Not only did I want to interview Mr. Wojnarowski for his knowledge of the NBA, but I also wanted to find out why he wanted to enter the world of journalism, how he got started in the business. What he thought about the emergence of Twitter and its effect on journalism.
Me: So where did you journey in the world of journalism begin?
Adrian: I started working for a newspaper in Hartford as a high school senior. I worked there in college whenever I was home on break. I then graduated from St. Bonaventure University and went onto write for a paper in Waterbury covering UConn basketball for four years.
Woj went on to talk about some of the reasons why he loves journalism.
AW: More than ever, even though I think it has always been true; the ability to give people information that they can’t get anywhere else has great value. I think it has more value now than it ever has with the internet.
The guts of great writing is great reporting. Your best writing occurs when you have great material. When you don’t have great material you try to write yourself out of a hole which is hard to do. It’s so important to not only know where to go to get information and stories, but to have the ability to know what’s coming down the pike; to not just react at what’s happening, but anticipating what’s going to happen next so you can be ahead of the next big story that hasn’t broken yet. The conversations that you’re constantly having with sources will lead you to look into something.
The heart is in the reporting whether you’re covering sports, news, business, it doesn’t matter. The fundamentals are always going to be the same.
I then brought up the twitter controversy with ESPN’s Chris Broussard from last week and ask Woj how much the landscape of journalism has changed since twitter emerged, specifically the idea that you have to be first and not necessarily right.
AW: The trick is to be both. It is important to be first, you know people say it isn’t important to be first, but to me it is important to be first. I always tell young journalists this:
You could break 100 straight stories, 200 straight stories, you’re wrong on one and that’s the one people will remember. So whatever you did yesterday or last week won’t mean anything if you blow it today. They’ll forget all of the ones that you broke and only remember the ones that you screw up.
Back to the world of twitter.
AW: It’s made the landscape more competitive. I don’t even feel like I have time anymore to write. If I get information I feel like I have to get it on twitter first and then immediately go write it because what I’m finding is that in the interim that it takes for me to write it and get it posted, I can get beat on it. Somebody else can get that information and tweet it. It’s the way to take ownership now. It’s a 24/7 news cycle, there’s a veracious appetite for news out there.
Me: Is it good or bad?
AW: (pauses) It’s good. I disagree with people who think that reporting used to be better, that journalists used to be more careful. Listen reporting has never been better. People have more information about the politicians they vote for, the athletes they cheer for, the teams they root for. They have real time information on what is happening.
Are there “media entities” that are throwing careless stuff out there? Yeah, but I think journalism has never been better and I challenge anyone to say it isn’t. There were days when say a team made a trade, the reporter would wait for the pr guy from the team to call him and then the information would be in the paper the next morning. Now we’re beating each other by ten seconds, thirty seconds, two minutes.
Years ago if a reporter in Pittsburgh made a mistake in a story, just got something completely wrong; if you lived in New York, Cleveland, Phoenix, you didn’t know about it. Now if you report something and you’re wrong everyone on the internet will see it immediately. Where as in the past no one read the out of town papers unless someone faxed it to you or mailed it to you. So I think there is more accountability, say I post something on twitter or Yahoo that’s wrong you don’t think that I’m going to hear about it and be laughed at immediately? It’s challenged people to be better at this craft.
Communications have changed in reporting so much. Text messaging, cell phones in general. You used to have to sit by a landline waiting for a story to break.
Mr. Wojnarowski’s son, along with two friends, come up from the courts at the RAC to have lunch. His son talks about how great his team is, comparing them to the Thunder as Woj agrees.
“That kid was blocking shots like Ibaka!” Mr.Wojarowski’s son exclaims. One of his friends raves about someone on his team executing an alley oop.
It’s at this point that I say to Woj I’ll head out, but he insists that I stay. How can I say no?
Me: I can understand how the 24/7 news cycle would burn people out.
AW: I went to bed at 3:15 and got up at 6 (laughs).
Me: Has twitter made you more sleep deprived?
AW: Well this time of year between free agency, trade deadline, and the draft it’s just the nature of the beast. It’s a 12 month job. There is no offseason. I’m going to go from free agency to USA basketball in Spain and then to London for the Olympics until the end of August. September will be a little more calm.
I then asked Woj where the basketball tournament will be held during the Olympics (O2 Arena). I then mention how awesome it is that the Olympic tennis tournament will be played at Wimbeldon, for some reason I can’t get over that.
Me: Back to a reporter’s accountability with twitter. Now if you write for a local paper, you’re still a national journalist. So there is added pressure to be right.
AW: Yeah because if you’re wrong you’re going to show up on Deadspin or The Big Lead. Your credibility is on the line every day and it’s very easy to become a laughing stock. There’s no tricking your readers or tricking your audience.
Me: How did you end up at Yahoo?
AW: I worked at The Bergen Record for eight years and then got offered the chance to cover the NBA for Yahoo! and jumped at the chance.
Me: Do you have any memories that stand out from a specific game or moment in time?
AW: (pauses) To me it’s more about breaking big stories and writing impactful stories. Those stay with me more than the environment of a big game, which is great; but my focus is on what I have to do day to day. There have been some great playoff games that I’ve witnessed and some great individual performances, but the job has become more about covering an industry as opposed to covering a sport.
Me: Has there been a moment where you’re covering a game and you think to yourself…
AW: This is a pretty cool job? Oh yeah (smiles). Listen I’m lucky, my dad worked in a factory for 35 years. So I’m lucky to do what I do. I’m lucky to have the opportunity because a lot of other people could have this opportunity. I think about that every day. I never imagined that… you know I worked at the OAM Times, a 10,000 circulation newspaper in up-state New York during college, I worked in Waterbury Connecticut, Fresno California. I appreciate the job I have, I wanted to have this job, but I was never sure that it would happen. When I was at small papers covering girls high school soccer games I never dreamed that I would be sitting at the NBA Finals or at the Olympics.
I see guys in the business complaining on twitter about being tired, you know no one cares. Go tell a truck driver that you’re tired of being a sports writer so they can punch you in the mouth like you deserve (laughs).
To me it’s a privalage to have this job. You work hard at it, but who doesn’t work hard in their profession? I do feel lucky.
Me: After you gather your information for a story do you sit down and just write, or do you have an idea of what the column will look like before you start writing?
AW: Sometimes I’ll start in the middle especially if I’m struggling with a lead. It’s better to just start writing, even if it’s somewhere in the middle because sometimes the place that you start writing will end up being your lead. What I hate more than anything is an empty screen. Just start writing. Even if it sucks because you can always go back and make it better.
I tend to be a slow methodical writer. The internet gives you more time and it gives you less time in some ways. Again it goes back to the reporting if you’ve done good reporting it will show in the writing.
The toughest decision you’ll have to make is what do I leave out of this story. Your instinct says you’ve done all of this reporting, I’ve done all of this work I’m just going to pour it into a stew, but you have to make the decisions for the reader. You have to make the decision on what shouldn’t be there so the editor doesn’t have to and so the reader doesn’t say I don’t need all of this.
You have to get over the ego of thinking I have to show everyone everything that I have and think to yourself, what do I really need here? To me those are still the hardest choices. I don’t always succeed at that.
I thanked Adrian for his time and walked out of the RAC wondering if I was going to succeed at turning all of this information into a readable column. Hopefully I accomplished that.
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