Tweet tweet

Twitter is an awesome way to distribute information and to create connections with people. I’m lucky that there are a few people out there who want to hear what I have to say, er, Tweet. But our Twitter followers don’t define or validate us. And if those 1,154 do validate/define you, then you might want to reconsider what’s important to you.


As a confessed information junkie, I love Twitter. It seems pretentious but I love sitting out on a nice day, having a coffee and scrolling through the Twitter feed on my BlackBerry. Maybe I’ll read a story in the Washington Post on a group of students from an African-American boarding school who traveled to D.C. to see the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Maybe I’ll read a poorly written game story that’s all play-by-play and no theme. Or maybe I’ll read a news alert from Chicago about how the L trains have been stopped because a person fell on the tracks during the A.M. commute. I also get to see peoples’ personal thoughts. There’s a certain level of intimacy to Twitter in that regard. It is also, for journalists, a great way to get information and content out into the world – and out quickly and in consumable form.

But I dislike when people use Twitter as a primary form of communication in an important situation. My pet peeve is when you send me 140 characters via direct message telling me something that might be meaningful, when you can pick up a phone or send me a personal e-mail or a note on Facebook. Much like sarcasm doesn’t translate on Twitter (or on paper, for that matter – ask David Cone about his newspaper stint in 1988), there’s a certain emotional aspect lacking when you send a direct message to someone.

No, there’s a lot of emotion lacking when you’re trying to tell someone in 140 characters that you’re sorry, that you’d like to help … or that you’re sick of their crap.

What got me when I got laid off was the people whom I thought would care enough to send an email or pick up the phone … but who sent me a 140-character-or-less direct message. Um, you have my email. You have my phone number. To be honest, I was in no mood to do personal PR in 140 characters or less for the first 48 hours after I got my letter of termination … but I probably would have picked up the phone after seeing your name on the caller ID. I’m sure you’d give good phone, too.


An aside … A shameless plug: Follow me on Twitter – @rlenzi. Just don’t send me a direct message and think you’re getting the emotion of the point across.

Has the question been asked?

Carlos Amestoy’s departure from the University of Maine hockey program last week was definitely noteworthy. No, more than noteworthy. But in scouring the traditional local news outlets, nary a word was mentioned about Amestoy’s departure last week to Saginaw of the Ontario Hockey League. As an optimist, I hope the right people are asking questions about this departure. Even if they’re not being answered. (It’s just as easy to write that an entity or a person will not comment on a situation, but the news is out there for consumption.)

But back to Amestoy’s departure. In the interest of disclosure, I covered the Maine hockey team for more than three seasons and I’m not targeting Amestoy or the program whatsoever. Just putting out the facts.

Amestoy wasn’t one of Maine’s more prominent players. In fact, he was used sparingly at forward by the Black Bears in less than a season and a half. Amestoy had committed to Maine in April of  2008, and entered the school and the program as a freshman last fall. In 15 games in less than two seasons, Amestoy did not register a point.

Thursday and Friday, prior to Maine’s series against UMass-Lowell, the word got out – via Twitter  – that Amestoy was leaving Maine for the pastures of the Ontario Hockey League.

Credit Maine assistant captain Mike Cornell for breaking the news Nov. 10:

@M_Cornell: Really going to miss @camestoy92, but excited for his fresh start up North! Great kid Great Player… #Confidence

Saginaw posted a news release on its website on Amestoy’s acquisition on Nov. 11. Then, Amestoy commented two days later on his departure from Maine, via Twitter:

@camestoy92: Thank you to all of my friends and team mates back at Maine for their support.

Why is this news? This is a player leaving an established college hockey program for a major-junior program, a hot-button topic in college hockey.

This situation is a conflict of sorts – though not in the traditional sense of the word “conflict.” And as a former reporter once told me, conflict is news.

Amestoy has not publicly stated the reasons for his departure. Maine has not publicly commented on Amestoy’s departure. It begs the question – did anybody in the traditional media ASK about Amestoy’s departure?


On a related note …

Maybe this is more ammunition for the CHL in the major-junior vs. college hockey battle that’s prevalent – in the media, in the blogosphere, part of the impetus behind the formation of College Hockey, Inc., a Massachusetts-based organization that promotes college hockey as an avenue for players. (Further disclosure – I have worked with College Hockey, Inc. as a freelance writer.)

Some background: College hockey, as a collective institution, is faced with the problem every year of players who commit to colleges then break that commitment to instead join major-junior or professional teams. In a way, it leaves college hockey programs holding the proverbial bag.

Maybe a player is not up-to-snuff academically. (Or, as one former college hockey player put it a few years ago after his early departure from a Hockey East school, “I just didn’t want to go to class anymore.”)

