Merrill Students Reflect on 2019 APSE Convention

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Merrill Students Reflect on 2019 APSE Convention
Jul 1, 2019

By Andy Kostka & Alex Murphy

On the afternoon of June 18 at the CNN Omni Center in Atlanta, we found ourselves sitting down to lunch across the table from Bob Ryan. The Bob Ryan, longtime Boston Globe beat reporter and columnist.

The likelihood he knew either of our names five minutes after lunch are slim — we were just two more aspiring journalists rubbing elbows with a legend, after all — but we knew him and his stories. And we’d learn more stories during that lunch hour before watching the APSE announce Sandy Rosenbush as the latest Red Smith Award winner — an honor Ryan, and the Povich Center’s own George Solomon, have been awarded.

If there’s anything to take away from the APSE Summer Conference in Atlanta, it’s an opportunity to see what the pinnacle of journalism looks like and a chance to get at least a step closer to that level — at least in proximity, if not in our own careers — during the APSE Conference June 16-19, full of panels and All-Stars at every turn.

Here are the key takeaways from Alex Murphy’s and Andy Kostka’s trip to Atlanta:

Alex Murphy

When I first got the notification that I was going to this conference, I was beyond honored. I also had no clue what to expect. I had never been to a conference with so many big names in the field of sports journalism. As a college student, I can say that I was overwhelmed coming into it, but I was able to adjust simply by talking to people.

That’s one of the first things I learned in Atlanta: don’t be afraid to go up to someone and introduce yourself.

At the initial gathering, I knew no one personally, but I did know their names — from their bylines. However, those people aren’t just words on a page. There are faces and personalities behind the words and most of those people are more than happy to talk. I met sports journalists from around the country and none of that would’ve been possible if I didn’t talk to and get to know people.

What wonders the gift of gab can do for someone.

I realized that when I was there, Andy and I were only rising seniors in college. I know that sounds crazy because senior year is time to figure out future jobs and what you’re going to do out of college. That’s true, but newspapers are looking for fresh faces with bright ideas. That’s me, that’s my colleagues.

While I knew it at the time, one of the main takeaways I had from this was something I’ve known about for three years: George Solomon.

Being at that conference, especially during the Red Smith Award Luncheon, seeing George rub shoulders quite casually with Bob Ryan was mind-blowing. He’s also a Red Smith Award winner himself and was honored during the luncheon before Sandy. Also, he was mentioned quite prominently in Sandy’s speech. Other than Sandy, he was quite possibly the most well-known sports journalist in that room, and he’s been the director of the Povich Center since its inception.

He has connections on top of connections, and I feel like myself and others in the Merrill College have taken him for granted over the years. That might not be 100 percent true, but through talking with a few journalists in the hospitality room at the conference, they literally said he was the man, with some curse words thrown in. At that point, I realized the sheer power he has within the industry and how lucky we are as Maryland students to have him around.

Andy Kostka

I initially expressed some hesitation before applying for a chance to attend the 2019 APSE Conference in Atlanta as one of two representatives from Maryland, not wanting to take time off from my internship. When I emailed George Solomon to ask for more details so I could make a decision, he replied succinctly: “Crucial conference for an aspiring sports journalist.”

Well, I thought, if Solomon says so, I better apply. And as it turns out, Solomon was right.

The 2019 APSE Conference was full of incredible journalists and thought-provoking panels, offering a rising senior connections in the field as well as learning opportunities.

In a discussion about best sourcing practices, I thought back to my own work with The Diamondback, where I have increasingly been willing to use unnamed sources in stories. The panel, which featured a few public relations professionals, discussed how journalists at times get in trouble using anonymous sourcing, or get caught up in a race to be first.

They recommended confirming reports with a team’s public relations staff to see if you can gain any additional information, as well as make sure the source isn’t wildly off-base. While I haven’t had the greatest success gaining more insight in the past, I’ll incorporate that more in my reporting in the future.

Working for USA Today and Golfweek this summer has opened my eyes to the world of SEO keywords, analytics to drive storytelling and search-based audiences. A panel in Atlanta delved deeper into the subject, and I left with a greater understanding of how Google scans articles and decides priority, and how I can improve the chances of my story being clicked.

In a world where clicks often equal survival, the panel left me wondering what The Diamondback could do better with its headlines and posting habits to maximize its readership. Turns out, we could be doing a lot differently. Hopefully next year, what I learned in Atlanta can be applied in College Park.

And as an avid reader — be it gamers, features or books — one panel in particular peaked my interest most. Bob Ryan, the legendary Boston Globe writer, and Kent Babb, a sports features writer for The Washington Post, discussed what goes into writing a book. It’s a colossal undertaking, far larger than any usual piece of journalism.

And yet, Babb and Ryan described how they handle the enormity of the project in a similar way: Pretend each chapter is a long feature story. Breaking up the chapters in that way can help your mind tackle the objective, as well as setting daily goals for yourself, such as writing 500 words each day.

So, despite entering with some misgivings about what I was getting myself into, I left the APSE Conference with a better understanding of journalism and a few critical contacts who work at the highest level. Perhaps one day I’ll return — with a full-time job set up, I hope.

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