Covering sports has been a weird adventure during the COVID-19 season, but it’s been even weirder for somebody new to their job trying to build relationships.
I started on the Mississippi State beat in the beginning of June, which was roughly two to three months into the global pandemic and shutdown. I was covering high school sports for the Journal beforehand.
When I took the job, my first assignment in Starkville was the first day of preseason football. We had no access to players or coaches, so I drove to Starkville and from my car, tried to count how many players were walking into the facilities and try to recognize any of them.
Since then I’ve moved to Starkville and gotten situated along with the other beat writers, but this year is still unlike any other. Instead of hanging out with the writers in the facilities and attending press conferences, everything has been online.
There are still multiple press conferences via Zoom per week. There are usually football pressers on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday after a game. The Monday presser with Mike Leach is around 2 or 2:30 p.m., while Tuesday and Wednesday’s pressers with assistant coaches and players are around 7 or 7:30 p.m.
And while we are still talking and asking questions with these players and coaches, it’s much different than years past. It’s harder to build a relationship and build a connection with players and coaches from across a computer screen.
With Zoom, you have the option to turn your camera on or off. When I and others ask questions with the camera off sometimes, it’s just a black screen with a name on it. That sometimes just seems like an anonymous question.
It’ the little things
When you don’t know and aren’t seeing these people everyday in person, it’s tough to build a relationship that way because you aren’t seeing facial responses and stuff like mannerisms.
Also with online press conferences, you miss the chance of catching up and just chatting with players and coaches before and after pressers. There’s usually time there, maybe up to a few minutes every day, where you just chat and get to know each other.
You talk about stuff other than press conference questions and you get to know each other’s personalities. You don’t get that on Zoom when a coach pops up on the screen two seconds before he starts answering questions.
The job stays the same, no matter whether or not it’s a zoom press conference or in-person press conference. But building relationships during the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough for writers all over the country.