"Our Future: What's Next?" panel at the Merrill College of Journalism. Featured in photo (from left to right): Matt Vita, John Ourand, Heather McDonough, Ryan Glasspiegel, Kevin Sheehan, Rhiannon Walker. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Oyefusi/The Left Bench).

‘Quality does not mean length,’ and other advice from sports journalists

Vox Media laid off roughly 50 employees on Wednesday, continuing the recent trend of media outlets downsizing their workforce.

John Ourand, media reporter for the Sports Business Journal, has noticed a lesson from these layoffs: “You can’t give away your news for free and rely on online advertising to pay salaries.”

Ourand was one of six journalists that gave their take Wednesday night on the future of sports journalism at the “Our Future: What’s Next?” panel in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Moderated by George Solomon and Kevin Blackistone, the panel was comprised of Ourand, Matt Vita, sports editor for The Washington Post; Ryan Glasspiegel, media reporter for The Big Lead; Heather McDonough, sports producer for NBC4; Rhiannon Walker, associate editor for ESPN’s “The Undefeated;” and Kevin Sheehan, radio host on The Team 980.

In the last few years, the medium through which news has been delivered has shifted dramatically—TV ratings are down and less people are tuning in to radio shows. McDonough acknowledged that with the accessibility of news, TV producers have to look ahead and be more creative with their content. Sheehan, however, was much more blunt in his assessment of radio.

“Radio is dead,” Sheehan said.

Sheehan went on to clarify that while fewer people are using the radio as their primary source of news, local radio isn’t in trouble, especially in markets with multiple teams.

“It’s longform; it’s intimate,” he said. “There’s this connection to the local sports fan that doesn’t really exist anywhere else.”

Mediums like social media, video and podcasts have now taken the place of TV and radio. Walker said she spends most of her time on social media, specifically Twitter.

“Depending on the way that a news organization phrases something or puts something out there, that can really grab people’s attention,” she said.

While Glasspiegel recognized the popularity of Twitter, he advised against relying on it.

“Only about 10 to 15 percent of the general population is an active user on Twitter,” Glasspiegel said. “And most of them are not on there all day. You have to be thinking about where [readers] are on the various distributed platforms.”

With the shift to video and podcasts, many have claimed that the days of longform journalism are dead. Vita preferred to refer to it as “feature writing” and didn’t perceive a lack of it in the profession.

“Quality does not necessarily mean length,” Vita said.

Instead, Vita encouraged young writers to stick to fundamentals and focus on being a good journalist.

“That’s what’s going to win out in the end,” he said. “Readers are craving quality in a world where they’re getting bombarded with a lot of junk.”