Maybe a player is lured by the riches of the NHL or the possibility of playing in the NHL. Or a player is lured by the riches of major-junior programs.  The majority of that was unsubstantiated conjecture until ESPN’s Craig Custance, who was then with The Sporting News, examined the issue in a revealing piece that ran in August.

Because of an unexpected departure, chances are that a program has to scramble to fill that hole – maybe days or weeks prior to the start of captain’s practices in September.

And college coaches, College Hockey Inc., the Canadian major-junior teams and the NHL have tried to discuss ways to not so much dissolve the conflict but to harness it somehow.

And it’s a conflict that’s either in dire need of a resolution, or one that may never be resolved.

A case against writing a column

A media blogger once chided me for not taking enough of a stand on a blog I wrote for my former employer.

Because frankly, as a reporter, it wasn’t my place to opine on what I was covering. And I wasn’t a columnist, so writing a column and taking a stand in that context wasn’t germane. Though it was essential to use facts in order to support an argument or a stance – which can effectively be done on a blog, without having personal opinion clouding it. There’s a difference.

But here’s a question:

How is a reporter supposed to remain unbiased – or be perceived as unbiased – when they are putting their opinion on the situation out there to everyone on something they cover?

Boston U.-Maine hockey. What if …

During the course of this game nearly three years ago, I wondered what would happen if Maine – a team that was teetering on the brink of missing the Hockey East playoffs – would beat Boston University, the No. 1 team in the country on Valentine’s Day weekend of 2009.

There were no goalposts to rip down, because football season was well over. Plus, Orono is a small, sleepy college town, so there’s no couch-burning or rioting on Mill Street.

A few of the journos jokingly referred to the 2008-2009 team at BU as “The NHL’s 31st team.” The Terriers had a lineup with 13 NHL draft picks, including current St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and current Nashville Predators center Colin Wilson, and defenseman Matt Gilroy, who opted to return to BU instead of turning pro after his junior year. Gilroy won the Hobey Baker Award in the spring of 2009 as the nation’s top Division I hockey player and now plays for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Maine led 2-1 late in the third period but in the end, Boston University tied the game on Nick Bonino’s goal with less than five minutes left in the third period.

Oh, and the Terriers ended up winning the national championship less than two months later.

Use your mind, not your hands

One of the most uncomfortable things I saw as a reporter came during a post-game media scrum when another female reporter walked behind the captain of a Division I college hockey team. She caressed the player across the shoulders. Her hand lingered too long.

No, scratch that. Her hand shouldn’t have been there – at all. The actions of this woman were unprofessional, not to mention eyebrow-raising. The gesture, to me, said that this woman had more at stake than just gathering and conveying information.

It reminded me of a rule of thumb: Unless it’s a handshake, don’t touch the hockey players.

A colleague recently wrote that he’s giving up on following the Twitter account of another female reporter, who’s known for her unusually flirtatious ways with some of the subjects she’s worked with. I respect him for taking a stand about this. (It’s not an easy thing to do, to take a stand and take it publicly. And, no, I’m not going to name names.)

But his stance got me to thinking: There’s a big difference – and maybe a fine line – between having a rapport with certain players and flirting with them. And it’s one of the misperceptions that the majority of female sports reporters confront.

We’re in a weird spot as women who cover sports. We’re there to do our job yet some outsiders perceive us as only wanting attention or there to flirt with the jocks. It’s a very 1960s, pre-feminism way of thinking, but that Cro-Magnonesque frame of mind is still out there. Even from other women. Ladies, we’re not helping ourselves here.

It’s an uphill battle. We have more we have to prove. We have to work harder and be smarter in order to earn respect.

We need to collectively kill the misperceptions that surround us. We can only do that if we start within ourselves individually.

Know what you’re talking and asking about. Present yourself properly. Be professional. Treat others professionally. Chances are, the people around you in the media scrum will respect you that much more. Including the players and coaches you cover.

But, please, no touching.

A call for freelancers

So in my quest to get my hustle on, I began cold-calling sports editors of papers whose college and pro teams were coming to my town, in case they needed freelancers. Aside from showing up to something and doing your job, using the phone is part of the industry, because there’s a personal connection that’s immediately made through the spoken word. I’ll have a blog on that some day – a PR maven calls it “giving good phone.”

Working the phone four days after I got laid off, I reached the sports editor of a smaller newspaper about 350 miles away. I explained that I was a freelance reporter and I knew one of the teams in his coverage area was going to be in my area, so I gave him a quick rundown of my professional experience and I offered to freelance the game for him.

“We do that on our own,” he told me.

“Do you travel with the team?”


“Do you write up the releases from the sports information office?”

“No, we don’t.”

