Gary Pomerantz’s sports journalism course teaches skills applicable across beats, fields
Stanford Journalism Program Lecturer Gary Pomerantz makes one thing clear to students on the first day of class: yes, they are journalists, but foremost, they are storytellers.
Pomerantz, who will be teaching Sports Journalism (COMM 177S/277S) for the eleventh time in Winter 2017, teaches sports reporting from a perspective that goes far beyond play-by-play coverage: he also focuses on issues that intersect with sports, including labor strife, racial issues, politics, and business.
“All of it happens to affect sports,” Pomerantz said. “Sports does not exist in a vacuum and we take on all of it.”
Pomerantz’s specialized writing and reporting course on sports is an intensive workshop limited to 15 students that include master’s journalism students, on-campus journalists from The Stanford Daily and radio station KZSU, student-athletes, and undergraduates from all across Stanford. The class takes on sportswriting historically, beginning in the Roaring ‘20’s and following the press box as it evolved over time. Students also work as apprentice sportswriters, producing features, news, profiles, and video stories that are often published on Peninsula Press, the Stanford Journalism Program’s multimedia news website that covers the San Francisco Bay Area. The work has also been picked up by media partners at SFGate.com and KQED News in San Francisco. The class also incorporates social media exercises, simulating what it is like for the modern-day sports reporter to cover a game live.
Students also participate in intimate in-class discussions with occasional guests from the field of sports journalism. Guests in recent years have included Mark Fainaru-Wada of ESPN, Christine Brennan of USA Today, Peter King of Sports Illustrated, and John Branch of The New York Times.
In Winter 2016, the class took a field trip to visit the Super Bowl Media Center in San Francisco, since Super Bowl 50 took place in nearby Santa Clara, just miles from Stanford.
“We were able to draw back the curtain and see the media machine churning – thousands of sports journalists covering America’s defining sports spectacle,” Pomerantz said.
By incorporating the Super Bowl into this year’s class, master’s student Shane Newell (MA 2016) was able to profile Peter King of Sports Illustrated, who was in town covering the big game.
“I’ve always been a sports fan and seen it from the fan perspective, but I’ve never seen it from the writer’s perspective,” said Newell, who is currently at The Los Angeles Times. “Being able to profile a reporter like Peter King was an amazing, eye-opening experience. Not only did I get to see his creative craft, but I also got to write about it as well.”
Newell also broke news that spread nationwide when he reported that King, one of the nation’s preeminent multi-platform sports journalists covering the National Football League, told him that he had been considering leaving Sports Illustrated.
Pomerantz aims to teach students a broader skill set that is directly transportable not only to a newsroom but to any field: an ability to distill information, think more quickly on their feet, and handle themselves well in an interview — regardless of which side of the table they are sitting on. The class integrates two interview workshops with students challenged by role-play scenarios.
“Even though Gary’s class is about sports, specifically, I learned a lot more about how to be a good journalist in general,” said master’s student Kim Kenny (MA 2016), who is currently at the San Francisco Chronicle.
Undergraduate Justin Appleby (Stanford Engineering Class of 2017) said his experiences in the class helped immensely during an interview for a job he landed in the engineering field.
“[The course] taught me how to interact with professionals, how to ask questions, how to contact people you haven’t even met before,” Appleby said.
Other alumni from the class have included student-athletes such as Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks, Coby Fleener of the New Orleans Saints, U.S. Olympic swimmer Caroline Bruce, Drew Storen of the Seattle Mariners, and Christen Press of the Chicago Red Stars and United States women’s national soccer team. Class alumni are also working in media organizations that include ESPN, Google, Outside Magazine, Fox Sports, and The Washington Post.
“For me, it’s thrilling to see them executing journalism at the highest level,” Pomerantz said.
Pomerantz is a seasoned nonfiction author and reporter himself. He was a daily journalist for 18 years at The Washington Post and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, writing about sports, race, culture, and politics, and serving for a time on the Constitution’s editorial board. His first book, “Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn,” about Atlanta’s racial conscience, was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He most recently published his fifth nonfiction book, “Their Life’s Work,”about the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, which explored football’s gifts and costs. The book was named a finalist for the 2014 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing.
The Stanford Journalism Program’s full course offerings of multimedia storytelling, specialized reporting and data journalism classes can be explored here: http://journalism.stanford.edu/curriculum/