Nick McAdam, Sports Editor
About one month has gone by since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Since that time, it’s safe to say that much, if not all, of the country and the entire world, has felt its impact.
One niche hit by the impact of the strain is sports journalism, which over the past few months has experienced its share of layoffs. In Kentucky, as local station WYKT reports, four local newspaper chains eliminated their entire sports section due to budget constraints, leaving multiple people without jobs.
Professor James McClendon, a sports editor at Utica’s Observer-Dispatch, said he is trying to figure out how to answer the looming questions over his department. McClendon said that although the adjustment was huge, it had to be done, and its impact may carry over once the virus blows over.
“For print journalism, we have seen a greater interest in feature stories as opposed to game stories,” McClendon said. “One silver lining of this terrible situation is that we are forced to begin shifting to that model and hopefully the things we learn will carry over to when things get back to normal.”
The industry is becoming more multifaceted with journalists and communication workers alike having to know more than writing. For example, McClendon, along with a host of major publications, has been directed into heavy social media use to communicate with the majority of its public.
“With the general population stuck at home more people are forced to have social interactions online, and that can help us find those feature stories we believe our audience would be interested in,” he said.
Publications have shifted to long-winded feature pieces instead of factual reporting, raising questions about the direction in which sports journalism heads in the future.
McClendon now has more time to work on larger stories that he said he believes have better chances of engaging audiences rather than game-to-game pieces. The sports editor explained that the industry at the moment is heading back to its roots of hard investigative reporting and this may be here to stay.
“A lot of opinion pieces and a lot of ‘what if’ type stories,” McClendon said. “At the O-D, we are using this time to work on the longer feature stories that we generally wouldn’t have time to dedicate the resources for. It is definitely more difficult to find the stories, but I think it requires us to go back to our journalistic roots and do some real investigating.”
For television, local reporters such as WKTV’s sports director Spencer Davidson said he considers himself “lucky” to be having a stream of news both locally and nationally at the moment for the past couple of weeks.
“The biggest change from our end is that interviews that would be done in person are now being conducted over the internet or a video chat,” Davidson said. “This is the biggest change for the moment. I’m a day-to-day kind of person, but things will get tougher as we head into the dog days of summer and of the virus.”
Davidson is currently working to draw up stories in the local area for as long as he can with recruiting seasons in particular still in full swing. The director is also working with the station’s NBC affiliate in Syracuse to gather any ideas that can grasp the attention of both areas due to proximity.
Wherever the industry heads in the next few months are still up for debate. Competitions such as the U.S. Open have already canceled play scheduled for the summer and many local festivals have followed suit.
For McClendon and the rest of the industry, it’s all day-to-day. The virus, he said, will have long-term effects on sports journalism and on sports as a whole.