Covering the Best

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Covering the Best
Jul 10, 2017

Under four years removed from college, Connor Letourneau inherited his first professional sports beat after three years covering college sports. The team: the Golden State Warriors, whose 2016-2017 season ended with a historic NBA championship filled with storylines.

“It’s one of those things you can’t really prepare for,” Letourneau said.

After graduating from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism in May 2013, Letourneau took a job at his hometown paper, The Oregonian, covering Oregon State athletics. Two years later, he moved to the San Francisco Chronicle for Cal University athletics.

However, in September 2016, the San Francisco Chronicle was looking for a new Warriors writer, and they promoted Letourneau.

“We only have one beat writer per pro team so,” he said. “I went to every game, every practice, every shoot around…it was kind of nuts.”

By the time Letourneau took over, the Warriors were already one of the most fascinating teams in sports. They had just lost the NBA finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers despite being one game away from victory, and as a result they added superstar forward Kevin Durant.

“It was a little overwhelming when I first got on the beat because I’m coming in as a guy who’s 26, has covered Pac 12 for the past three years … [and] I’m competing against all these national names who are well sourced and have covered the league forever,” Letourneau said. “I didn’t have anything, so I was a little surprised by… how smooth of a transition it was, how easy it was to build relationships, build sourcing and tell compelling stories.”

And while some reporters pass on sources from their beats to their eventual replacements, Letourneau didn’t have that luxury.

“I literally started from scratch,” he said.

From the outside, the Warriors may seem like an intimidating team to cover, but they made it easy for Letourneau to assimilate onto the beat.

“I remember my first month on the beat, Bob Myers the [General Manager] was returning my text messages and calling me back, which isn’t something that you could necessarily expect on a lot of beats,” he said. “When you’re one of two guys who’s there every single day throughout a season, you naturally build up certain credibility with the players because they see that you’re there.”

As he got comfortable with the beat, Letourneau was able to write the in-depth stories we wanted, mainly because the Warriors success can get old quickly.

“If everything is going well and [the Warriors are] on a big winning streak, you can use a lot of that time to get into other aspects of the team, so I used a lot of that time to tell features to do profiles,” he said. “I actually liked that because it allowed me to do the stories that I enjoy doing.”

Additionally, with all the Warriors success came additional national coverage. While some days Letourneau was one of two writers covering the team, most others he was surrounded by big-name reporters from premier national publications.

“I grew up reading a lot of those people, so it was cool being able to interact with them on a daily basis and also realizing that they’re no different than I am,” Letourneau said.

While Cal and Oregon State athletics weren’t glamorous beats, covering a successful Warriors team meant more people were going to read Letourneau’s work, which also added a higher level of scrutiny.

“There’s definitely a little bit of nerves just knowing that the stage is a lot bigger and there’s going to be a lot more eyes on the work,” he said. “It’s easy to overhype something and say ‘Oh, it’s an NBA team it’s arguably the best team in NBA history,’ but on a basic level all beats are the same and I really approached it the exact same way I approached the Cal beat [and] the Oregon State beat.”

 

 

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