John Ourand

...in his own words
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Ihave a lot of admiration for people that sort of have an idea of what they want to do.

About This Project

In his 1973 book "No Cheering in the Press Box," author Jerome Holtzman chronicled the lives of the greatest sports journalists of his generation. Four decades later, students at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism are updating his work with a series of interviews with the best sports journalists of the last 40 years.

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This chapter was produced by Tyler Byrum.

About John Ourand
HOMETOWN: Washington, D.C.
EDUCATION: University of Maryland
OCCUPATION: Media Reporter, Sports Business Journal

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I was an English major when I graduated, so I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I thought I was a good writer. I graduated from Maryland, I did a year of volunteer service and then I came back and took out the want-ads. So I circled a couple of the ones that interested me. One of them happened to be a sportswriter for a small community newspaper and I did that for a couple of years. I actually was a sportswriter for about six months and then I realized that they viewed the sports department as sort of the toy department. So I switched and just became a general assignment news reporter, got out on the front page and I did that for a little while and I had a lot of fun doing it. And I woke up when I was thirty and I was like ‘wow, I guess this my career. I’m a journalist.’ I’ve always liked it but I didn’t actually have the actual goal of, like I want to be here at a certain point.

So, I left the sports department at the newspaper and I went and did sort of front page stories. And I hooked on a media company that published newsletters and I covered the cable TV industry. I did that for several years and moved to London and covered the growth of cable in Europe for about four years. Moved back here and kept doing some cable stuff, and then there was an opening at the magazine called Sports Business Journal, here they needed someone to cover the media industry. So I was a media reporter, I loved sports, and I covered the business aspect of it. It fit just so perfectly for me and I’ve literally loved every day that I’ve been at SBJ. It’s just been a lot of fun because it hits my interests. There are very few assignments that are like pulling teeth, like okay, I’ve got to write this one. I just find the whole business to be vibrant and interesting with big personalities and lots of stories.

If I had been really introspective, I’ve always had a passion for journalism. You know I read the paper every day cover-to-cover. One of my earliest memories is Watergate and everything that was going on with that. I loved journalism. I love it. I didn’t know that’s what I wanted to do; I didn’t think that was an option for me when I graduated. There’s such a big world out there and I think one of the things, is when you graduate, when I graduated it’s like okay ‘I just want to be a journalist.’ At the time there would be a couple of newspapers and some magazines. There’s this NASN cable industry [ESPN], so I would have just found such a narrow goal to be somewhat limiting, as opposed to kind of going and trying different things.

I’ve always been a big sports fan; I enjoy going to games. I don’t consider myself to be a sportswriter at all. I consider myself a business writer and a media writer, and I think that helps me in terms of what I do. I feel like you can take me and drop me and embed me with somebody in the middle of a war and I could find stories and write them. You could take me and put me in a board room and I could find stories and write them, or you could put me anywhere, and that’s sort of what I do. I happen to be doing something now that intersects my interests, which are sports and business and media. I feel extremely lucky about that, if tomorrow they say ‘hey we need somebody to cover politics on the hill’ I think that I have a skillset that could pivot, turn and do that pretty easily.

When I graduated from college in 1989, I moved out into an apartment and among the first things I did was order cable. Just ESPN, the idea of watching sports 24/7, and CNN, MTV was wild, like ‘wow I’ve got to watch this.’ My son is now a sophomore in high school, the first thing he’s going to do when he moves into an apartment is get Wi-Fi and he couldn’t care less about that. My buying cable, my parents scratched their head, they couldn’t quite figure it out. My son buying Wi-Fi, I get it, but it’s just so different and I think that what I like about the media business is that it’s always changing. It’s changing in really big, huge ways that affect society and I find that to be really interesting to follow.

The biggest story I’ve reported on by far is the NFL media deals. Those were deals; you know ESPN is spending $2 billion per year on NFL rights, the other networks are spending right around a billion dollars per year. The NFL is getting probably close to $7 billion in their media rights and I was in front of that whole story. It amazed me that sort of big papers, like the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, they still view sports as the toy department and they don’t necessarily see a $7 billion deal, they just see ‘oh, sports’ and it’s off in the corner somewhere. That was something that I think legitimately was front page story of any major newspaper that was out there.

