How technology has changed the game of sports writing

Past Cavalier Daily sports writers’ experiences show how the digital age has impacted sports journalism

sp-typewriter-courtesywikimediacommons

For nearly as long as there have been Virginia athletics, The Cavalier Daily sports section has been there to cover them. Just as Virginia has undergone significant transformations, so too has sports writing for The Cavalier Daily. While a commitment to covering Virginia sports and providing readers relevant content remains, the experiences of Cavalier Daily sports writers today are drastically different than those that came before.

Joel Sitrin, a former sports staff writer, editorial page editor and copy editor, wrote in a different era. He joined The Cavalier Daily in the mid-1980s and covered multiple sports. One of the biggest challenges Sitrin said he encountered as a writer was meeting deadlines with limited technological resources. He vividly remembered the struggles of covering one specific basketball game at Wake Forest.

“Once the basketball game ended, we got the interviews and wrote, and we ended up calling in the story and reading it over the phone,” Sitrin said. “I remember driving back [from Wake Forest] at three or four in the morning.”

Sitrin also discussed the difficulty of obtaining game statistics. Without websites that provide updated statistics for every game in detail, the only way for writers like Sitrin to find statistics was through Virginia’s athletics department, which kept track of them during games. Often, these printouts didn’t contain all the data that Sitrin and other writers wanted, but they had to work with the resources available to them.

Jay Stone, who worked with the Cavalier Daily from 1974 to 1977 as a sports staff writer, associate sports editor and sports editor, also experienced challenges in a pre-computer, pre-Internet era.

“It was like night and day,” Stone said. “We had a telephone and a landline, and there was no cable TV, no ESPN, no cellphones, no texting, no Twitter.”

Stone added that writers used electric and manual typewriters instead of computers.

While technological resources may have been scarce, Stone emphasized the helpfulness of Virginia’s Sports Information Office, as well as each team’s media guide — a collection of published statistics and player information.

Like Sitrin, Stone had to overcome a lack of technology when covering away games.

“The first football game in the fall when I was a sports editor was an away game at Washington, so I got to fly on the charter with the team,” Stone said. “After we played the game, I had to write the story on Saturday night or Sunday morning and then dictate it over the phone.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Cavalier Daily printed physical copies every weekday, so there was an added emphasis on timeliness.

“We published Monday through Friday, so we worked Sunday through Thursday,” Stone said. “There was a lot of pressure every day to fill the page … We couldn’t email the articles, so they had to be in The Cavalier Daily office to be typed up.”

Sports editors alternated days in which they worked, so Stone recalls working two to three days each week. He also credited sports staff writers and associate editors for ensuring that there was quality content to be published.

While he couldn’t remember the exact timing, Stone recalls the arduous process of printing once each piece was written and edited. Everything had to be physically copied and pasted, an activity that was completed late every evening. When all the pages were ready, a courier would take them to Culpeper, Va. to be printed. From there, they were distributed all around Grounds for students to read.

While the issues today are different from what they were in the 1970s and 1980s, technology remains at their core. In the past, a lack of technology made sports writing more difficult. Today, adjusting to an abundance of technology has been an obstacle for the sports section.

Rob Elder, a former sports editor of The Cavalier Daily’s 127th term in 2016 and Class of 2017 alumnus, believes that the seemingly unlimited technological resources now available have increased the pressure to produce content quickly.

“Technology has kept that urge for speed to get things up and online,” Elder said. “Readers only look at one recap or preview for the game, and that’s one thing that the sports section struggled with. If there was a game on a Saturday and you submitted your recap after the game, it might not run in the paper until Monday, and by then it is very stale.”

Elder also emphasized the importance of Twitter. Social media plays a substantial role in disseminating information from news sources and sports writers have to establish a presence on these sites or risk losing readership.

“Technology has made information so much more readily available,” Elder said. “It has changed the way sports coverage, I guess, was traditionally thought of.”

ESPN — the self-proclaimed ‘Worldwide Leader in Sports’ — has been one of the largest benefactors of the growing prevalence of technology. The media giant ensures that millions of sports fans of all kinds have any information they could need at their fingertips.

Amid the changing sports media landscape, there has also been another trend in sports journalism. Websites like The Athletic have prioritized long-form pieces, including analysis and stories that are not as easily accessible.

John Glennon — a sports staff writer, associate sports editor, and sports editor in the 1980s for The Cavalier Daily — currently works as a beat writer for The Athletic. He said he greatly values the media company’s commitment to in-depth, well produced stories.

“It gives writers a chance to do what they do best — write,” Glennon said. “I, as a beat writer, can spend more time looking for a quality story, looking for an angle that nobody is taking and deliver something that people will want to spend more than forty-five seconds on.”

Glennon added that he hopes giving writers slightly more time to develop their stories will actually benefit their audience by offering a different perspective and more detailed analysis than a simple box score.

Technology has also enabled more audience interaction. Using social media platforms like Twitter, fans can have conversations and share their opinions with writers like Glennon.

“Fan engagement and reader engagement now is such an incredibly different situation,” Glennon said. “Way back in the day, the only time you would hear from fans was if they wrote a letter to the editor … now you’re getting that instant feedback.”

From producing more long-form content to leveraging the internet and social media, The Cavalier Daily’s sports section operates a lot differently in the 21st century than in years past.

In 2019, sports writers — armed with all types of technologies — have to play numerous different roles. They are beat writers and investigators, analysts and social media connoisseurs. Even when technology is on their side, the pressure to keep creating better and better content remains.

However, not everything about the sports section has changed. 

“It was a great experience working for the newspaper,” Stone said. “I made great friends and we had great camaraderie, and we took great road trips.”

The experience of sports writers and editors for The Cavalier Daily was certainly different in the 1970s and 1980s, and writers had to persevere to meet deadlines with a lack of technological resources. Today, they have to adapt to a world with abundant technology. In both cases, sports writers’ dedication is key.

related stories