Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dual Roles for Basketball's Jenna Galloway

What is an athlete’s take on the media? What is the media’s take on an athlete? The answers help to explain the relationship between reporter and athlete and the public’s perception of each group. One student-athlete at Northern Arizona University provides a unique perspective when describing the connection between reporter and athlete, media and sport.

Jenna Galloway doubles as a starting forward on the NAU women’s basketball team and reporter covering NAU sports for the Lumberjack student newspaper. She recently offered some insight and opinions concerning media and sport.

Jenna as student-athlete…
One interesting observation I have made being a student-athlete who understands the media side of sports, is that things become problematic when you feel some players do not get credit for things they should. From my experience, players that score the most receive the most attention regardless of how those points are accumulated. If someone scores 30 points but they are 8-of-25 from the field that is not really the best night. The points look good sure, but it isn’t an efficient performance that helps the team. Another player who is 5-of-7 with 10 rebounds puts up a solid double-double, but does not get mentioned because the leading scorer had 20 more points. As a player you understand why this is the way it is, but reporters sometimes do not realize a 30-point performance is just that and maybe someone else influenced the outcome of the game more. Sometimes I feel athletes get upset when they don’t get the rightful recognition they deserve. Athletes put a lot of emphasis on the media and whether or not they are getting print, but at the same time as an athlete you do not play the game to be recognized by the paper. You play because you love it and to improve yourself as a person and player. Being an athlete and dealing with the media aspect of sports can be difficult to navigate through when you are trying to do things the right way and reporters do not effectively describe what happened. It can give the public the wrong idea.

There are a lot of things that go on behind the scenes. For instance, if a pass gets deflected or a player causes someone to turn the ball over yet someone else gets the steal, those plays are not reflected in a box score. Knowing the media side of it, I understand why reporters don’t acknowledge those plays but actually they are very important throughout the course of a game. Those types of plays are not in any statistical category. It is very difficult for reporters to measure the hustle side of the game and be able to back up an argument without statistical information. I think basketball is far too reliant of statistics especially when trying to understand the game and how a particular team was able to beat another. Also, in an editorializing type way, statements like “they put in a great effort” recognize certain intangible aspects, but maybe instead of those cliché sports phrases, the media should work harder on underlying storylines such as changes in momentum, game flow, and things like that.

Overall, the media does a pretty good job of covering what needs to be covered; however, at the same time, being a women’s basketball player you feel you do not get as much coverage as a men’s sport. I struggle with that sometimes, but I understand why women’s sports do not receive the attention of men’s sports. The public wants to read what is interesting and sometimes it is not interesting reading about a women’s basketball player as opposed to a men’s basketball player. Women’s sports are not as exciting sometimes as the men’s sports and that contributes to their lack of support which relates to a lack of coverage. I enjoy watching the women at the big conferences like the SEC and Big Ten. These players are very skilled, fast and score a lot of points. I enjoy watching the men because even if they are not the best teams, it is a faster game which makes it that much more exciting. They are more athletic and have different skill sets. There are some women now that are bringing that aspect to the game, but normally the women’s game is much more controlled in the half court. Women have to rely on their fundamentals which makes it a more strategic thinking-type game, but most people are not interested in those aspects. They want to be entertained and that is what the men’s games can provide. As a female athlete, you feel kind of left out, but that is part of the reality of college sports and how the media reports. You just have to deal with it and enjoy your time as a student-athlete regardless of your relationship with the media.

Jenna as reporter…
It is really important to know what you are covering and immerse yourself in that particular sport. The biggest fault of the media is not being prepared, not knowing players, and not really thinking about what questions to ask or the direction to go with your story. It is important to do research beforehand. I knew I did not know volleyball that well so I really tried to pay attention at games and pick up as much as I could. I asked questions of people I knew who had played volleyball and had an understanding of the sport so I would be prepared to ask educated questions when interviewing the players and coach. Being an athlete I have experience with media who are unprepared and it is difficult to open up to those individuals when you are not sure where they are coming from and what angle they might pursue. In order to have that legitimacy as a reporter and develop a rapport or relationship with an athlete during the interview process, it is necessary to be able to articulate what you saw with the proper terminology.

In the fall I really learned how to interview people. I learned how to balance writing for the Lumberjack and writing for class. I learned how to ask the right questions to get the answers and quotes that makes a story complete. Getting that experience with volleyball helped this spring covering golf and the spring football game. It helped me calm down too so I wouldn’t be speaking really fast or not breathing necessarily! I know Coach Choate (volleyball) and Coach Bedortha (golf) pretty well so that has helped as well. Being a reporter can be very rewarding and fulfilling when you do establish those relationships and the question and answer process turns into more of a discussion. Sometimes you can get the best quotes and information through dialogue that takes you past clichés. What really helped me was relying on what I knew as an athlete.

At first I struggled with knowing exactly what the ask Coach Choate, Coach Bedortha and the players because I didn’t want to offend anybody. I know what it feels like to be on a young team that is struggling to find its identity. I didn’t know how to write certain things because I did not want them to think I was negative reporting. I tried to stick to the facts but worked to point out how they may have lost matches based on circumstances out of their control. I tried to find positives saying “They may have lost, but they did this really well.” I think my biggest asset was being able to relate to the players so in that sense even if I didn’t know what to ask, I knew what not to ask. I know what sets coaches and athletes off so I knew what to stay away from. As a member of the media, I had to recognize how different players and coaches can be in terms of their thoughts, feelings, and emotions after certain matches. Reporters really have to be aware of things like that. I think a lot of the problems between media and athletes relates to one group not really understanding the motives of the other. As a reporter, I want to get the facts and write a compelling and honest story, but athletes are worried about how they might be portrayed which is why they are so guarded sometimes.

Once I started getting comfortable covering volleyball and golf, learning the player’s abilities and tendencies, I was able to approach them with more confidence and that really helped. One of the things I struggled with at first during volleyball season was asking questions I had written out beforehand, but I did not listen to their answers as much as I should have. I started to not bring my notebook, and instead watched the match, jotted down a few notes or important things I saw, but relied more on their answers in the interview process to formulate my next questions. I paid more attention to noticing what went on a point-by-point basis, recognizing the flow of the match, and watching the player’s reactions. That would help me decide who I was going to interview and basically where my story was going to go. I think media in general could function and service the public better if they really tried to become students of the game. If a reporter puts in the work to learn what the coaching staff is trying to do in a particular game or match or understand the skill sets of certain players on the team, that preparation beforehand will be reflected in the writing. I think you will see more accurate articles and stories relating to what is actually going on in-game and more interesting quotes from players and coaches who trust you to present fair assessments even if they are critical.