Alex Staab – ICC Harbinger
Peoria, IL – It was a meeting of the minds at the Caterpillar Global Communications Center on the campus of Bradley University all day Tuesday. It was the third year of the Charley Steiner Symposium.
Right out of the gate, before the first panel was introduced, the symposium’s namesake, Charley Steiner, the radio play-by-play announcer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, took a moment to open the symposium with some comments of his own. Steiner talked about how there were only two broadcasting classes when he was at Bradley in 1967, Broadcasting 101 and Broadcasting 201. There was a student radio station, but the station itself was, as Steiner slightly exaggerated, the size of a phone booth. He also emphasized that in the field of sports communication, it is “vitally important that we tell the truth”.
It was then time for the first panel, titled “What Can You Do with a Post-Graduate Education?”. The panel featured Dr. Andy Billings, Executive Director of Sports Communication at the University of Alabama, Bradley University President Gary Roberts, and a former Assistant Director of Athletics at both DePaul and Marquette universities, Kathryn Statz.
President Roberts stated during the panel that he believes that graduate education “gives you credibility that most people don’t have”. Roberts also thought that a law degree, which he has himself, opens up “far more doors”. Dr. Billings agreed with President Roberts, adding that one “should consider graduate education if you truly have something to say.” Dr. Billings added that he feels this field is in need of more “sports and interpersonal scholars”. Kathryn Statz believes that “unless you’re passionate, it’s not going to resonate”. Statz has personal experience in her past as an intern with the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) and stated that both an internship with that organization as well as an athletic conference, such as the Missouri Valley Conference in the case of Bradley.
The second panel was titled “Sports Public Relations”, and it featured an impressive lineup of guests. Steve Brener was named the youngest publicity director in Major League Baseball when he took that position with the Los Angeles Dodgers at the age of 24. Years later, Brener is now the President of Brener Zwikel & Associates, a public relations firm in Los Angeles. There was also Michael Teevan, who is currently the Vice President of Communications under the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred. Rob Tobias worked in public relations at ESPN for over 30 years. Also, there was Lou D-Ermillo, who in the past was a communications strategist for FOX Sports, CBS Sports, and the New York Yankees.
In discussing the new technology that seemingly comes up every year, Brener stated that the “news cycle changes 24/7 with social media out there”. Teevan said that it’s not just the case in his role, but in any public relations position, that you need to “over-communicate”. D’Ermillo believes that the field of public relations “is both reactive & proactive”. Tobias came away with a lot of background from his decades at ESPN. He said that early on (the 1980s – approximately), ESPN was very proactive in regards to PR. He also said that any sort of PR work has to be “a collaborative effort”. Tobias also took the time to provide a brief amount of motivation for any students in attendance, stating “Do whatever you can to put your line on that resume.” In recent years and perhaps even in recent months, ESPN has had some fallout over the suspension of one of their TV personalities, Jemele Hill, over a comment made about President Trump on Twitter. Although not going into particular details about the Hill suspension, Tobias said that her situation is a prime example of why you should always keep your social media in check if you want to go into this type of field. That panel was followed by “New Media Challenges and Opportunities”.
Then it was then time for the “Evolution of Storytelling” panel. It featured moderator Dave Kindred, a renowned sports writer who has interviewed Muhammad Ali, and written numerous books on Ali, but also has written three straight books about three straight state championships for the Morton High School girls basketball team. The panelists were Bob Nightengale, chief baseball columnist for the USA Today, Susan Slusser is the beat writer at the San Francisco Chronicle for the Oakland Athletics, Rick Telander, a Peoria native and former Northwestern football player who made his career as a former Senior Writer for both Sports Illustrated and ESPN, Andy McCullough, a writer for the Los Angeles Times, specifically the LA Dodgers, and Rick Hummel, St. Louis Post-Disptach beat writer for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Telander gave some quality advice about compiling a story, saying that “you don’t know what the story’s going to be. Create some kind of outline – you can’t always remember.” Also, Telander emphasized that it’s always “better to be first & wrong, than second & right.” He mentioned a statistic that truly shows that, although print media isn’t dead, it certainly has declined. He said that the Chicago Sun Times has gone from over 400+ writers, down to about 70. McCullough added that “people want something outside of the written word”, when referencing a piece he normally does after games for the Times. He added that it’s important to “pay attention to the little things – they’ll eventually lead to something interesting.” Hummel discussed how it’s been difficult with deadlines sometimes to focus on the game while also watching how close to your deadline you are. He went on to talk about how you want to start your story with “pertinent” information, but not so much so that the reader puts away your story after the first paragraph or so. Lastly, Slusser added that you’re “on call” all the time as a sports journalist.
There were two more panels the remainder of the day, “Perspectives of the Olympics and Paralympics” and “The Rise and Fall of ESPN”, neither of which, unfortunately, our staff was able to make.
For a full list of the biographies of those that participated in the symposium as either panelists or moderators, visit the Bradley University website.
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