“How do you report on the road games?”

“We watch the web casts and write those up.”

*stunned pause*

“Don’t you think you’re doing your readers a disservice by doing this, by not having a correspondent help you out?”

No answer from said sports editor. He knew.

Because you are.

You are cheating your readers by having your reporters sit in the office and struggle with a web feed. You are contributing to an absence on your paper’s beat and on your reporter’s beat.

Furthermore, you’re contributing to a domino effect of small problems … which almost always tend to amount to bigger problems. Your reporter watches a shoddy Web feed which is blurry and probably craps out 10 times during the course of a game, and your reporter is probably missing a key moment in the game whenever that feed dies.

After the game, you are creating more work for the sports information director who travels with the team. He or she most likely is in the bowels of an arena or on the sidelines on a windy day, and calling you on a shoddy cell phone signal, trying to deal with other reporters and dot-commers who need post-game interviews and are facing a deadline in 14 minutes or less.

And chances are, as your reporter or clerk is trying to do this phone interview, there are phones ringing around you with people calling in local high school sports results.

Susan Powter said it best: “Stop the madness.”

Start using freelancers. There’s an entire network of people across the country to call on, or who are calling you – reporters at other newspapers, college students looking for clips, online folks who still like seeing their name in the paper every so often … or, like me, a freelance sports reporter who’s just trying to get her (or his) groove on.

Your publication will have a presence in that post-game scrum. Chances are, you will have someone who cares about the product they’re filing for you. And you may have a future contact – or a future employee, if you’re impressed by this person’s work and style.

Here’s a complaint I’ve found about not hiring freelancers: “How do we know if they’re worth their salt? We don’t want to spend time cleaning up their work.”

Vet potential freelancers. Have an assistant sports editor or a trusted staffer read through their clips. Ask them to send three links to their published work via email. Be impressed if they ask you if they need to do this for you.

But if you adhere to the status quo, you’re disrespecting your readers. You’re disrespecting your staff. And you’re disrespecting the athletes and the teams and the programs you cover by not having any presence at an event, even if it’s a stringer you’re paying 50 bucks to write 12 inches about the game.

And you’re better than that.


So, my small-newspaper peeps, drop me an e-mail at and tell me what your newspaper does as far as out-of-town coverage goes. Or what your newspaper doesn’t do. And don’t worry, whatever you tell me is completely confidential.

Wave it loud, wave it proud

I love this.

I will admit it. I watched this 17 times after I found it on Twitter. It’s another piece of evidence of why Steelers fans are the best in the world.

(And, yes, I am biased. And I know I’ll hear it from my friends who are Packers fans. Cowboys fans, too. So spare me the argument. We all will win that one.)

We will take our allegiance anywhere – to UNESCO Heritage sites, to weddings, to the tops of skyscrapers, to sandy beaches half a world away.

The Terrible Towel has a story behind it. In 1975, Myron Cope implored Steelers fans to bring a yellow kitchen towel to Three Rivers Stadium to wave – a gimmick. But it became a good luck charm of sorts and it’s a true phenomenon of fan-dom. Plus, each sale of a Terrible Towel goes toward a cause – the Allegheny Valley School receives the profits from sales of each Terrible Towel. Cope gave the organization the rights to the Terrible Towel in 1996.

But each Terrible Towel is not just a token that represents a team. It’s the emblem of a fan base. It’s a sign of what unites us.

My parents are from Pittsburgh and I joke that “in the end, all roads will lead back to Pittsburgh.” But I think about what drew me to so many of my friends: the Steelers. Heck, it’s how I met my husband – talking about the 2005 Steelers. We have our friends from Pittsburgh who we watch Steelers games with. I became friends with another reporter who is a Steelers fan. One of my best friends from college makes a point to call my husband and I from Hawaii during Steelers games. I talk Steelers with one of the NHL coaches I keep in touch with. Everywhere I go, I meet people from Pittsburgh.

Like I told my friend from Hawaii, “This whole thing, it’s bigger than us!”

Pittsburghers are proud of where we came from – and I consider myself “Pittsburgh,” even though I grew up in Maryland and went to college in Pittsburgh. We’re the children of mill workers and coal miners, children who had to leave home to make better lives – because there were no opportunities to make a new life in Pittsburgh. When we came back, we saw our city transformed from a place of  industrial blight to a high-tech, educational and medical epicenter. A cool city.

If you ever hear the song “Black and Yellow” by Wiz Khalifa, take a moment to listen to the words of the song. It’s about swag. It’s about confidence. It’s about continuing to work to be successful – and showing off the fruits of that labor.

It’s about us. It’s Pittsburgh.

You know what it is.

An appeal to Joe Paterno

JoePa. My heart hurts because you are not going out on your own terms, and I know how that feels.

