Sink or Swim

COM’s budding sports journalists lap the competition.

By Patrick L. Kennedy; Photo by Cydney Scott

Is it BU’s proximity to iconic Fenway Park? Jack Parker’s five-time national-champion hockey Terriers? The excitement of the Boston Marathon and the Head of the Charles, which pass by on either side of campus? What is it about this institution that keeps it turning out good sports journalists?

Maybe it’s the coursework, the professors, the ready access to internships in the local sports-mad media market and, for the past decade, the no-nonsense approach of one Frank Shorr.

Shorr (SMG’70, COM’73) is a senior lecturer in journalism and director of COM’s summer Sports Institute, which just marked its 10th anniversary. He also codesigned and now runs the sports reporting concentrations in COM’s master of science program, which now celebrate their fifth year. “We’re the only college or university in the country with a master’s in both print and broadcast sports journalism,” says the former sportscaster and winner of eight Emmys at WHDH-TV in Boston.

On top of all that, Shorr is the internship coordinator for all broadcast students. “I’ve been in this business for close to 40 years,” he says. “Students tell me what they want to do, and I make suggestions, and I make calls. One of our strengths is being in a national market here in Boston,” and Shorr has contacts in every one of the city’s media outlets, as well as in the PR departments of its sports teams.

Students concentrating in sports reporting learn the basics of the craft as well as the theory and psychology of sport and may take such electives as sports marketing. And between the internships and classes in a COM studio, they get a heavy dose of hands-on experience. “It’s not just writing about sports,” says Shorr. “It’s media law and ethics, multimedia, how to shoot and edit video, how to market yourself. If you don’t know all that today, you’re just not going anywhere.”

In Shorr’s broadcast class, students produce and record a half-hour TV show every week. “I’m trying to make it as real-world as I can,” he says. Students learn by doing, plus “they get a résumé tape out of it.”

Ashley Adamson (’07)  interviews actor and race car driver Patrick Dempsey at the Indy 500. Photo courtesy of WISH-TV

Ashley Adamson (’07) interviews actor and race car driver Patrick Dempsey at the Indy 500. Photo courtesy of WISH-TV

The experience pays off. Ashley Adamson (’07) credits that class with her employment today as a sports anchor and reporter at WISH-TV, the CBS affiliate in Indianapolis. “The thing about journalism is, you need to do it in order to get any better at it,” she says. “You can’t read about it or talk about it. You have to be in the studio, and you have to go out and do interviews and put together packages. You need to practice. And the only way to do that is to have the facilities that allow you to do it, and the professors who can guide you along through those classes. I’m incredibly lucky because I was so well prepared to start my first job” as a news producer in Albany.

Tara Shea (’10, CAS’10), a video editor at ESPN, agrees: “Basically, the only reason I have my job is that class, where I learned editing with Final Cut Pro.” Shea discovered she excelled at editing as she and her classmates rotated through the various roles involved in producing a TV program—anchor, reporter, and so forth.

Shorr explains, “What I tell prospective students is: One, when you’re finished with this program, you’re ready for a job in any newspaper or TV station across the country. And two, I’ll find you a job. It doesn’t mean you’ll get it, but I’ll find you an opening. Anyone who says there are no jobs for young professionals just starting out, just doesn’t understand what’s going on.”

“Anyone who says there are no jobs for young professionals just starting out, just doesn’t understand what’s going on.”

No, rookies don’t often waltz into anchor positions at ESPN. But they shouldn’t discount the small markets, where people care about teams that fall under ESPN’s radar.

“In Walla Walla, Washington, you’ve got your local paper and TV station if you want to find out about the Walla Walla High School game,” says Shorr. “Those newspapers and stations will always have a following.” And job seekers can gain an edge by having more skills than anybody in Walla Walla. (Not to pick on Walla Walla.)

“If you go to International Falls, Minnesota, and in addition to writing the story, ‘Patrick Kennedy scored 48 points and three touchdowns and . . . ” Shorr begins, inventing a (wholly imaginary) scenario. “If you also shoot a video of the winning touchdown, and also get a 30-second interview with the player afterwards where you ask him, ‘Patrick, what does it feel like having the International Falls, Minnesota, single-season scoring record?’ everybody in town is going to be watching your video.

“So we teach sports journalism from a different angle. It can’t be that all you do is write a game story. You’re blogging during the game, maybe shooting video highlights. It’s all-encompassing. That’s the new sports journalism. That’s what we train them to do. We make sure they’re trained—not only to swim, but to be lapping their competitors.”

“Sure, you’d screw things up every once in a while and he’d let you have it. But then years later, you find yourself in the position of sports director yourself and you realize you’ve taken those lessons learned and applied them.”

And Shorr begins that training by throwing new swimmers into the deep end. “Frank was a hard-ass,” says Marc Jacobson (’99), who interned under Shorr at WHDH-TV, “but I learned a ton from him. It was like boot camp. He could be short with you, but he was doing it to make you think on your own feet. Sure, you’d screw things up every once in a while and he’d let you have it. But then years later, you find yourself in the position of sports director yourself”—Jacobson became sports director at an NBC affiliate in Flint, Mich., and is now the morning show reporter in Flint’s ABC affiliate—“and you realize you’ve taken those lessons learned and applied them.”

