor at The Dallas Morning News.

On social media, Bell has created two Twitter accounts: A professional account where he describes himself as a sports editor, and a personal account in which he mostly talks about Michigan sports and warns in his bio “ For a more professional account with a pretty blue checkmark: @ScottBellDMN.”

I chatted with Scott on the phone to see how being a journalist and a fan affects his brand and how he balances his two personas.

How would you define your personal brand?

Where I’m working now, The Morning News, I would say I try to make my brand about versatility. I feel like a lot of people are discouraged from going into journalism saying that there’s not really a lot of answers on where it’s going, and I try to put myself in positions to kind of help steer us to where we want to be going. I’ve been in a variety of different positions that have given me different skill sets to where I feel like no matter what’s happening, (I) can steer us that way. Out of college, I wanted to be a writer, so I worked at The Free Press doing digital stuff, mainly because I thought that was the best opportunity to put myself in a position to get an audience. … That was a job in which I had the opportunity to make the biggest impact. Because a lot of these newspaper staffs are senior — a lot of older people — and not so digitally focused. So that led to me getting an offer to be the assistant editor for digital down here (in Dallas).

Once I showed I could do a lot of digital things here, it opened up a job in actual management in which I thought my digital skill set had me standout against the rest. I guess, having the writing background, having the digital background, and now my current job, which is more of a traditional print job, I kind of have different experiences you can call on, and no matter what sort of issue is going on, I feel like I sort of have an expertise in it to where I can kind of make an impact.

I guess that’s a longwinded way of saying I try to be as versatile as possible. I’ haven’t really turned down opportunities to learn different skills to try and put myself in situations where I can make an impact.

Your outlet has its distinct own brand, but you also have your own personal brand. How has having your own separate brand helped you? 

I think there’s an increasing gap there. The Morning News has a really traditional, esteemed reputation. … This reputation, where I feel like a lot of people feel like they have to uphold it. It’s nice, but I feel like so many times we take ourselves too seriously. I’m kind of part of a faction here trying to push ourselves a little more toward having fun. Obviously we still do traditional reporting, and we can do these long enterprise investigative pieces. But it’s 2016, anyone that doesn’t think that the newspaper industry needs to shift more toward attracting a younger demographic, they’re in denial. So I’m definitely pushing for us to kind of alter our reputation. I always want us to be thought of highly by the “traditional media types,” but I think your individual writer’s brands are really important.

You’re both a journalist and a huge Michigan fan, how do you balance the two?

My personal account sucked when I worked at The Free Press because I wasn’t necessarily a Michigan beat writer, I worked on the digital desk and we covered digital, and I’d (sometimes) step into the Michigan role, and I’m not going to Tweet or say stuff that’s not making me objective.

Once I moved (to Dallas), and I actually have the ability to be a fan, it’s fun. Part of what I didn’t like about journalism is I feel like it kind of took away my ability to be a fan, and my job was more important than getting to be a fan because I really am passionate about doing journalism.

Being an unbiased journalist is really important to me, but now that I finally have that freedom, I like that opportunity to be a fan again.

Blog Post – Pylon Cams are changing the view and the game

When Clemson and Alabama met in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship game, ESPN used more than 50 cameras to bring the game to its audience of more than 23 million viewers.

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Small cameras are put into each pylon to offer a unique field-level point of view.

One type of camera, though, gave viewers a unique view of the game action. The Pylon Cam showed the game from the point of view of the eight pylons that mark the corners of each end zone. The broadcast used the angle for occasional replays, but viewers could also opt to watch the entire game from the Pylon Cam via ESPN’s online stream of the game.

The technology behind the Pylon Cam is straightforward: small cameras were designed to be placed into each pylon allowing for an optimal field-level view. The technology, while simple, has changed the game, and not just from a viewing standpoint. The closer camera angles have allowed officials to review plays with more accurate replay footage and reverse calls if necessary.

The Pylon Cam is just the beginning of a new trend in allowing television audiences to get closer to the action. The SkyCam or SpiderCam has been used in the past to show aerial views of game action in football, soccer and basketball.

