This month In the Tank, we talk to sports reporter, author, and podcaster Yaron Weitzman to discuss the current state of sports media, how digital platforms have forever changed sports coverage, and how he chooses his next story.
You’ve written for sports media leaders like ESPN and Bleacher Report, published a book, and have a podcast – what’s your favorite thing about covering sports in today’s digital age?
Can I say least favorite things first? Jokes aside, a few things come to mind. One is that it offers unique opportunities to connect with all sorts of readers, young and old, near and far. It’s also cool that there are so many different forms of storytelling out there (books, “longform” articles, essays, interview-based podcasts, serialized podcasts, Twitter threads, etc.), and so many ways different stories can be packaged together. I guess the way I’d summarize it is that there are more options and opportunities to get creative, and far fewer limitations. That’s awesome! The key, though—and I know I’m biased here in terms of my background—is to make sure the right people, and right principles are driving that process. I think too many places try reverse-engineering packages based on previous areas of success (“this story on Topic X was a big success, let’s replicate that!) or obsess over chasing trends. I think that’s misguided. “Storytelling,” in my view, is more art than science. The things that pop most digitally, I believe, are those that were led by the reporting/creative/editorial side of things, the people on the ground, and then elevated by everyone else (social media, design, sales etc).
With the proliferation of online media, we now have thousands of stories at our fingertips each day. With so much coverage (and competition) out there, how do you pick and choose what you want to write about?
For me, I’m always thinking about a few things. One is: do I find this topic/person/idea interesting. If the answer is yes, I like to think that I’m a pretty good barometer for the audience. Along those lines, I’ll ask myself: Do I already know this? If the answer is no, then again, I feel comfortable assuming my audience doesn’t either. Basically, I like to think of my job—especially when it comes to NBA reporting/writing, which is what I mostly do and where my area of expertise lies—is to take readers behind the scenes, and either entertain them or teach them something they didn’t already know (ideally you do both), and, hopefully, give them a better idea of how the NBA actually works, of what is actually going on, be it on the court or behind closed doors. I believe that there is—and will always be—an audience and appetite for that sort of writing, and that that sort of writing can stand out in a crowded marketplace.
How has the immediacy of social media changed the way news is broken in the sports world, and is this for the better?
It’s definitely consolidated who it is that’s breaking the most basic of news stories. Instead of a local reporter breaking who their market’s new head basketball coach is, we now have a few high profile national reporters who break everything. So there’s that. It also means that within a few minutes of a breaking news story, every outlet and app in the world will have that aggregated on their own site. Is this better? Probably not, but so it goes.
For me, I like to think that there are two types of breaking news stories. The first is the type we’d all eventually learn about in a press release. Those are fun, and definitely offer a nice ego boost, and everyone wants to see their name on the ESPN scroll or whatever it is. BUT, I’m far more interested in the stories about things that we wouldn’t have learned in a press release. And those can now come from anywhere.
In 2020, sports coverage has become about much more than the games themselves as social issues have come to the forefront. What’s the responsibility of sports reporters to cover the issues while also trying to appeal to a core audience who demand they “just stick to sports”?
Anyone arguing that sports have ever existed separately from the outside political or social world is either ignorant or intentionally trying to mislead and sow dissension. It’s just never been the case. That doesn’t mean ignore the games themselves. I think we should be doing both (most outlets do). Break down the Celtics’ pick-and-roll defense, but also listen to Celtics forward Jaylen Brown explain why he prefers words “recreate” and “dismantle” to “reform,” and then pass that along to your audience. Use sports to laugh and learn. That’s the beauty of the games.
What was your favorite sports story in the last year?
This, on Michael Jordan by Wright Thompson is one of the most brilliant and illuminating stories I’ve ever read. That it was written about a man who’s had more written about him than maybe any athlete in history is what makes it so incredible.
Interested in sharing your insights in journalism, marketing, or communications in a future installment of In the Tank? Drop us a line.