This is the third in a four-part series about Grady College alumni who cover college football.
Sarah Spencer: The pull of college football
Mike Reiter: College football is the best sport in the world to follow
Tony Barnhart: College football is a way of life
Benjamin Wolk is a 2014 Grady College journalism graduate. The Grady Sports Media Certificate program was introduced as he was completing his degree and he was able to take a few classes on his way to graduation. Wolk currently covers the Auburn recruiting beat at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s SEC Country. Prior to that, he covered football at The Brunswick News, The Oconee Enterprise and the Macon Telegraph. He was a football beat writer and Sports Editor for The Red & Black during his time at the University of Georgia.
Grady College: What do you enjoy the most about covering college football?
Benjamin Wolk: The passion of fans. There are so many fans out there who are checking by the hour to see what’s happening in the college football recruiting world. That’s what makes it so fun for me is just knowing that I am recruiting to a fan base. It’s not just Auburn, but any fan base you find in the SEC, they are just going to be so crazy about their school and are so passionate about what’s happening with their program.
GC: What is the biggest challenge covering college football?
BW: Fans love a night game, and when I’m a fan, I love the night game, too, because you have a little more electricity with a night game atmosphere. But, as a reporter, I’m always fan of the noon game. As a reporter, you may not get out of the stadium until 2 in the morning with a night game, whereas a noon game, I might be home by 8 p.m. There are certainly times on Saturdays at 1:30 in morning where I’m writing my third post-game story, and I’m like ‘oh man.’ People don’t realize some of the rigors that go into this. It’s part of the fun. It’s why you love sports.
GC: Tell us what a typical game day is like for you?
BW: A home game starts with the Tiger Walk. I’ll do a Facebook Live, which is the perfect example of how new age media is growing, because Facebook Live wasn’t even a thing when I was in school. The Facebook Live is about bringing in an audience that maybe wasn’t already there and developing that personal relationship.
Then I will usually wait until the players start going through the Tiger Walk and I will just flip the camera around and let fans who aren’t in Auburn be part of one of Auburn’s traditions and that’s a way to interact with fans.
Then I’ll go into the stadium. Since my focus is on recruits and they host a ton of recruits at these events, a lot of my pre-game activities are talking with recruits to get a better idea of what schools they are interested in and what they think of Auburn.
My attention then turns to the football game. I take photos. I am up in the press box while we do live blogs throughout the game interacting with the fans and keeping them up-to-date. I do some live Tweeting. You are just constantly doing stuff throughout the game. After the game, you go to the press room and talk with the coach and with five to 10 players. From there you pow wow with the other people you cover the game with and we outline all of the storylines we need to write about over the next couple of hours and also the next couple of days to set the stage for the game next week.
Grady College: How did Grady College prepare you for what you are doing now?
Benjamin Wolk: My Introduction to Sports Journalism course gave me an idea of what to expect from a career path. When you’re 20 years old you want to work for ESPN and be on TV, but the reality is that journalism is an industry where you really have to pay your dues and work your way up. Professors Michaelis and Suggs did a good job of telling you that if you want to get to point D, you have to go through points A, B and C first to get a grasp of what you want to do in the sports journalism industry.
Grady College does a good job of preparing you for a new media workplace where everything is not about interviewing someone and writing 300 words, but it’s about figuring out how you can craft complementary content for the things you are writing, whether that’s video, podcasting…whatever it may be. Grady College does a great job setting you up to have multiple skills in the journalism business.
GC: Is it hard remaining impartial covering Auburn knowing that you have an allegiance to Georgia football?
BW: As a Georgia grad, there will also be a big special place in my heart for Georgia. But, Professors Suggs and Michaelis were very adamant in their classes that we were in that we were in a no fan zone. It really set the tone for how I approached my journalism career. I want to see Georgia do well, but at the same time I’ve been in Auburn now for a year and I’ve gotten to know coaching staff and players. Once you develop relationships with the people that you cover, it’s pretty easy in my mind because my world became me covering Auburn. It has nothing to do with me being an Auburn fan or me being a Georgia fan, it has to do with me being a sports reporter whose job is to be to relay the facts about Auburn football and Auburn football recruiting. I have a duty and responsibility to the Auburn fan base to provide them the true information.
GC: What advice do you have for current Grady Sports Media students?
BW: My best advice would be to get as much experience as possible. There is no such thing as too much experience. At the same time, it’s not just about getting the resume to where you want it. Make sure you are networking, and not just with people in the journalism industry, but network with coaches when you are covering high school. Whenever you meet someone, always assume they are going to be able to be useful as a story down the road or a contact for anything you are trying to do. It’s about not just getting your resume right, but about the relationships you build through that resume experience that can go even further than the listing of the information on the resume itself.