Sink or Swim
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.”
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.”
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.”
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 …’” ■