In terms of stories that I really like to cover, I love to break news. I get an endorphin rush over breaking news, it’s highly addictive. I love doing that. It’s why I continue to do what I do, I mean it’s great. In terms of stories I really like to do, I really like to tell stories too. I like doing tick-tock stories on like, I write it to where I’m a fly on the wall, I just project that I’m an insider that knows exactly what’s going on and I’m putting too much of me into this, but it’s their story. I have everything from, where they were driving, to what they were eating – eh what they were eating, I usually try to cut out – but I just want to know everything that’s going on there and those are the stories that resonate. And so stories that I really like to do are the ones I get the most feedback off of and those are ones I get the most feedback off of.

George Solomon is someone I looked up to, without question. His career, as someone that grew up in D.C., is amazing. I think he’s a legend in this business. And then there are two reporters I’ve tried to pattern my career after. One is Michael Wilbon, who I read as a columnist and a great compliment that I got was somebody was telling me that my columns remind them of Wilbon’s columns. He didn’t necessarily give his opinion, he reported his opinion out and he backed it up in a smart way, even if you disagreed with him. I just thought that he really was an engaging writer, he wrote about what I cared about, he reported it well, and he was inside, knew what was going on. And the other one is Bob Woodward, again growing up in D.C.; I just think those books that he writes about the presidencies. Forget about Watergate, which was amazing in its own right, I think he is a much better reporter than he is a writer and he is an utterly fantastic reporter, who when he writes things I respect them as being as close to the truth he can get it. Those are my two sort of beacons of journalism.

There’s great value to reporting everything that happens on the field, because the number of people who are sports fans who hang on what’s happening on the field or off the field with the team is legion. There’s a huge amount of value to that. I also think that there’s a value to the teams and the health of the teams and whether the teams are making money, how they’re making money, whether the teams are good for their community, whether they work well in the community. You can extrapolate that to leagues as well. I think the business behind sports is one that is historically underreported. I think it still is. It still doesn’t get the attention that it should, but I think it is one of the most important beats in sports. Covering the sports media, I’m covering these changes that are affecting society as a whole. Like the team, from a business aspect, it’s affecting the entire community as a whole. The league is affecting the larger community as a whole. So, I think there’s an undoubtable value placed on sports business.

I think that there will always be a place for sports business writing. I think the money is so big that it’s going to encroach into other aspects of it. I write for a magazine called Sports Business Journal, so it’s solely dedicated to business and that’s still going to be there. I don’t know if there is going to be a huge amount of competition in the sports business case. I’m unsure if the general fan really cares about whether or not their team is financially healthy or not, they care more about if their team is winning on the field or not and whether or not their team will sign the free agent or not. A lot of that goes back to sports business, but I think you’re still going to have people like [Adrian Wojnarowski] doing the free agency trades, but you’re not going to have [Wojnarwoski] covering the business of sports from my end as much. So I think it’s going to be a niche type of beat that’s going to exist for a while.

We’re already seeing sports reporters having to cover the sports business side, but I don’t think you’re going to see the NFL reporter saying like ‘okay we’re really going to need you to focus on business beyond this big deal.’ Look, the most recent media deals that I talked about, the NFL one that I broke, every other paper assigned their NFL writer to cover it. I have certain advantages over them because my sources are in the business. Their sources are sort of peripherally on the business, so I have certain advantages there.

My advice is to not just write, but write and get feedback. When I graduated as an English major I thought I was a great writer until I filed my first journalistic story – I quickly learned what an inverted pyramid was, and a nutgraph – Write and get feedback. It’s more than just sitting down and writing. You’ve got to write, you’ve got to write, you’ve got to write, you’ve got to get feedback and take feedback. Don’t just Pidgeon hole yourself into one beat. When I was working for the Bethesda Gazette, I would go to these local planning zone meetings that were really, really boring, but I’m a competitive guy so I wanted to be the only other reporter there at whatever the story was. And then all of a sudden it became a more interesting meeting to me. You develop reporting skills that you can then take and apply elsewhere. Write and be edited and also open your mind up. If you want to be a reporter just be a reporter at anything.

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