You’re a college reporter who has covered a few events on your campus, working mainly with coaches who have become familiar with you. Usually, you wear jeans and a t-shirt, blending in with the other college students on campus.
Suddenly, you receive an assignment: Cover a professional tennis event at a large stadium. You’re scared to death. How do you act? What do you wear? That was the case with one college sports reporter who sent me a note last week. “I guess my biggest fear is when I go to pick up my media credentials,” he wrote. “I know I have what it takes, but I'm afraid they'll figure out I'm not a pro yet.”
This can be a scary moment. But it can be less intimidating if you go back to the basics, the solid reporting that enabled you to get this assignment.
But, first, determine the logistics of covering the event. Determine where you need to park, where you need to pick up your credentials, and where the media enter the stadium. Check the web site and/or call the media director. Usually, this information will be included in your press packet. But, if you do not know something, ask.
Next, dress properly. For a professional tennis event, wear slacks and a collared shirt for coverage. If you spend most of your time out in the heat, wear a really nice pair of shorts and a collared shirt. No flip-flops or sandals, please. For most events, it is better to dress a little more professionally (not that you need to wear a tie and jacket.) This will help you feel more professional as well.
Then go back to the basics – research, observe, interview. Read as much as you can on this event, noting the past winners in all divisions. Also, take note which players have been performing well (and poorly) in recent weeks. Read some profiles and features on several players. Go into the tournament with some feature angles already planned, even if you are writing just one story.
Second, observe. By arriving early, you can also research the facilities, determining the time it will take to get to an event. Always arrive early. If the tennis begins at noon, get there at 10 in order to settle in, determine your seat and speak with the media director. This way, you can also walk around the courts, stadium and locker rooms. (Arrive early to all events. For example, I’d arrive at least 30 minutes early for a high school basketball game in order to verify rosters, briefly speak with the coaches, and settle in with my notebooks.) Then, watch the matches, take notes and then go to the interview area afterwards.
You should also observe the other professional journalists as they work. What are they doing? Where are they going? In most situations, you’ll find journalists will swarm around the players after matches or games. Feel free to do the same. You are allowed to record comments made to other journalists during this time. However, do not insert yourself if a reporter and player are clearly off to the side in a more private setting. You can stand nearby and wait for your moment to jump in with some questions.
Third, interview as many people as you can to get information. That means asking questions of the media director as well. Don’t fear that this person will see you as an amateur. Asking questions is part of the profession. If you do not know something, try looking it up in the press guide, if possible. If you cannot find the information, ask the director or a player or a coach.
Covering a major event offers a few more challenges. But, in the end, you are still covering a game. Yes, it can be intimidating, but only the venue changes. Check out Hoosiers, where Coach Norman Dale measures the baskets and the courts at the state basketball tournament. As he points out, the court is the same size, only the arena is bigger. So do not get intimidated. If you plan your coverage, you will have a much more enjoyable and successful time at the event.