2020 saw sports, like many other things, come to a screeching halt. The return of sports over the summer and into the fall has brought with it a return to sports coverage for the Western Herald sports staff, but what has changed? What will “normal” look like in a post-pandemic world?
Three members of the Western Herald sports staff share their experience with covering sports in the pandemic.
Collin Murphy, Sports Editor
In March, I was just three months into covering sports for the Western Herald, just getting comfortable with what my role was when I went to cover games and starting to ramp up coverage as the baseball beat reporter. Then everything went sideways, sports were canceled indefinitely and I was worried I would be left behind.
Instead, we found ways to continue coverage at the Herald and I earned the lead reporter position for the fall of 2020 that looked like it might be a fall without sports when the MAC originally postponed football and started exploring options for a spring season. Ultimately, sports came back, starting not-so-surprisingly with football, the biggest money-making sport in America.
Sports returning did not mean a return to what felt like normal, however. Changes were made in sports coverage, some that will never return to the way they were in 2019.
Right now, gone are opportunities to watch a practice and talk with a coach at the end. Gone are updated stat sheets at every timeout at basketball games that help you remember who did what and when as you craft a recap or takeaway piece. With limited availability in the press box, it means covering a football game outside. In November. In Michigan. No more sitting courtside at basketball games, you cover them from the second deck.
With the challenges come new opportunities as well. Press conferences over Zoom expand access to reporters who are unable to travel to events. Reporting on a game that you are watching from home allows you to use what the broadcast points out, live stats page updates, and what you catch yourself. The ability, and necessity, of doing interviews via a phone call or web meeting allows all parties involved to do the interview from a place they are comfortable and loosens time restrictions from needing to be in an office or at a facility to do them.
Do these changes improve coverage? Do they hurt coverage? Most likely the latter, but only slightly. It has created new opportunities for new ways of reporting. Covering sports in a pandemic has forced sports reporters to reconsider the ways we have done things, and allowed us to have new formats to compare the old ways to and decide how best to move forward.
When vaccines for COVID-19 are widespread and restrictions on gatherings are no longer necessary, things will not go back to the way they were before. Some things will die from the pandemic, and be done in new, different and better ways as society has chances to evaluate the way things are done.
Covering sports amid a pandemic was a great challenge to professional reporters and student journalists alike. Reevaluation never hurts, though, and the pandemic showed us new ways of accomplishing the same things, and when we are able to regain some of the access we have lost, we will be ready to be better reporters with what we have learned.
Jake Nelson, Sports Reporter
I remember it like it was yesterday. March 10th 2020, WMU Women’s Basketball was competing in the MAC Tournament Quarterfinals against Bowling Green, and I was going to be there to live tweet and cover the game.
I grabbed my press pass, walked to Read Fieldhouse and as a student journalist, I covered the game for fans who could not make it. There was nobody in masks, no social distancing, everything was “normal.” Little did I know that less than a week later, everything would change. All sports would be canceled, with questions of when it would return. The world went into a pandemic, and to this day it was my last time covering a sporting event live.
There were a lot of questions, not from me but many others, on how sports would be covered in a pandemic. For months, there were no sporting events going on so I asked myself, “how does a sports journalist do their job, when there are no sports to write about?” The answer was to think outside the box.
What I thought the Herald did really well was, instead of covering the events as a whole, it focused on the athletes and how the pandemic affected them. It put into perspective the impact this all had on the athletes and made for a great read, and showed that as sports journalists there is always a plan b and you evolve the reporting style of an article at the drop of a dime.
I love what I do. Being a sports journalist has been a dream of mine since I was six years old and to begin writing about sports is something that I will cherish. I looked at 2020 as a learning experience, to broaden my horizons on my abilities when it comes to journalism. While I was sad that sports were postponed, there is always something to write about when it comes to sports, and the way that everyone in the sports section worked around the pandemic shows everyone’s love for sports and for journalism.
Now, as I fast forward to current day, many WMU sports are back and playing their seasons. However, I have not been able to go to a game live since March due to circumstances out of my control. That has not stopped me from writing recaps for games and live tweeting them so others can follow along who are unable to watch. I love what I do and just because I can not be at a game live doesn’t mean I will not cover it.
Whether it is a live stream of a football game on ESPN+ for an Around The MAC article, or watching WMU Hockey compete in the NCHC Pod on NCHC.tv, I was still tuned in and that is because I love what I do and I am grateful.
As 2020 comes to a close and a new year begins, I don’t look at everything that happened in sports due to the pandemic as a negative thing. While it got all journalists out of their comfort zone to write about new things, the circumstances surrounding myself due to COVID made me not just a better writer but a better person. I learned things about myself that helped me improve my writing style and to be a better journalist. Lastly, I learned to be grateful for what you have because you never know when it will be taken away and if this year taught us anything, especially when it comes to journalism, it is to expect the unexpected.
The main theme that I take from this year is gratitude. 2020 taught me to be thankful for being able to write sports for the paper and that a pandemic was not going to take away the chance to do that.
Covering sports in 2020 was difficult, I had to write about things I never have before and think of ideas that were much different than those in a spring sports season. Still, I am grateful for what I am able to do and grateful for what I have.
Joseph Zurek, Sports Reporter
When the sports world came to a halt at the hands of COVID-19, I thought that there was no way covering sports would be an option until it all passed. We as sports fans went months without a shred of live sports to cover. I went as far as to write up recaps for NCAA Football video games I was playing. However, when they started back up, we all knew that they would be different than before.
The first instance that we knew sports would be different for me came in the season preview I wrote for the WMU Volleyball team. Instead of being invited into the practice to be able to take in the sights and sounds and talk to Coach Munson and Rachel Bontrager, it was a series of Zoom calls that I would get information from. However these Zoom calls have provided a good outlet to be able to safely get the information for everybody.
These past couple months have been filled with countless emails and Zoom calls. The whole industry of sports journalism has been turned on its head with everybody learning skills they never knew they would acquire.
The change to sports has made, in my opinion, stronger writers. Journalists now do not always have the same access to venues that we once had in the past, so we are now forced to watch on TV like everyone else. However, I have seen top-notch analysis from the couch just like people are at the game, which has been impressive.
Although sports coverage has been changed because of the pandemic, the core of sports journalism stays the same for all involved, getting stories out to the masses and translating this crazy language of sports into everyday words that people can understand.