But at the same time, you’re only continuing to hurt yourself.

For so many years you were held in a certain regard in my extended family – I am the grandchild of two blue-collar Western Pennsylvania families, a coal mining family and the family of an immigrant from Italy who worked in a rural glass plant.

My grandfather, God rest his soul, loved sports. He LOVED Penn State football. Fiorino Lenzi adored the fact that an Italian-American man who was raised in the Depression, who earned a scholarship to an Ivy League college after nearly quitting high school, could make himself into one of the most successful and recognizable personalities not only in the state but in the country and in the landscape of college football.

But, JoePa, your downfall and the scandal surrounding your football program have made me reflect on a few things I have learned from the family that adored you for so long. Things that I haven’t seen out of Happy Valley in the past few days.

My family taught me the values of honesty, integrity, of putting in a day of hard work each time we wake up and head out the door. My family taught me that  no matter how little your role is, you are part of a team and a representative of your organization. And you take pride in that and carry yourself with that in mind.

My family taught me not to hide behind a script that I did not create – something I carried into a career in journalism. Transparency is ingrained in every journalist I know worth his or her salt.

My family taught me to speak up when something was wrong.

This is wrong. So wrong. All of it.

Your statement of resignation will not suffice. Your impromptu press conference at your house Tuesday night won’t make up for your program’s transgressions. Your community’s support of your tarnished program is despicable.

And until you speak truthfully, though you probably never will, you remain complicit.

I learned that from my family, too.

Penn State: A lack of institutional control

“Lack of institutional control.”

It’s a term that’s tossed around a lot these days when it comes Division I athletics.

Institutional control is defined by the NCAA committee on infractions in a six-page PDF file that explains compliance to the organization’s rules and regulations:

But it’s something that can easily be incorporated into our everyday lexicon. We see it in our managers at work. We see it in households, sometimes in our own. We see it in our bank accounts and in our communities.

We see what happens as a result of an absence of accountability.

Things fall apart because of mismanagement, a sequence of personal choices or a lack of checks and balances.

And it’s fully on display at Penn State.

Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator under Joe Paterno with the Penn State football team, was arrested over the weekend on charges of sexually abusing eight boys over the course of 15 years. The grand jury’s findings are some of the most disturbing and sickening I’ve ever read, as a journalist and as an individual.

This transcends everything and every argument that is being made either for or against Penn State right now – the Penn Staters who are flailing away in an attempt to defend their school and their program (really, there’s no use now), the holier-than-thou iconoclasts who believe that this is another example of universities putting too much stock in their athletic programs and not enough into their educational resources. (Look up Penn State’s annual academic endowment some time.)

Penn State wanted the assembled media at today’s press conference to focus only on Saturday’s football game against Nebraska. Nothing else. No questions about the tornado that’s surrounded Happy Valley.

And when it became clear that the media wasn’t going to follow Penn State’s edict, the school’s president abruptly cancelled the weekly press conference.

A memo to Penn State: Your attempt at damage control won’t help anyone now. And it’s not helping your institution.

No reporter in their right mind was going follow this joke of a gag order.

Instead, Joe Paterno should now take it upon himself to speak out. Not only to defend himself but to explain his actions and the sequence of events that led us, led his football team and led his institution to this point. And to apologize for the mess this has caused Penn State.

For the boys – who are now young men – whose lives have been profoundly changed as a result of Jerry Sandusky’s disturbing and sickening behavior – I am saddened for them and for their families. Even more so now that the trauma has to be publicly rehashed for every one of them.

For Penn State, I’m just angry. Angry that this was allowed to happen for so long. Angry that Joe Paterno didn’t call the police. Angry that Mike McQueary didn’t speak up any louder when he saw what he saw. Angry that administrators seemed to turn the other way.

Angry that right now, Penn State’s administration and its sports information department is making a vain, pathetic attempt to muzzle the media at a point where this story is the biggest one not just in sports but the biggest story in the nation.

Joe Paterno is the most visible figure Penn State has – before this week, chances are that more people outside of Happy Valley could identify Joe Paterno than Penn State’s president Graham P. Spanier.

Joe Paterno has the chance to control this situation, somehow. He has the chance to publicly hold someone accountable. Maybe the institution that’s employed him for so long. Maybe even himself.

Ask yourself this the next time you open the paper

Does the newsroom of your local newspaper or news outlet accurately reflect your community?

And if not, are there staffers – reporters, editors, producers, clerks, managers – who bring a different perspective to the table? One that could potentially enhance what that outlet brings to the table?

I’m curious to find out your thoughts and responses. Drop me an e-mail – – and let me know. And, yes, your responses will be confidential.