Sarah Spencer: The pull of college football
This is the first in a four-part series about Grady College alumni who cover college football. Read the other features in the series:
Mike Reiter: College football is the best sport in the world to follow
Benjamin Wolk: The passion of the fans
Tony Barnhart: College football is a way of life
Sarah Spencer is a 2016 Grady College journalism graduate and one of the first students to earn a Grady Sports Media certificate. Spencer covered the University of Georgia football team for the Red & Black when she was a student, and wrote for college football through her job as reporter for the Index-Journal in Greenwood, South Carolina. She has previously worked at Rivals.com and MLB.com and is currently a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, writing about a variety of high school, college and professional sports including baseball, basketball and football.
Grady College: What makes college football different to cover than other sports?
Sarah Spencer: College football is a marquee sport and there is a different kind of loyalty fans have. Pro teams move. You can be a fan of the Baltimore Colts and they move in the middle of the night. But, there is a different kind of loyalty and steadiness with college football and therefore it shapes culture a little more. There’s that pull to it because it’s always going to be there.
GC: What is the biggest lesson you learned from Grady Sports?
Grady Sports prepares you a lot and I am really glad I got to do it. There are so many lessons. You learn so much in classrooms from Professors (Vicki) Michaelis and (Welch) Suggs, but you also learn so much sitting in their office for an hour or two. I think the biggest lesson I learned was to not be afraid, especially as a young reporter getting into the field. People our age are hesitant to pick up the phone and call someone because we have been texting since we were young. One of the biggest things that will behoove you is not being hesitant because if you are hesitant you aren’t going to ask that extra question. Professors Michaelis and Suggs really pushed me when it came to story ideas. Don’t do the most simple and obvious one. Challenge yourself and really dig and try to figure out what’s happening because we need people uncovering things in this world. It sounds so simple, but Grady Sports and Professors Michaelis and Suggs tell you that you need to go do that extra interview and go the extra mile.
GC: What is your best advice for Grady Sports Media students?
SS: A problem is that sometimes there is a disconnect with where people want to go and how much work it takes to get there. If you want to be working at a higher level in this field, you don’t just get plopped there. You have to be avidly pursuing internships, avidly pursuing good stories in whatever field you want. You need to be doing that pretty much every day as an undergrad and opportunities will come. The biggest advice that I could give is if you are not working right now, go over to the Red & Black. A lot of the things I learned I credit from the Red and Black. It was trial by fire, learn as you go and it made me a lot better and it gave me my start. Start working and keep working and opportunities will come. Chase things down. A lot of people want to do this because it’s such a cool field. You’ve got to really, really pursue it wholeheartedly.
GC: How to you remain unbiased when covering sports?
SS: You have to remove yourself to be unbiased, which is really important in sports. If you want to have good coverage, you have to be unbiased. College football athletics is meant to build up loyalty and Professors Michaelis and Suggs will knock it out of you pretty quick. I felt like such a veteran walking into my first games because of the experiences I have had. Other schools have great programs, too, but one area I will always pretty loyal to is Grady Sports, because it was my springboard to what I am doing now.
GC: How do you prepare to cover a college football game?
SS: There is always more stuff to know about a team because football rosters are so big and every school is so different with how interviews are structured…where you sit…what you do…how you get on the internet. There are all these logistics to figure out, as well as ‘how do I write the best stories?’, ‘what do I want to research ahead of time?’, ‘where am I going to park?’ Do the research ahead of time and try to make it easy on yourself, because the more that you know ahead of time, the less you have to scramble to find once you’re sitting down. That is something that Professors Suggs and Michaelis taught me, too: make it easy on yourself. Do what you can do ahead of time and try to have a couple graphs typed up before the game even starts. Work smarter not harder. Do what you can do ahead of time and try to have a couple graphs typed up before the game even starts.Date: November 27, 2017