Over the next couple weeks I wanted to reflect on my experiences covering the Cleveland Cavaliers this past season as a sports blogger with press credentials. My aim is to explore the "role" of a sports blogger with "access" to the team they write about and follow, as opposed to my experiences as a "credentialed media member" this past season covering the Cavs. While I was that, and did that - in some senses - my goal is to work towards answering the question: if you are a sports blogger who is granted media access, what are you supposed to do when you're there?
I'll be wrapping this series up for now with Part Five on Wednesday. For Parts One, Two and Three, click here, here, and here.
Trying to simply just get an interview, as opposed to a specific plan to interview someone in particular
I mentioned in the part one of this series that the whole notion of developing a strategy or plan for what I wanted my credentialed coverage as a blogger this season to consist of never even dawned on me at first, because it didn't. I knew that I wanted to capitalize on the chance to pursue one-on-one interview opportunities, and hoped that would be a key component of my coverage, but that was as far as I'd thought about it.
It wasn't until I actually began pursuing those opportunities did I begin to understand that it wasn't just about "getting an interview" so much as it was preparing for and planning to "interview someone specifically." Once I realized this, and was able to approach these interview opportunities with a coherent plan, the result was coverage unique to this blog and in support of specific topics we were focusing on. In support of our overall strategy or plan I guess. Not to infer anything groundbreaking or universally important was achieved as a result, but I think this realization is something that would help bloggers like me to keep in mind for their credentialed trips to the arena in the future.
What was important for me to navigate through initially is the fact that when you are credentialed for an event it is still up to the individual to go out and pursue these types of Q and A's. Especially if you are there representing a website or blog that nobody's really heard of. If you're there working for a regional or nationally known publication, you might be able to set things up like this ahead of time. Schedule an interview or something. I've done phone interviews for SLAM Online and other publications like that when I've known that Damon Jones or Bobby Hurley or Qyntel Woods or whoever is going to call me at this time, on this day, and I've been able to prepare accordingly for that. List of topics, few outline questions to get started, things like that. But the game or shoot-a-round setting - in person - is a different deal, and it took me some time to get used to.
Hey ah, do you have a couple minutes? I had a few questions for you: I didn't think I'd be nervous at all asking guys for interviews at first, but I definitely was. Especially when I wasn't exactly sure "who I'd be able to interview" and then more importantly "where I wanted to go with that interview" once I was able to get somebody to talk to me.
The first time I ended up interviewing an NBA player at a game was last season actually, LeBron's last. I was credentialed for a couple games that year and my head was just kinda spinning around when I got to the game. I'm standing courtside watching guys walking past me, standing around over near me, and I'm thinking: I gotta talk to one of these guys. I was totally operating with the "I need to interview somebody" mentality, and had no pre-planned strategy for who to approach or what to ask them about.
I ended up going up to Anthony Parker that day because I'd had been doing some random pieces on guys playing professionally in Europe for SLAM leading up to that game, and decided to ask AP about his experiences playing overseas. My questions were pretty choppy, I probably sounded nervous, and ended up rattling off a five or six questions. He offered as insightful of answers as the questions would allow, but I was lucky in that he took the time to decipher what I was getting at in the process. In my own head that wasn't entirely clear to me at the time.
I tape recorded the convo, didn't post the audio because I thought I sounded stupid, and ended up transcribing my first interview with an NBA player and posting it accordingly. Starting SG for the team with the best record in the league in fact, nothing too it I thought.
Only while AP gave solid answers, the interview topic was pretty random because I just randomly thought of it on the spot. It didn't really fit in with anything I had been writing about on Stepien Rules over the course of last season, and was essentially not that interesting outside of the fact that "I just did an interview with an NBA player." I thought it was cool, but outside of friends and family who also thought it was cool that I was for some reason down at the Cavs game interviewing Anthony Parker, I'm not sure anybody else did.
So that was a sort of a start, but it also made me think coming into this season that just walking up to a guy and "winging it" is how to best go about these types of things. Which it is not.
My "Interview with Manny Harris" this season: This lasted three questions, and I sat there at his locker unable to think of anything else to ask after I offered up my third one. I wasn't nervous by this point, I had attempted a few in person one-on-one interview type deals by then, I just wasn't prepared. As a result I posted my Q and A with the deceptively constructed heading: a minute with Manny. Like I was so busy I only had a minute to talk with the guy after he made his NBA debut on the road the night before.
What made this a failed attempt is the fact that he would've talked to me for ten minutes it seemed like, but I drew a blank and couldn't think of anything else to ask him after he got done saying:
"I'm not going into tonight expecting anything, I'm just gonna be ready when my name gets called. If it's not called, I'm going to continue to prepare, and hopefully we get this win."
Why it was a failed attempt for me personally was because I didn't go to this game with the plan of "trying to interview Manny Harris about his NBA debut" until I found myself with the opportunity to do so. That would have been a relevant topic, we all just watched him play for the first time the night before, and it was a good chance for a blog like mine to spend some time talking about - and to - a player that most people weren't really talking about yet.
Lesson learned however, and it probably shouldn't have taken that moment of awkward silence offered by yours truly to realize the importance of preparing for these opportunities, but it did.
The Skyenga Interview: I mentally prepared for this one though. I went down to the Q that night with the goal of interviewing Christian about the rise through the Cavaliers record books that Dave Wooley had been chronciling on the site, as well as to ask him about the Skyenga nickname, and introduce the meaning of it too him.
As people who've done interviews before know better than I do, you don't want to script out the whole thing because you need to be ready for follow-up questions as they present themselves. So I didn't do that entirely, but I did have about four or five questions ready to go in my head along with all necessary bullet points freshly memorized. I rehearsed it in my mind too in the car ride down that night - yeah sorry if that sounds weird but I did that - and made the decision to get that interview with him prior to the game. I also decided that this was an interview that I wanted to videotape because the transcript of it would never in a million years have done the conversation justice. Which is also something to keep in mind too I suppose.
Wednesday - Part Five: An attempt to conclude this collection of thoughts series