It’s been awhile.
As the end of 2021 draws nigh, we continue to struggle for normalcy.
The COVID-19 pandemic is still all around us, changing the way we work and how we interact. Our newsroom continues to work mostly from our homes, meeting occasionally over Zoom, daily on Slack. Who’d ever even heard of those apps before all of this started?
But compared to last year at this time, we’ve come a long way.
Not every story we tell now has a pandemic context. Events are starting to happen again. Sports is happening again.
That’s been huge.
While most of the sports I’ve covered over the past several years — first at the papers in Burnaby and New Westminster, then the past four years in the Tri-Cities — has been off the side of my desk, it’s still my passion for shooting and writing. So much so, that even when the pandemic shut down pretty much all sports at every level, the only times I wasn’t able to get some sort of sports coverage into the paper was when ads took my space.
I’ve always been a proponent of a feature-based approach to sports coverage. Partly as a survival strategy because it allows me to stockpile stories to be parsed out when other duties are more demanding. Partly because blow-by-blow game reports filed in a weekly paper seem so futile in this age of social media and live streaming.
Mostly, I love covering sports because it’s such fertile ground for interesting and compelling features. They’re stories of triumph and adversity, hopes and dreams. They offer drama, pathos and even humour.
Sports is a microcosm of life, played out on the ice, the pitch, the diamond, the hardwood.
In the past year, I told stories about:
• a pro hockey player getting back on the ice after overcoming cancer three times;
• a young boy knocked off his BMX bike by a similar diagnosis;
• student-athletes coping with the uncertainties of the pandemic on both their academic and athletic aspirations;
• a hockey team’s commitment to providing its players supports for their mental and emotional well-being;
• a young lacrosse player who can’t play because he can’t find a helmet that fits his head;
• a minor pro baseball player toiling for a team named after a hot dog;
• a basketball player thriving on the court despite being deaf
Yet, sports continues to struggle for respect from editors.
After photographers, sports reporters have paid a heavy price for our industry’s woes. I know several who were punted to the bench because their beat was deemed more expendable than say covering city council or school board, their work not as important, well read or generating as many hits.
But sports coverage is a huge community builder, a point of entry for readers — especially younger ones — who might not otherwise get engaged by the latest drama unfolding at school board meetings. And in the newspaper industry’s rush to stanch the bleeding, those roles have largely been neglected, further distancing us from our lifeblood.
A feature story about a young athlete heading to university to play a sport they only took up in Grade 12 won’t affect your taxes or property values, or alert you to alter your commute to work, but it will give you a glimpse into your community and the diversity of the people who populate it. And it might even make you smile, feel a bit better about where you live, more connected to your community.
To be successful — heck, even relevant is an achievement these days — newspapers must be all those things. We must inform, but we also need to entertain, evoke emotion, broaden your understanding of the world around you, even if that world is just down your street or across town.