Critical Thinking: Do Reporters Belong in Sports Locker Rooms?

By: Heidi Kulicke

Q: A Wall Street Journal column criticized the use of reporters in sports locker rooms. Is there a legitimate reason for reporters to be in locker rooms? What should the role of today’s sports writer be?  

Josh Liebeskind 21, senior at the University of Washington  
Liebeskind is pursuing a journalism degree with the intention of working as a sports reporter upon his graduation in March 2012. He has worked as both the news and sports editor at The Daily, the award-winning UW student newspaper, as well as covering football, basketball, and baseball, among other sports.  

A: There are legitimate reasons that reporters should be in locker rooms. The locker room is a place where reporters can bond with athletes, as well as conduct interviews in a comfortable setting for the interview subjects. For a beat writer that covers a sports team, relationships with athletes are necessary to cultivate interesting story angles. Locker rooms are also a more comfortable environment for athletes. Making the interviewee as relaxed and normal-feeling as possible will get better results — just as in any other journalistic field.

Today’s sports writer needs to adapt to the changing climate of journalism. In a field that is evolving to include much more multimedia components, sports writers have fantastic opportunities to thrive in this type of environment. As sad as it is, the younger generation doesn’t necessarily want to read through an entire article. What catches people’s eyes are videos, audio, and photographs. These are all things sports reporters can easily do, and because athletes are idolized, a successful sports writer needs to be able to include multimedia components within writing.

Scott Wasser 59, vice president and executive editor of The Portland (Maine) Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram  
Wasser oversees a newsroom of about 100 newspaper and website FTEs, including an award-winning sports staff. Wasser previously was a sports writer and sports editor.  

I haven’t been in a professional sports locker room since Pete Rose (or was it Ty Cobb?) was chasing 4,000 hits. But it’s scary to think that sports writers are no longer welcome or even needed there.

That contention in a recent column surprised me. None of the sports writers who work for me have hinted they’re about as welcome in locker rooms as bedbugs. Maybe I’m out of touch. Or maybe they think they’d be out of a job if their boss learned the athletes they cover would rather get jock itch than get interviewed by a sports writer.

Some athletes treated reporters like fungus even when I was covering sports. Usually, the reporters deserved it. Maybe they betrayed a trust, misquoted an athlete, or reported something inaccurately. Sometimes they were just rude and obnoxious, as if their press credentials and tape recorders entitled them to be jerks.

But the good ones developed trusting relationships they turned into compelling, insightful sports writing. I can’t think of a single sports story I ever wrote that would have been better without the insight or comments I got from interviewing someone who had participated in the contest.

The recent column contended that athletes no longer say anything worth repeating, in part because the media mob scenes found in post-game locker rooms are more of a nuisance to athletes than an opportunity for cathartic release. Maybe. But I contend that a good reporter can rise above the rabble to connect with an athlete and get something worthwhile on the record.

More importantly, I know it’s true because I’ve got sports writers who do just that every day.

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2 thoughts on “Critical Thinking: Do Reporters Belong in Sports Locker Rooms?

  • September 20, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Sorry, Josh, but the last thing I want is a reporter bonding with a source.

  • September 20, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    Your writers aren’t dealing with prickly pro athletes who are naked and throwing F-bombs at them. There isn’t even a major-college program in Maine. Apples and oranges for what your writers deal with … actually, apples and limes since your guys wouldn’t last a day in an intense environment … we need a better sampling of people in the trenches than someone from Maine and a college student … Heidi needs to develop better contacts!!


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