Sports Reporting in the Digital Age of Journalism
Technology plays a growing role in sports coverage.
Madison Square Garden has seen big moments in basketball history: Willis Reed playing through a torn muscle to help win the New York Knicks’ first championship, Reggie Miller scoring eight points in nine seconds for the Indiana Pacers, and Stephen Curry scoring 54 points on 11 3-pointers for the Golden State Warriors.
Inside the storied arena, Garrett Podell ’19 sat courtside with other members of the media during his 2019 coverage of the TCU men’s basketball team as TCU 360’s beat writer.
“Sitting on press row down on the court felt magical,” said Podell, who was a senior at the time. “As a huge basketball fan, being able to sit that close and cover games there was a dream come true after watching big NBA and college games there over the years.”
Podell reported as TCU was facing Texas in the National Invitation Tournament Final Four. Phones were out throughout the press row, ready to snap photos, tweet a hot take or provide game updates. This is now sports journalism, fueled by a 24-hour news cycle.
Digital skills are especially important in reporting on sports, where live events are at the heart of coverage and the audiences for those events are often far bigger on air and online than they are in person. The 2023 Super Bowl, for example, drew 113 million viewers.
“It is becoming more digital. We are reporting for people who are keeping up with sports in real time, all the time,” said Kristie Bunton, dean of the Bob Schieffer College of Communication and professor of journalism. “And so that’s the number one change: We absolutely have to be able to report in that digital environment and give them content about sports that they can understand and access from their phone.”
TCU has the task of preparing student journalists for the ever-evolving professional world. In an era when athletes kneeling on a field ignites a national conversation, sports journalists are reporting on more than win-loss records.
“As a sports journalist, you have to be able to cover diversity and inclusion in various sports more than ever before,” Bunton said. “And so of course a class such as issues in sports journalism is very important to how TCU is preparing students.”
From Student to Pro
A combination of education and real-world experience helped Podell make the transition from TCU student to NFL staff writer at CBS Sports, something he considers a dream job.
Podell accrued traditional and digital media experience throughout his time as an undergraduate. “First week of school, freshman year, I sprinted to the second floor of Moudy where the student newspaper, The Skiff, and TCU 360 are located. I told the editors ‘I’ll do anything,’ ” Podell said.
He started writing men’s tennis feature stories and then worked the volleyball beat; he produced all the baseball broadcasts his first year. He became KTCU’s baseball announcer and eventually TCU 360’s main beat writer for the football and men’s basketball teams. In his four years, he announced two College World Series and covered the National Invitation Tournament twice.
Schieffer College students interested in covering sports can major in journalism or broadcast journalism; Podell did both. Inside the classroom, he sharpened his skills in writing, reporting, shooting video footage and conducting interviews in classes like Sports Journalism, Topics in Sports Media and Sports Play-by-Play.
“A lot of the classes were really geared around professional experiences, for example, Jean Brown’s reporting class,” Podell said. “We were able to write stories and turn them in to receive feedback, and then you continue to edit until you eventually get published on TCU 360.”
In his downtime, he co-hosted and produced The Podell and Pickell Show, also featuring Jonathan Pickell ’19. The sports talk radio show/podcast aired on KTCU and TCU360.com for three years.
Podell’s internships included a 2017 summer stint in New York City working for SportsNet New York, the broadcast network of the New York Mets. The following summer he interned with the NFL Network in Los Angeles, completing assignments usually reserved for NFL employees — like writing about Dallas Cowboys preseason games for NFL.com.
“I wouldn’t have gotten those internships if I didn’t have a body of work from TCU,” Podell said. “My college experiences set me up for my career and what I’m doing today in a big way.”
Senior journalism major Charles Baggarly is taking a similar path to Podell in seeking opportunities to learn on the job. Now head sports editor for TCU 360, Baggarly also completed an internship with The Dallas Morning News covering TCU sports.
“The greatest lesson I’ve learned while covering sports at TCU is that experience in the field is greater than anything you could learn in the classroom,” Baggarly said. “Committing to a beat full time will help you build connections, a portfolio, and let potential employers know that you are dedicated to providing full coverage. It throws you in the fire, in a way, and forces you to make improvements to your writing and interviewing.”
Journalism jobs are competitive, and background knowledge, often acquired outside of school, is crucial to success. For sports journalists, whose readers are often rabid fans with long memories and an appetite for statistics, knowing the intricacies of individual sports, as well as athletes’ and teams’ histories, is invaluable.
“Because of the way I immersed myself in sports growing up, I never felt I didn’t have as much knowledge as any of the other print and television reporters that would be at the press conferences,” Podell said. “Over time, I was able to get more access to coaches and players and was trusted with bigger stuff. … I wasn’t afraid to ask tough questions.”
According to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey of reporters, editors and others in the news industry, 94 percent of journalists use social media for their jobs.
“Social media is important … because it’s a way for reporters to really stay up to date on things, all over the place. It’s made that aspect easier, Twitter mainly,” said Stefan Stevenson, a former reporter for the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram who covered TCU sports as a beat writer for five years. “Writers have to keep an eye on whoever they’re covering, and their social media presence, because people can break news and post stuff that is newsworthy at any point at any time.”
The next generation of sports journalists has grown up in a world surrounded by technology and is well positioned to use Twitter, Instagram or TikTok to boost their social media presence.
The work that TCU does to prepare students with the skills and experiences to succeed in sports journalism has evolved with the field. Special topic classes in podcasting, mobile journalism and more take a deep dive into using social media on the job.
“Nobody is waiting for your story to come out in a printed newspaper. They’re looking for the online version, and for what you post.”
Kristie Bunton, dean of the Bob Schieffer College of Communication
“We’re just continuing to keep the skills of journalists evolving, adding different things in the curriculum every time a new platform comes up, such as TikTok,” Bunton said.
Patty Zamarripa, who teaches mobile journalism, encourages students to promote and build their own brands, which keeps them competitive in the digital world. Classes on news production and multimedia reporting empower students with essential skills like writing scripts, interviewing guests and producing video.
“Nobody is waiting for your story to come out in a printed newspaper. They’re looking for the online version, and for what you post,” Bunton said. “The iPhone is the single most powerful camera in the world. And if you happen to stumble upon a story, right there, you’ve got a camera, you’ve got an audio recorder, you’ve got the ability to upload things to Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. Especially in the sports coverage world, you have to be able to do some of that instant journalism on digital platforms.”
Podell also pointed to more timeless lessons that have been valuable in his career growth, too.
“There are so many skills that I cultivated at TCU — interpersonal, how to navigate in a professional environment and writing,” Podell said. “I’m really grateful for all the opportunities and time I was able to have at TCU 360 and KTCU. I had a lot of fun and wouldn’t be where I am today without those experiences.”
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