I work with a lot of people and try to help out even more. However I can safely say for all the fun things I do, the people I work with, the places I go, there is nothing I enjoy more than teaching. I don’t mean just the graduate program at Columbia or getting to speak occasionally at schools like NYU. The most fun is with the high school programs I help run; one for a second time this summer in June for two weeks at The School of the New York Times, and the crown jewel; the three week program we do at Columbia each summer. Why? It’s all about learning, and frankly we learn so much more from these young kids, from around the world, from a select few freshman to those graduating and heading on to school, that we probably learn from anyone else all year round.
For the most part all these young people, from as far away as China and Croatia and Turkey or as close as the Upper West Side of Manhattan, are passionate, well read and have an understanding at least at the basics of the business of sport and want to learn more. They are curious, inquisitive and have a knowledge of everything from mobile gaming to media and sales, that we could have only dreamed about at their age. Their zest for a life ahead is amazing, and we are able to thrive off of their burgeoning love for a business many of us as speakers and instructors are buried in, and frankly sometimes are a bit jaded in. Every summer we get a chance to hit the reset button through the eyes of the kids, as we take them to meet colleagues, and they give us a new perspective on what we thought was a fairly mature business; sports and entertainment. They surely keep us on our toes.
There is also another great aspect to doing these programs year in and year out. It is the benefit that any teacher, and hopefully any parent, gets. Watching these young people literally grow up before your eyes. Amazingly by the time they get to us, some are already on their way to a pretty intriguing place in their understanding of media, engagement and business, all on their own.
That is why I cringed when I saw the story of SI For Kids reporter Max Bonnstetter and the “ruckus” he caused by asking a question at 1 AM to South Carolina coach Frank Martin Friday night at Madison Square Garden. He caught the ire of at least two reporters who couldn’t believe that a kid was asking a question in a late night media rotation while they were on deadline. First, I will say SI For Kids, and other programs that give access to young media members, are always respectful and the kids are well prepared. They ask good questions, they rarely, almost never, overstep their bounds, and the exposure is unparalleled. Newsday’s “Kidsday” program is another, and frankly there should be more.
Second, while many older media members, especially in sports, have to realize that these young folks; high school age, college age, are more media savvy and attune to their situations and the newsmakers in them than many on the beat. They know how to use video and mobile, can activate larger numbers of core friends on a topic, and have a great feel for capturing the moment. This is not just about sports, but it is also seen in popular culture, film, even politics. The age does not have to match the experience any more. Those days are gone.
In sports, activating those communities are how outlets like SB Nation and Bleacher Report got their start. It is how a growing number of socially active, media savvy and passionate newsmakers like those behind Knicks Memes, Hoops Nation, New York Sports Scene and many others have gained an audience big and small. Those three platforms by the way, are run by Tommy Rothman, Buster Scher and Jack Jameson, a 19 year old (who started the Knicks platform while in high school) and two other young men YET to go to college! They saw an opportunity, spent time building the audience, and are now well ahead of capturing attention that traditional sites would kill for at their young age.
Then you factor in high schools that have started media programs in print, film, radio and television at a fraction of the cost of what startup outfitting used to be. Add in the ability to engage in the digital space, which makes ANY outlet global with an audience, they understanding of how to share photos and videos, and you have hyper local news gatherers who can go viral with the right story. On top of that take into consideration the demise of traditional outlets has given rise to the online power of college news media…print, video, audio…and you have a whole world of young people who not only have earned credentials, but they are reaching audiences and covering news well beyond the traditional outlets.
Does this mean that every young person with a Helicopter parent (and there are many) and a mobile phone should be credentialed? No. Even those with the best of credentials still need to continue to learn and refine their craft (don’t we all?). What is does mean is that those doing the credentialing need to look longer and harder at a whole list of new news outlets, and those being asked for credentials, to help with their storytelling. A person writing for a local weekly for the last 15 years gets a pass sure; he or she has probably earned it. But giving The Postgame or Sports Quotient a pass as well probably makes sense, and if they ask a good question, or even a silly question, let’s accept and move on.
In all likelihood the incident around the Final Four bound Gamecocks in New York Friday night was probably overblown. However it was another signal of a continued changing of the guard and fluidity and understanding that those credentialed and those doing the credentialing need to have. More and more young people are earning their stripes, and loving their access because they understand all forms of media and how to best use them to tell the story.
If you are a veteran of the business, take note, and by the way welcome them. They may help you do your job if you are just willing to learn. I do every day.