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.

Advertisements

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?”

“No.”

“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 lenzigallagher@gmail.com 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:

http://compliance.pac-10.org/thetools/instctl.pdf

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.

http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/football/story/2011-11-07/penn-state-attorney-general-pdf/51112998/1

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 – lenzigallagher@gmail.com – and let me know. And, yes, your responses will be confidential.

In remembrance of Pelle Lindbergh

This week marks the 26th anniversary of Pelle Lindbergh’s death. Lindbergh was 26 years old, in his third full season with the Philadelphia Flyers and on the verge of becoming one of the first Swedish goalies to become a bonafide NHL star.

Lindbergh crashed his Porsche into the wall of a New Jersey elementary school the morning of Nov. 10, 1985 and died a day later, after being declared brain-dead by doctors. According to police records, his blood-alcohol content was nearly double the legal limit and two passengers in the car were injured.

This book landed on my desk around this time two years ago and I recently re-read it.

After my first read of “Pelle Lindbergh: Behind The White Mask” – and I couldn’t put it down – I took it in to my editor and told him, “Did you know Pelle Lindbergh played in Portland?”

“Write a story about it.”

And I did – an intensive, exhaustive retrospective on Lindbergh’s life, death and legacy that I hoped would do justice while presenting the facts fairly.

I interviewed some of Lindbergh’s former Maine Mariners teammates. I talked to a couple from Florida who were Maine Mariners season ticket holders, who regularly had Lindbergh as a dinner guest at their Portland home. I spoke with the authors, Bill Meltzer and Thomas Tynander. But the hardest thing I had to do was talk to Kevin Cady, one of Lindbergh’s best friends. I worried that I would open old wounds for Cady, who at the time was the Portland Pirates’ equipment manager. I was concerned that he would still be bitter, angry.

But we sat for about 2o minutes above the ice of the Cumberland County Civic Center and talked, not just about Cady’s friendship with Lindbergh, but about Cady’s time in Philadelphia – he was also an equipment manager with the Flyers – about Mike Keenan, about the Pirates’ season and about some of the people we had in common through hockey. And, yes, we laughed about some of his memories of Lindbergh.

Cady, however, said something that struck me about Lindbergh. Something the Swede repeatedly told Cady.

Lindbergh, he said, was the one who always encouraged Cady to pursue his dreams, whether it was going into law enforcement or continuing in hockey.

”He’d ask me, ‘Kevin, what’s your passion?’ ” Cady recalled. ”He told me, ‘Find what you love and go after it. Go for it.’ ”

After the story ran, the American Hockey League promoted it via the league’s Twitter account (@TheAHL) and Flyers fans reached out to me, thanking me for the story (and when I was at the Winter Classic at Fenway Park a couple months later, I told every Flyers fan I met about the book).

Thomas Tynander sent me a touching note on Facebook. He told me that I had put so much heart into the story, and that “Pelle would have loved it.”

Now that I’m in a new phase of life, I’m proud to call Thomas Tynander and Kevin Cady my friends.

And given what everyone told me about him – his passion for life, his drive to succeed, his love of the band Queen – I think I would have adored Pelle Lindbergh had I known him.