Sports Journalism’s New Frontier — College Sites?

If you haven’t received your newspaper this morning, it’s possibly because you subscribe to the SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER, the ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, or a variety of other fine publications that are no longer in printed existence. Your dog: Depressed, due to nothing to fetch. I would suggest stop paying the bill.

But if you’re a sports reporter, what are you going to do with that journalism degree now that newspapers are becoming more scarce than leftovers at the Yankee training table? The answer for many: College websites.

University sports information directors and website editors are heavily relying on former journalists to bolster their ranks in recent months. In a survey released today by the University of Tennessee to the DAILY NEWS RECORD ONLINE, 10 Division I-A schools and one major conference had former newspaper sportswriters working on their Web sites in mid-July. Since then, at least two more major colleges — Tennessee and Northwestern — have added former journalists to the staff.

So I decided to go down the street to Stanford University to see what I could find. There in the SID office, eating a sandwich, was one Dave Kiefer; assistant media relations director for the Cardinal and former sports reporter for the SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS. Where he covered Stanford Sports as recently as a year ago.

“It’s kind of a weird transition,” Kiefer told me. “I kind of miss the creativity I had writing for a newspaper, but working here has its own rewards. One of the great things is being able to develop relationships with coaches and athletes that you can’t really have when you’re a totally objective journalist. Also, you know, it’s good to have some job security. That’s pretty big.”

OK, many journalists aren’t totally objective (you know who you are, Peter King). But we get your point, Dave. Mr. Kiefer is a longtime print journalist, in fact toiling at one paper, the now-defunct PENINSULA TIMES-TRIBUNE, alongside yours truly. He’s one of a number of former reporters who are latching on with college sites. Although most of his day-to-day duties revolve around university PR, he also writes for Stanford’s website. From DNR:

For many of the new “official” sports writers, their typical, day-to-day responsibilities don’t change that much from their newspaper jobs. The schools want feature stories and game coverage to sound similar to those that appear in newspapers.

“They told me they wanted me to mostly do what I had been doing at the Times-Dispatch,” said Jeff White, who formerly covered the Cavaliers at the RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, and now writes for the University of Virgina site. “… When it comes to the typical college basketball or football feature, 80 to 90 percent of the time, it’s the same kind of story.”

The schools even want their “reporters” to be, to a small degree, critical of the teams they cover. For example, in one of White’s blog posts, he points to Virginia’s subpar kicking game as one of the reasons the Cavaliers’ football team finished 5-7 in 2009. Several athletic department executives who created positions like White’s said that allowing some criticism is important to give their Web sites credibility.

But I think you can see where this is going. You can’t expect college sites to be uber critical of their sports programs; not going to happen. For that you’re still going to need newspapers … or hey, blogs.

But for college sites looking for talent, there will be plenty to choose from for the foreseeable future.

“For me I was in the right place at the right time,” Kiefer said. “When I got laid off about a year ago, one of my colleagues at the MERCURY told me, ‘Well, at least you got a head start on the rest of us.’”

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