Boston Is Home to the World’s Oldest Hockey Rink
In this episode of our podcast, junior Mitch Fink explains why JO 514: Sports Journalism is a grand slam
The classes we take can change our perspectives and shape our lives—and we think that’s worth celebrating. Our new podcast, Today I Learned, is all about the classes at BU that have had a real effect on students in our community; we want to know all about the classroom environment, professor, subject matter, and the cool facts that make a lasting impression.
In Episode 4 of Today I Learned, Mitchell Fink (COM’24) tells us about his recent experience in the field…as well as the court, the rink, and the diamond. Fink, an aspiring sports writer, says the College of Communication class JO 514: Sports Journalism, with Professor Michael Holley, left a strong impression on him. A “sports lifer” with an abiding love for the New York Knicks, Fink says the combination of topical readings and real-world experience (in the form of local game coverage) brought his appreciation of the craft to a whole new level. It’s also, he says, a welcome diversion from some of his more grueling 500-level courses, but notes that the class has its fair share of history lessons and political discussions. He adds that whether you’re a hardcore sports fan or an aspiring beat journalist, this class is a slam dunk, a home run, and a touchdown rolled into one.
Want to be our next guest? Tell us about your favorite class here. Undergraduates and graduate students are welcome to submit.
- If you want to take this class because you’re a single-sport diehard, prepare for a challenge. JO 514 takes students out of their comfort zones and gives them experience reading about and covering as many sports as possible.
- Prepare to never watch a game the same way again. Fink says that when he watches mid-game sideline interviews, he is now more attuned to the interviewers’ questions than the players’ answers.
- Writing advice can come from unlikely places; Holley once advised Fink to channel the clean, direct writing style of early 20th-century Czech novelist Franz Kafka.
Sophie Yarin: Hello everyone and welcome to Today I Learned, a BU Today podcast where we explore fun facts and ideas across a variety of academic disciplines by interviewing students about the things they learn in their favorite classes at BU. A single class can have a transformative impact, whether you’re changing majors, picking a career path, or just looking to expand your horizons. I’m your host, Sophie Yarin, and I’m investigating how the things we learn in the classroom affect our lives. So to do that, I’m going to be speaking directly with BU students, which is why we have Mitch Fink joining us in the studio today. Mitch, thank you so much for being here.
Mitch Fink: Thanks so much for having me.
Yarin: So, Mitch, you’re a sophomore at the College of Communication and you are majoring in journalism, is that right?
Fink: That’s right.
Yarin: And what’s your area of interest?
Fink: Sports journalism. That’s kind of been my thing for the past couple years I’ve been in BU. I hope to pursue a career in that after college.
Yarin: So this should probably come as no surprise to our listeners, but the class that you have chosen today is JO 514: Sports Journalism with Professor Michael Holley, which is, of course, a COM class. So tell me something that you learned in that class.
Fink: One thing that I learned—and this kind of came just off of an assignment that I had, to cover an event story—my friend Brendan and I went to cover a Northeastern-UMass hockey game, and we quickly learned after going into this super old building, which I had never been in before, that it was the oldest hockey arena still in use in the world. I had no idea it was just like a 30-minute walk away from BU’s campus, but that’s where Northeastern plays their hockey games. And so it was really cool to kind of cover a game in a historic building like that, and it was a really great experience. And I feel like I learned a lot from it.
Yarin: That’s awesome. So can I ask you how old it is?
Fink: I don’t have it off the top of my head, but I think it was built around 1910, something like that. So certainly much, much older than I am—or maybe 10 times my age, or something like that.
Yarin: Okay, so a good 110-ish years in the past and it’s still kicking nice. Healthy.
Fink: Yeah, they have a nice new jumbotron in there, which is pretty jarring when you get in there because it’s a really old building, but it’s got this big video board. So they’ve done it all up. But it was really cool.
Yarin: Yeah, there you have it. So I want to jump into some questions with you. I want to know how this class has influenced the way you watch sports, both for assignments, and just for fun.
Fink: Yeah, well, I watch a lot of sports for fun, probably more than I should. It’s one of the things I do most. And I mean, taking this class has definitely made me think about sports a little bit differently. I think one of the biggest ways is watching midgame, postgame interviews. That’s one thing that we’ve really kind of honed in on in this class is how to ask good open-ended questions if you’re in that kind of sideline reporter role. So whenever I watch a sports game now, after we had a discussion about that, I always think, ‘Oh, is that a good question,’ that kind of thing, and, you know, just kind of watching sports with the eye of what a beat writer would think about it, because Professor Holley was a beat writer. And that’s what my dream job is, so learning more about that has kind of influenced me as a sports viewer in that way.
Yarin: Got it. So let’s talk about Michael Holley for a second, the professor of sports journalism. Tell me a little bit about his experience in the field and how he brings that sort of real-world perspective to the classroom setting.
Fink: It’s definitely been really cool to learn from someone with his experience and expertise. He was a Globe sports writer, I believe, covering the Celtics and I think the Patriots as well, a while ago, so that’s obviously really cool. And then he’s on the radio now; I think it’s in affiliation with NBC Sports-Boston, so it’s pretty cool. A lot of my friends in the Boston area know who he is from listening to him on their drive home, that kind of thing. So that’s really awesome to be able to learn from someone who’s in the Boston sports media market and still kind of doing their thing and covering sports, so he certainly has a ton of experience and has had a really versatile career.
Yarin: What’s a recent tip he’s given you for sports writing?
