Auburn journalism professor talks about changing landscape of sports reporting during pandemic

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In honor of Oct. 22 being celebrated as Journalism Day by Auburn University’s School of Communication and Journalism, John Carvalho—professor and associate director for the school—took time to talk about how sports reporting has changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. He weighs in on procedural and coverage policy changes he’s seen in the industry, as well as in the media relations realm, and talks about the adjustments he has made teaching sports writing at the university.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way media covers events and interacts with interview subjects. What are your observations from the sports realm, as far as how beat writers might now cover a team, both logistically and stylistically?

The issue, as always, is access—especially situations that involve physical closeness. Pro sports reporters are denied the access to locker rooms that fueled many of their story ideas, and college beat writers find their access to practices reduced.

How have media relations and PR professionals shifted their operations to accommodate social distancing to keep everyone safe, but also give media the access they need to do their jobs?

I know that press box access has changed for football this season, with fewer seats available. Some Auburn beat folks have opted out, for health precautions. As a result, the media relations staff have accommodated with e-mail access to game stats and other notes and access to Zoom press conferences. This also provides access to away-team media who might not have the means to cover the game.

What changes, if any, have you had to make for your sports reporting students as you teach them how to cover live events?

It’s been a crazy semester, adjusting on the fly, much like the sports organizations themselves are. We covered a Lee-Scott Academy volleyball game for the first experience, because there were no Auburn sports to cover! We also did an Auburn High School game to get a live football experience. Then, we covered the Arkansas game by the distance means I described above, from the Tichenor labs. Our final fall event is traditionally a women’s basketball game, but the season starts too late, so we will cover a late-season soccer game instead.

What feedback have you received from sports journalists about what it’s like to cover sports in 2020?

Journalists in general face so many pressures in 2020—some COVID economy-based, some long term. So, sports journalists, like their colleagues in other departments, are facing a lot of pressures anyway. This lumped in on top, with the economic effects and the uncertainties surrounding various sports, have really created a lot of job stress.

Do you see any permanent changes in journalism that may take root because of all the shifts that have taken place this year?

After COVID, in terms of access, things might never seem to return to where they were, partly because of long-term cultural changes related to the pandemic, and partly just because that is where sports are going. At the professional level, sports writers might not regain the access to locker rooms. As pro athletes have gained economic power, it has affected their relationship with the media, which used to be more friendly. This will probably push them apart even more, and permanently.



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