Shorr, who brings the same tough, trial-by-fire approach to the classroom, is equally impatient with J-school naysayers. “The idea that there’s no point in going to journalism school frosts me to no end,” he says. “Because I think the program we have designed here, combined with the internship program—and we’re incredibly lucky to be in Boston—means we’re turning out people who are professionals.”

Despite his hard demeanor, Shorr says the best part of his job is helping out his students. “I’m lucky I’ve found something I can’t wait to do every day. I love it when a kid comes in and says, ‘Aaghh, I’m graduating in three months, what do I do?’ and I pick up the phone and call an editor at the Globe or somebody at NESN or Channel 7, and in a few minutes, I’ve gotten them a job or a lead on one, or a bunch of leads.” Students walk out relieved, and as Shorr keeps in touch with them after graduation, he is pleased to note their progress. “I’ll get a call: ‘I just got a job doing something I love …’” ■

Pioneers in the Field

Although COM’s Sports Institute and the master’s-degree concentrations in sports reporting are relatively new, the College has offered courses in the craft for years (some taught by the late, great Jack Falla), and it’s been turning out sports journalists for decades. Many of those graduates have shown a flair for flexibility and daring.

Bud Collins is technically (’09), because he took a few decades off after his last class in public relations in 1955 and before Dean Tom Fiedler discovered that Collins needed only to complete a thesis requirement in order to graduate. (Fiedler determined that Collins’ book The Bud Collins History of Tennis satisfied the requirement.) Collins was one of the first print reporters to make the jump to television, and now it’s hard to imagine a tennis broadcast without him.

Gayle Gardner (’76) was an ESPN anchor during the channel’s formative years, 1983 to 1988. The American Journalism Review calls her “an early role model in the field” in the days when women reporters were still taunted in locker rooms. Lou Schwartz, president of the American Sportscasters Association, has written that Gardner “changed the image women [sports reporters] held from a novelty to a professional.”

In 1997, Bill Simmons (’93) was one of the first sportswriters to recognize the coming power of the Internet. As an early web columnist under the moniker “The Sports Guy,” Simmons brought humor and a down-to-earth, fan-in-the-stands approach to writing about sports, which a growing Internet audience found refreshing. Simmons parlayed his popularity into gigs writing for ESPN magazine,, and even the late-night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Hear Bud Collins, original “multimedia” reporter, talk about his career covering tennis.

Watch this video on YouTube

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We are the Champions!

In June, the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1972. A few COM alumni have been covering the Bruins’ ups, downs and more downs over the intervening decades and were on hand to cover their exciting resurgence over the past few years, right up through their thrilling 2011 playoff run and eventual victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

Dave Goucher (’93) hoists the Stanley Cup. Photo by Craig Campbell, Hockey Hall of Fame

Dave Goucher (’93) hoists the Stanley Cup. Photo by Craig Campbell, Hockey Hall of Fame

Dave Goucher (’93) (left) is the voice of the Bruins, providing play-by-play on 98.5 FM “The Sports Hub.” Since that is the sole radio station devoted to the team, Goucher got to broadcast all the way through the finals, instead of being supplanted by a national network, as happens in television. “The intensity and passion that comes along with a team making a run for the Stanley Cup is indescribable,” says Goucher, a Rhode Island native and lifelong B’s fan who got his start doing play-by-play for Terriers games on WTBU. “Every single game for what turned out to be two months and 25 playoff games, I was literally on the edge of my seat…To experience that sort of passion and that sort of emotion, and to make a living doing it, is pretty special.”

“I’m a big fight guy,” admits Fluto Shinzawa (’99), who covers the Bruins and writes hockey analysis for the Globe and “There was one game against Dallas when three fights broke out in the first four seconds of the game. That always brings me out of my seat.” Shinzawa got his start covering the Terriers for the Daily Free Press. He still draws upon lessons he learned from his old prof the late Jack Falla, “all the time,” Shinzawa says. “He used to say, keep the mental camcorder on. When you’re in the locker room, the rink, the press box, keep your eyes and ears open and pick up those bits of detail and be able to fill your notebook. The more material you have, the better your work is going to be.”

Fluto’s fellow Globe hockey writer Kevin Paul Dupont (’75) started on the Bruins beat in the late ’70s, the Don Cherry era. “There was still the luster of the Big Bad Bruins, or the remnants of it. And it was the old Garden and the rivalry with the Canadiens—it was great to be around that . . . After a workout, if you wanted to get Terry O’Reilly, he’d sit with you and talk forever.” Following the Bruins’ previous Stanley Cup final appearance in 1990, Dupont says, “Frankly, there were a whole lot of lean years.” When Thomas, Chara and company finally defeated the Canucks in Game 7 of this year’s Cup finals, Dupont thought, “Gee, it’s nice to finally have a different ending to write.”

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