In the future, the success of the Pylon Cam could allow for networks to experiment with other types of cameras and angles in their broadcasts. In the past, networks have used specialized microphones to capture sound bites from players and coaches on the field. In the future, though, small cameras could potentially be worn by players to allow for a true player’s point of view. I think the Pylon Cam will soon lead to the Quarterback Cam, Point Guard Cam and Goalie Cam, allowing audiences to see one-of-a-kind footage from the view of their favorite athletes’ perspective. I also think it could be the predecessor to more wearable technology.

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Pylon Cams have allowed referees to go back and look at replays from a new angle.

Just as Borre Akkersdijk is putting technology in clothes to serve as Wi-Fi routers and air purifiers, I believe leagues will start using technology on all players to track their movements during games. In fact, one league already has, helping to produce the most advanced statistics.

The Pylon Cam — though simple in its idea — is helping to revolutionize football and the sports world in that it’s showing how easy it can be to place a highly advanced piece of technology within a game. This will only increase in the future, as technology grows and television audiences and fans demand to feel closer to the game.

Blog Post # 7 – Photo Story

Crisler Center is a bustling place on the night of a Michigan men’s basketball game. On Feb. 24, I followed Michigan Daily basketball writer Lev Facher for the night to get a behind-the-scenes look at a game from a reporter’s angle. The Wolverines edged the Northwestern Wildcats, 72-63.

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Facher checks in at the Media Check-In Table before the game.

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Portraiture: Facher sits in an empty section and reviews notes two hours before the game.

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Portraiture: After getting settled in, Facher goes to the media room to get his pregame meal.

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Fans slowly begin to trickle in before Michigan’s Feb. 24 game against Northwestern.

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During the game, Facher Tweets information and analysis to his followers. 

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After the game, Northwestern coach Chris Collins addressed the media from the podium.

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Michigan junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. answers a question from media after the game.

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Facher transcribes postgame interviews to use in his story. Many of the reporters are at the stadium long after it empties out working on their stories.

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An empty Crisler Center following a Michigan win over Northwestern.

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Facher heads toward the exit after finishing his story. 

 

iPhone Pics

Close Up

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A behind-the-scenes look at Kelly SnapChatting.

Midshot

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A confused Kelly tries to find directions to her classroom in North Quad.

Wide shot

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Kelly swaggers down a North Quad corridor on her way to class.

 

Post 6 – Data Visualization Project

Sports are stat driven. Have a good stat line? Play more minutes. Make more money.

So it’s almost surprising that there aren’t more sites and projects that are dedicated exclusively to analyzing sports statistics and data. That’s not to say there aren’t any. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight offers insightful data-based analysis on a number of topics, including sports, and is owned by sports media empire ESPN. But when I thought about it, I could list off dozens of journalists who can write 500-word game stories but few that could offer up a data-driven story after a big game.

One site that does the latter is shotanalytics.com. The site — created by a basketball blogger and website designer — is the premier destination for hardcore, in-depth college and professional basketball shooting data.

 

The site is very effective in its main goal to provide comprehensive data visualization regarding basketball shooting. Site users can look at team’s shooting charts or can specify a certain player. Visual tools like graphs and shot maps (detailing where a player takes and makes his shots from) can be manipulated for a given player or scenario. For example, how many shots does Michigan State guard Bryn Forbes make in games that the Spartans win? The graph shows where he takes his shots and is color-coded for makes, misses and where he shoots best (See picture below). The maps also show percentages, making them easier to comprehend.

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The site can show shot maps for specific players in specific scenarios. 

For a savvy fan, the graphs and charts provide an extra degree of detail that a layman fan may not appreciate or comprehend. That’s one of its shortcomings. Some of the visuals may be difficult for your average fan to understand. In other words, as The Guardian article “The Upshot, Vox and FiveThirtyEight: data journalism’s golden age, or TMI?” states, this site may just be “preaching data to the data choir” — or appealing only to hardcore numbers guys and not to a broader audience. Particularly because the subject matter already is a niche area — basketball shooting — the fact that it covers it in a number-focused way may limit its reach.

