Behind the scenes with the sportswriters
Northwestern football plays seven home games this season, which means that on seven different occasions, writers, broadcasters, NFL scouts, athletic communications personnel and random people with press passes trying to take advantage of free catering will all file into Ryan Field’s Leonard B. Thomas press box.
The box sits eight flights of stairs (or one long elevator ride) above the action down on the field, where Northwestern fell in a tough 10-9 defeat to the visiting Michigan Wolverines on Nov. 8. Though the box’s atmosphere was noticeably lacking (save for the moments when everyone collectively laughed each time the teams’ offenses repeatedly showed their futility), the game still brought out the usual variety of professional and student journalists.
The collective role of these writers has changed during the past several years. Because game highlights have become more and more widely available and social media has become increasingly prevalent, beat writers are no longer expected to simply tell their readers what happened during the game. Now, it’s all about providing an interesting perspective.
“We don’t really write gamers anymore,” said Seth Gruen, who covers Northwestern sports for the Chicago Sun-Times. “The nature of the business is turning into more opinion and analysis-based writing pieces. You can always turn on SportsCenter and get the highlights of the game, so my process is to find one thread or one important storyline that comes out of the game.”
Of course, Northwestern football doesn’t always make life easy for the writers who cover the games. When you don’t know what’s going to happen next, as is often the case with this volatile Northwestern team, preparing for a reaction piece can be challenging.
“It’s hard to start writing with these guys at any time in the game because they’re so unpredictable,” said Wildcat Digest Publisher Chris Emma, who is spending his second full season covering Northwestern football.
As part of his unique way of preparing for games, Emma fully immerses himself in the overall experience – which includes embracing the fervor he’s always had not just for Northwestern football, but for the sport in general.
“I grew up on college football, and it has always been my true sports passion. Some of my greatest memories as a kid were at college football games,” he said. “So before each game I cover, I try to take in part of the game day atmosphere, because it just doesn’t come in the press box.
“I’ll walk the tailgate lots, have a hot dog and talk football with fans, and just enjoy what makes college football special. Then, eventually, it’s time to work.”
Writing alongside professional journalists like Gruen and Emma also presents a learning opportunity for Northwestern students, including Medill sophomore Josh Rosenblat, who has covered the team for Inside NU since August 2013 – one month before the start of his freshman year.
“Sports has always been something I’ve enjoyed, and now being able to write about it has been really fun,” Rosenblat said. “Not only am I covering the team during the week at practice in between games, but, you know, learning from a lot of the other guys that cover the team regularly is a pretty cool experience.”
The writers also develop camaraderie through long road trips and many hours spent in the press box over the years.
“It’s a fun atmosphere where everyone is warm and welcoming,” Emma said. “As a writer, you feel at home around the other writers, players, coaches and administrators. Because it’s a smaller school in enrollment, athletic department and media coverage, that family feel is real.”
And for the professional journalists, what’s the best part about covering Northwestern football games? Gruen keeps it simple:
“I get paid.”