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A thought for younger journalists

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by brandonsneed, Jan 11, 2012.

  1. brandonsneed

    brandonsneed Member

    Just wrote this out and posted it on my blog, but I sincerely want it to help younger journalists like myself, so instead of linking to my blog post, I'll copy and paste and edit accordingly. My apologies if this somehow offends someone. Really not just fishing for attention or anything like that. Just like trying to help out sometimes. I like being a nice person.

    Here you go:

    I'm pretty happy with the way the past two years of my life have gone. I've gone from writing stories for $50 a pop for local papers to writing lengthy features for ESPN The Magazine. I've had a lot of great breaks, and I've gotten them by hustling and working my a** off. But a story came out this week that made me realize I definitely missed an opportunity, and I've been reflecting on it a lot today. Figured I could share. Might help some other young journalists out there.

    The story is Thomas Lake's much-heralded profile of Clifton "Pop" Herring, the Laney High School (Wilmington, NC) basketball coach who many years ago infamously cut Michael Jordan. It's a story that's been told over and over, used as fuel and fodder for His Airness, a man notorious for getting his spark from disrespect. Lake uncovered that Herring didn't actually cut Jordan, he just didn't put him on varsity as a sophomore because MJ at the time was 5-10 and they needed height, so Herring went with 6-7 Leroy Smith. Lake also reveals that Herring opened the gym for Jordan before school started each day so he could work on his game, and loaned him his car to run errands, and did everything he could for the boy.

    I'll write more about the story itself later this week, (1) because it's really, really great, and (2) I'm interviewing Thomas right now to talk more about it. But I'll say this right now: Thomas did a good, good job on this story. He told Richard Deitsch that when he first got to Wilmington, he didn't even know how to find Pop. He just got out of his rented car and walked around, asking questions. Journalism!

    But the point of this post is this: I've known about Pop's story for a good year and a half. I meant to try to write what Lake ended up writing. (For Pop's sake, it's probably good that Lake got the story. He is so good, and I hope one day to write like him. He did the story so much more justice than I feel I could have.)

    Here's the story: I lived in Wilmington until just this past August. I first learned of Pop Herring about a year and a half ago—actually, it might have been August 2010—so I had a solid year to work on this story, if I'd chosen to. The man that told me about Pop was a man I interviewed for a SLAM profile of Meadowlark Lemon. He told me everything that Lake reveals in his story. I knew it would be good. For some reason, I never pulled the trigger. I never told any of my editors about it, never tried to contact Herring. The most I did was write a rough draft of a pitch which I then saved in a Word document on my laptop.

    I thought about the story at least once a week, but something else always pulled me away.

    I had good reasons not to pursue it. I'm very young. I very seriously doubt Sports Illustrated would've hired me as a freelancer to write it. But maybe SLAM would have. Or maybe ESPN The Magazine, after my first story got under my belt last summer. But I'll never know, because I never tried.

    Don't take this the wrong way. I'm fine. I'm not depressed, I'm not bemoaning my ineptitude, I'm not even wearing black.

    I am bothered, but only the appropriate amount, like losing a game or something. It's just a lesson. I've taken a lot of chances the past couple years. Chances that make me so fired up about life, because they have worked out as many times as they have failed. I'm not regretting that I didn't write the story. I just regret not having tried.

    So there you go. See a great story idea right under your nose? Try to write it. Or else someone way better than you will write it before you get around to it, and then you'll be left reading headlines that somebody else created that you could have.

    I mean, you'll probably fail. I've pitched easily ten times more stories that have been rejected than ones that I've gotten assigned, and probably twenty percent of my assignments have ended up not getting published for one reason or another. But of course, as all the inspirational advice says, you'll never know what you can do until you try.

    * * *

    Get excited: I'm having Thomas Lake join us at the blog sometime this week to talk about the story. Should be fun. (Note: My blog is at brandonsneed.com, in case you're interested in this.)

    Also: I may have missed out on Pop Herring, but I DID get to profile David Holden for the local Wilmington paper in Sept. 2009 when Jordan got inducted into the Hall of Fame. Who's David Holden, you ask? Well ... the white guy below.

    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 15, 2014
  2. Piotr Rasputin

    Piotr Rasputin New Member

    Now why would anyone think that?

    Lesson for a Younger Journalist: Don't qualify your thoughts. Just present them.

    I liked your post.
  3. brandonsneed

    brandonsneed Member

    Just over-sensitive, I guess. Seen lots of others get torn into pretty good for stuff like that.

    Thanks for the kind words.
  4. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    Good post. Young writers today need to take shots at big stories. Even their biggest whiff will be time better spent than writing another fanboi-variety blog post.
  5. Mr. Costello

    Mr. Costello New Member

    Talk about motivation. You may have gotten me out of my rut.

    Thanks from another really young, occasionally — if not usually — self-doubting journalist.
  6. SoCalDude

    SoCalDude Active Member

    Looks like David Holden might be more suited to be a baseball umpire.
  7. BDC99

    BDC99 Well-Known Member

    WFW. No reason to be sensitive about it. I'm sure this post will be beneficial to a lot of young journalists who know about similar stories but are nervous about giving it a shot.
  8. brandonsneed

    brandonsneed Member

    He really does. Although if I recall correctly, he's a teacher at one of Laney's rivals now.

    Thanks, BDC.

    I think we all doubt at some point. To doubt is to care. At least for me. I care a lot, so I want to do very, very well, and so I doubt that I am capable of doing as well as I want to do because I care so much. But just do what you do, try to learn as you go, hustle like crazy, and write your ass off. The rest, as they say, will take care of itself.
  9. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    To play contrarian: If a coach puts you on JV instead of varsity because he needs height, you were cut.

    How is that different from a running back being put on the JV team because the coach needed faster players that year?
  10. BDC99

    BDC99 Well-Known Member

    I posted this exact thought on my FB page when I linked the story. When I was playing sports as a kid, if I was put on JV that was the same as being cut. Technically, you are still playing, but it says you weren't good enough. Funny thing is, Jordan clearly was, considering the JV games drew a lot of fans, and the varsity players would arrive early to watch him play. Jordan seems to have been quite a dick about it, which I guess should come as no surprise.
  11. Herbert Anchovy

    Herbert Anchovy Active Member

    The key to succeeding in journalism is to be a former president's daughter.
  12. brandonsneed

    brandonsneed Member

    This does help quite a bit.

    Here it is important to note, however, that sometimes there is in fact difference in "succeeding" and "being good."
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