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The site can show shooting comparisons between two teams with easy-to-read charts. 

A second downfall is that for fulltime access to the entire site, users must pay. For a one-year subscription it’s $99. Some traditional journalism sites are beginning to require this, but given the costs of producing high-quality visual journalism, it would not surprise me if this were more common for data visualization projects.

Overall, I think this site is effective in accomplishing its goal. Unlike traditional journalism, shotanalytics.com tell stories through numbers, and for a fan looking to get a deeper understanding of their favorite team or player, it’s hard to find better visualizations than the one this site produces.

Post #4 – NPR One Review

Stories Listened To:

  • National Newscast (from Sunday
  • Local Newscast (WCNY FM from Sunday)
  • Roundtable: Donald Trump’s Media Tactics
  • Biopic About Nat Turner Is A Success At Sundance Festival
  • Planet Money #283: Why Do We Tip
  • What Happens When You Just Give Money To Poor People

***

Perhaps it’s a personal lack of acumen when it comes to navigating new apps, or perhaps it’s that the NPR One app isn’t as user friendly as it could be. Either way, I wasn’t blown away by the app that one writer said could be to news audio what “Amazon is for shopping or Netflix is for movies.”

Listening in a New York airport while I was waiting for a flight, I rotated through a handful of audio pieces — news and stories. I got caught up with current events through their national and local newscasts and then listened to a random selection that included analysis on Donald Trump and independent films as well as giving money to waiters and also to poor people.

 

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The bits — some just two minutes and some 20 minutes — were a random assortment. The stories were interesting, but a hodgepodge of content, nonetheless. I played around with customizing it more so that I could have listened to stories with more of a focus on my interests, but I struggled to properly tag stories that interested me and subjects that I wanted to hear more about. It’s possible that if I spent more than about 60-90 minutes with the app, I would have gotten a better grasp of how to manipulate it to get the most out of it. But the fact that a first-time user like myself struggled is a flaw in the app’s layout in my opinion.

As a result, I didn’t think the efficacy of the app’s customization was great and would have liked it to be more immediate: I create a profile, list my interests — perhaps other media outlets I enjoy — and then it uses the information to provide me with content that’s personalized for me. I would have liked to be able to hyper-personalize it so the local content I heard was more relevant to me.

Although I am an avid podcast listener and listen to local radio when I’m home, using the NPR One app was a new experience. It’s essentially a combination of news radio with podcasts mixed in, except it eliminates the worst part of local radio — dumb people calling in and spewing about something they don’t know about it. In this regard, NPR One is better. Moreover, it’s mobile. I didn’t need to be in a car or near my radio to listen, I could walk around and still be plugged in.

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Overall, I’d give the app a C+ now. The idea of the app is an A+ idea, and I have no doubt it will get there soon, but the lack of user friendliness and personalization makes me think it’s still needs time to fix its flaws and grow more.

Post # 3 – Live-Tweet an Event: Minnesota @ Michigan Basketball Game

 

Post #2 – NYT Print vs. Online

When it comes to the future of journalism, digital is in.

After Penalty, 23 Wins Recorded Only in Memory,” was a recent New York Times article that appeared both online and in print. In terms of actually text, the two versions were nearly carbon copies, but in regard to format and layout, the online version proved why many print outlets are going exclusively digital.

The story details the 2013-14 University of Missouri men’s basketball team. The NCAA recently announced that the school must vacate its 23 wins from that season due to several violations that occurred at the time. The story was posted online on the afternoon of Jan. 17, and in print on Jan. 18. Both versions share the same headline. The print version appears below the fold on the front page of the sports section, page D1, and it continues on page D4. Perhaps this a sign of millennial laziness, but if a story continues onto another page, I sometimes just give up on it because I don’t feel like flipping the pages. The online version, on the other hand, is easy to read by scrolling through the piece in its entirety.

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A recent New York Times article detailed how coach Frank Haith’s 2013-14 Missouri team was forced to vacate 23 wins. 

