Journalists all over the world are busy churning out news about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic; however, in a world void of sports to write about, we sports journalists have been forced to make adjustments and get creative with our content.
In these times, there are only so many updates a journalist can provide on the state of sports before content becomes repetitive. Much of it boils down to breaking news or looking deeper into athletes as people and how they are coping with the current situation.
Working as the sports editor for a news organization like The Star, I have had trouble. Dealing with Texas State’s ever-changing path toward normal operation, hesitance from university officials over the release of information and an overall lack of sports content to cover has been challenging.
For this story, I decided to contact other sports journalists in Texas to learn from their experiences and see what circumstances they have been dealing with. What I learned encouraged me and pushed me to realize that some have faced difficulties bigger than I could have imagined.
San Marcos Daily Record Sports Editor Drew King said he was concerned his department would shut down altogether when sports were canceled.
“I was kind of nervous because I didn’t know how I was going to be able to fill our sports page every day,” King said. “I remember going into Nick Castillo’s office, who is my managing editor, and I was like, ‘I don’t know if y’all want to try turning the sports page into something else or whether you want to try to keep this going. I’m open for whatever.’ He pretty much told me, ‘go for as long as you have content, and then if you run out then we can try something different.’ Very luckily I’ve been able to have at least one local story.”
King added that the pandemic has allowed him to look a bigger picture—not just game coverage in itself.
“[I have been] trying to keep a better eye on what we can put in the paper that doesn’t strictly have to do with the game,” King said. “You know game stories make up the bulk of sports coverage, and without it, I have to do a better job of figuring out what else is going on that is still sports-related.”
San Antonio Express-News Sports Editor Nick Talbot said the COVID-19 pandemic took away some much-needed access to players, coaches and teams. He added that the loss of that accessibility has been one of the bigger adjustments.
“I mean, you can’t go into the locker rooms anymore; you can’t interview anyone,” Talbot said. “No matter how many Zoom interviews we do it’s never going to replace that access we were used to pre-COVID.”
Journalists who normally cover sports have even made transitions into other areas of the industry. Talbot said it was intriguing to see his reporters branch off into general news and experience success.
“[Tom Osborn], one of my sportswriters, had the biggest story in our paper for the year; I think everyone has seen the story on the San Antonio Foodbank now,” Talbot said. “It’s been on CNN, MSNBC and the New York Times did a story on it. He’s the guy that broke that story. I think it’s up to like more than half a million views on our paid-site. It’s our most-read story of the year. That came from a sports reporter.”
Jeff Jones, sports director at KVUE in Austin, said he hates that he did not get to personally experience the excitement associated with events like March Madness and travel across the country to cover different teams or sports in postseason formats.
He said his sports department, like others, shifted its focus to creativity away from day-to-day game coverage, specifically segments with anchors and on-air stories still having to do with sports but more about fun and hobbies. He said some of the changes will be longterm after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[Journalists] are going to find a way to make it work,” Jones said. “In February, if you told me, ‘hey Jeff, you guys are going to, not just as a sports team or not just half of the news team, but all of KVUE is going to work from home for at least three months,’ I would have looked at you crazy and asked you ‘how is that going to work?’
Even in a world without sports, journalists like myself, King, Talbot and Jones have a responsibility to provide our readers and viewers with quality sports content. As important as the work we are doing now is, we still look forward to the day when sports returns for us to watch, read about and cover.