Fink: This one time I was in office hours kind of asking him about this project that I’m working on, and he referenced The Metamorphosis by Kafka, which was a weird kind of segue into sports journalism, but it really made sense. He told me that it was important to keep the lead-in to an article real simple and clear. I was trying to kind of overdo this lead, and he told me, you know, maybe keep it simple. He said, the beginning of The Metamorphosis is just, you know–I forget the name of the bug–but he’s just a bug. It’s like, ‘the bug laid on the table’ or something just very mundane and simple, and that was the lead-in to the story. And that was really helpful. It kind of made me try to overthink the article less and do it in a more simple fashion.
Yarin: That’s so funny. He’s a man for all seasons. He’s got sports tips, he’s got literature references. So what are some of your assignments for this class? Do you get opportunities to go out and cover stuff? Is it sort of more text-based, or a little bit of both?
Fink: Yeah, it’s a lot of reading from the Best Sports Writing of 2022 book that comes out every year, which is cool, because my mom has gotten me that gift for like Hanukkah every year of my childhood, too. So it’s cool to have that be the textbook. But then the writing assignments, it’s a lot of going out and covering stuff. So that Northeastern game that I mentioned, that was one of them. And then, also, we’ve had to write personal columns, we had to write a column about the Super Bowl when that was happening, and then we even had to make a video about sports, which is definitely not my forte. I’m not great at video editing, but it was cool to kind of step out of my comfort zone for that one and give it a go, so it’s been a lot of fun trying a bunch of different stuff in sports journalism.
Yarin: What’s your favorite sport to write about?
Fink: That’s a tough one for me. I’d probably go with basketball; I’m a big New York Knicks fan. I’m hoping they can pull through in the playoffs, but yeah, you know, I love writing about that. But really any sport: hockey, baseball, even football. I just really love writing about the competition of sports. I think it’s awesome.
Yarin: So since you’re getting best of sports writing compilations as gifts for Hanukkah, who are some of your favorite sports writers, either contemporary or from back in the day?
Fink: There’s so many beat writers for my teams that I cover the most, so I’m subscribed to The Athletic. This guy, Fred Katz, who writes about the Knicks, is someone I read, and he’s not the most poetic feature writer ever, but he just understands the game so well and he’s able to convey that really well to the reader, which I appreciate so much. And then, in terms of feature writing, I really like Mirin Fader, who writes for The Ringer. I think her stuff is awesome. And then the more legendary sports writers, like going back to Frank Deford, even people like Wright Thompson, Lee Jenkins, there’s just so many people that I love reading.
Yarin: So for all these people, what are some elements of the craft that a sports writer has to know that might be different from a general assignment journalist?
Fink: I think it’s definitely different, because in normal journalism, there’s this whole thing about how you can’t editorialize, and it’s very much like, ‘no adverbs’ or that kind of thing, like you have to be very clear and concise. I think with sports I’ve learned from Professor Holley, and some of the other professors that I’ve had, that you have a little more leeway to be opinionated and kind of be a little more colorful with your language and how you write about things. Because, you know, it’s not politics, it’s not Washington, DC; it’s sports, or it’s just a game in nature. I think that’s one thing that’s really cool to be able to kind of use your voice more and write in a more fun style with sports journalism, so I think that’s one key difference. And I feel like that’s come through in some of the writing that inspires me that I read.
Yarin: So does this class get into sort of the history of sports journalism and the evolution of the craft?
Fink: That’s kind of where the class started. We watched this video about the history of sports journalism, and kind of went through it, how it evolved over the years, how it’s turned into more of an online thing, but also about player empowerment. One thing that’s become really prominent in the NBA, especially now, is former players starting podcasts themselves and breaking news. Instead of a player who was in free agency, let’s say, going to the newspaper to break that news, maybe they just put up a tweet about it, or post on Instagram. That’s something that’s kind of really shaping how sports journalism is today, because you have to find new ways to break news and write stories and find unique angles when the players themselves have a voice. So that’s something that we’ve kind of talked about, that evolution.
Yarin: Do you talk about sports politics at all, which is definitely a hot topic sort of recently?
Fink: Yeah, I feel like sports politics is always a hot topic. There always seems to be something brewing at that intersection, and I feel like it’s kind of hard to talk about sports without talking about politics, because there’s so many athletes that use their voice to express their political views and those kinds of things collide. So yeah, we’ve certainly talked about it. And that’s been an interesting part of the class, too.
Yarin: So how would you maybe pitch this class to somebody who’s interested?
Fink: I would say if you like sports, and even if you don’t like sports, I feel like it’s an interesting class. I have friends in sports journalism who are sports lifers, like I am, but there’s also people who really don’t know that much about sports, who I feel like have also enjoyed the class because I feel like Professor Holley’s really enthusiastic about it. And when professors are enthusiastic, I feel like it makes the class a lot more fun. But also, I feel like it’s just kind of a nice breather from the kind of heavy topics that school can kind of have, with history or STEM or whatever. I feel like it’s cool to just think about something that’s more connected to pop culture and write about that and make meaningful stories out of that. And it really just comes down to storytelling at the end of the day, which I think is something that anyone can get into.
Yarin: Very cool. So Mitch, I am so glad you could sit down with us and you knocked it out of the park. Sorry, I promised myself I would only use one sports analogy, so I held back for you. Anyways, it was a pleasure to talk with you and I hope you get a good vantage point at the next game you cover.
Fink: Thank you so much.
Yarin: So thanks for tuning in to Today I Learned, folks; this is a BU Today podcast. Do you have a favorite class you think we should know about? Tell us all about it by filling out the form listed in our description. Today I Learned is produced and engineered by Andrew Hallock and edited and hosted by Sophie Yarin–that’s me. We’ll see you next time. Stay curious out there!