I spent about five minutes reading the print version but about 20 minutes with the online version, because the online version allowed me to click on hyperlinks to other articles or timelines that provided context. When I clicked on a hyperlinked “NCAA,” it redirected me to another New York Times page that featured a “Chronology of Coverage” of the NCAA. When I clicked on a highlighted “announcement by Missouri,” I was led to a page on the University’s website with the press release regarding the vacated of wins. In total, seven words or phrases are hyperlinked to allow the reader to be connected to another article or webpage that is related to the story.

The online piece clearly is some indication that the paper is attempting to fulfill the aims of parts of the Innovation Report. Specifically, the multiple hyperlinks, many that lead to past Times articles, are an attempt to resurface old stories. The report said that, “In a digital world, our archive offers one of our clearest advantages over new competitors. … (and these articles) can be resurfaced in useful or timely ways.” Linking to previous Times articles is a way to have them resurface.

The report also highlighted the importance of promoting the article on social media: “Our journalists want maximum readership and impact but many don’t know how to use social media effectively. Content promotion needs to become more integrated.” I actually found the article originally via Twitter, and upon further review saw that the author and the New York Times sports’ Twitter account both Tweeted it out.

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Author Dan Barry tweeted out a link to his article to his 6,269 followers. The New York Times Innovation Report encouraged more promoting of stories via social media.

I would give the Times a B- for its overall execution of aims in the Innovation Report in this story. The hyperlinks are well done, however, the online presentation could have been more interactive with added images and other presentation methods such as timelines or videos. It also could have been better promoted via social media. I did not see it Tweeted out through the paper’s official account nor shared on its Facebook.

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The online version of this article started on page D1 and continued on page D4.

Intro Post – Hi, I’m @sjkauf

Hi, I’m Simon, but if I’m consuming news, I’m usually @sjkauf — that’s my Twitter handle, and also where I get a lot of my news. I’m not the most patient person. I like when things move quickly, and I like my news the same way: quick, rapid and always, well, new. That’s why I’m a big fan of getting my news on Twitter. I follow political journalists to stay on top of the 2016 presidential race, athletes so that I can get the latest scores, and family and friends so that I can keep up to date on what’s going on in the lives of the people around me. I follow a lot of people, so my newsfeed of updates is constantly changing, and so too is my intake of news.

Twitter Meme

Before I was @sjkauf, I was just Simon — not a fancy social media consumer, just your average boring media consumer. Before arriving at Michigan, I wasn’t as savvy with my news consumption. My main way of getting the news used to be watching it on TV, like actually on television, not on my computer or smart phone. I actually watched the NBC Nightly News every night, and I even read the newspaper. The actual hardcopy paper! Since coming to university, that’s not exactly still true. I still watch the evening news a lot, but I usually don’t watch it live, and I never watch it on television, always on my laptop or iPhone. I also still read the newspaper a lot, but I read it online. My parents are always surprised I can still keep up with the news without television and an actual newspaper. They’re old school and still like having their morning coffee with the paper and NBC’s Today Show on the TV screen. I did get my dad a Twitter, though, but he’s still figuring out exactly how to work it #SlowLearner.

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This semester I’ll be blogging about my favorite sport: college basketball. I’m excited to be doing this beat because it’s something I didn’t follow a whole lot before arriving at Michigan. Fast forward to today, and I now cover the men’s basketball team for The Michigan Daily, have gone to nearly every game and have had the opportunity to interview many coaches and players. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to blog about college basketball more as a new-age journalist and less as strictly a traditional print journalist. I think the Post-Industrial Journalism article was spot on: journalism is changing but there are still loads of opportunities to do good, meaningful work on new platforms and in new ways. Social media, video and blogs have transformed the way journalism exists. Today’s journalist doesn’t need a notepad, microphone and recorder; he or she just needs an iPhone and suddenly they can publish the next viral news video. As a news consumer, I’ve learned that I have the ability not just to consume information, but also to interact with it, question it and most importantly, act as my own journalist and publish information myself.

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I look forward to getting started and having you follow along!