George Solomon’s Advice: Write Often and Read

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George Solomon’s Advice: Write Often and Read
Jan 22, 2019

Another year, another semester and another classroom this spring full of journalism students — and their professor — trying to figure out the cross-section of sports, race, culture and the media (is Mark Sanchez really a better quarterback than Colin Kaepernick?) But first came a January visit to the alma mater, the University of Florida, where 56 years ago I left, degree in hand, hoping to find a job in the business I love.

The return to Gainesville, Florida, found a sprawling campus about three times its 1963 size, with a college of journalism and communications and its more than 3,000 students, housed in a state-of-the-art facility far different than the cramped habitation of my J-School that had been tucked away in a corner of the football stadium once known as Florida Field. Fortunately for me, the place included professors Hugh Cunningham and Buddy Davis.

What remained the same, however, were eager students led by a fine dean (Diane McFarlin) anxious to learn the mysteries in finding careers in a field that promises daily adventures in reporting in a world where news changes by the second. What isn’t the same, however, is how the people we serve get the news: Hand-held phones, tablets and computers, containing full newspaper content, additional websites weekly and broadcast outlets, with devices named “Alexa” that answer questions from, “Did Ted Williams really bat over .400 for the Boston Red Sox” to “India’s Gross National Product?”

In talking to students from the college newspaper (The Alligator); Mass Media; Sports Reporting; and Race, Culture and Sports, comes a refrain no different than from our own Merrill College: “How do you find a job? Where are the jobs? What do I have to know?”

And, the questions came faster than answers. In days gone by, you wrote letters to sports editors of newspapers, news directors at broadcast outlets and pestered friends in search of jobs. Most sports editors and news directors, in turn, wrote back and offered encouragement or suggestions to aspiring journalists (at The Washington Post, did I really recommend to best-selling author Mitch Albom 30 years ago he needed to improve his writing, or tell ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap to sharpen his reporting?). Nowadays, Merrill students tell me they rarely get responses to their emails or letters.

Job opportunities found online, listings on professional sites such as APSE, AWSM, on-campus career offices and internship promotions seem to be the best way to find a job these days. Or old-fashioned pleading by professors on behalf of deserving students sometimes can help; although the two Merrill College students who reported competitively recently against the “bigs’’ on the Jordan McNair tragedy and its aftermath at Maryland for the Diamondback campus newspaper, remain available for summer employment (go figure?).

My advice to those U-Florida students — and the students at Merrill — is to write often, broadcast and produce when you can, and read.

I continue to be amazed, when I talk with students and share the delights of what’s available in sports journalism, is how much they can absorb. If they wish.

It’s almost a game with me to see the stares of students when I begin reciting the names of Shirley Povich, Red Smith, Bill Nack, Frank Deford, Jim Murray, Edwin Pope, Furman Bisher, Dave Anderson, David Halberstam, A.J. Liebling (would he appreciate UFC, or what?), Sam Lacy, Wendell Smith, W.C. Heinz, Grantland Rice, Jimmy Cannon, Pete Axthelm — all gone. When I read about the pomposity of a Nick Saban, I think about the story of when Heinz came back to New York from Europe in 1945 after covering World War II and told his newspaper editors he wanted to cover college football. He was sent to the Bronx to cover national power Columbia, whose coach, Lou Little, told Heinz, “Whatever you want from us, just ask.”

And then I’ll rattle off the names of some newspaper/magazine legends: Dan Jenkins, Sally Jenkins, Dave Kindred, Jackie MacMullan, Richard Justice, Tom Callahan, Tom Boswell, Mike Wilbon, Tony Kornheiser, S.L. Price, Kevin Blackistone, Wright Thompson, Bill Plaschke, Dave Zirin, William Gildea, Bill Rhoden, Barry Svrluga, Ira Berkow, Mike Lupica, Liz Clarke, Christine Brennan, Leigh Montville, Andrew Beyer, Peter King, Adam Schefter, Tim Kurkjian, Bob Ryan, Peter King, Dan Shaughnessy, Tom Verducci, George Vecsey, Charles Pierce, Robert Klemko, Chuck Culpepper, Howard Bryant, Rick Telander, David Aldridge, Peter Gammons, Rick Reilly and Angus Phillips. If they have an extra $45, I recommend The Athletic for Richard Deitsch writing about the media, Seth Davis on college basketball, Ken Rosenthal on baseball and other fine writers on this fledgling site. Don’t forget ESPN’s The Undefeated for culture and sports. So many others, too.

If students want to read a book, they should know about John Schulian’s wonderful sports anthologies, Jane Leavy’s “The Big Fella,” John Feinstein’s 30 books — one better than the next — and George Howard Colt’s “The Game,” with Gary M. Pomerantz’s “The Last Pass” about the Boston Celtics of Cousy and Russell and Mike Stanton’s “Unbeaten” about Rocky Marciano, Roger Kahn’s “The Boys of Summer,’’ Halberstam’s anthology “The Best American Sports Writing of the Century” that includes John Updike’s read on Ted Williams’ last swing. I get excited by mentioning these names. Some students add them to their phones.

If they grow weary of reading, listen to old tapes of Bob Costas, Red Barber, Keith Jackson, John Madden, Vin Scully, Jim Nantz, Howard Cosell, Harry Caray, Al Michaels, Jim McKay, Curt Gowdy, Marv Albert, Dick Enberg, Jack Buck, Pat Summerall, Ernie Harwell and many more.

Finally, I say, when you get done with all of the above, go do it yourself.

Homepage image: George Solomon speaking to students at the University of Florida College of Journalism (Photo Credit: Courtesy of University of Florida College of Journalism)

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