Advice for journalists, George Dohrmann edition

Happy Wednesday, everyone! Wednesday is my Thursday this week. I’m heading down to Mobile for a weekend of Mardi Gras festivities, so you’ll be missing a post Friday and Saturday. So here’s my advanced wish that everyone has a fabulous weekend.

But today’s main subject is advice for journalists, by journalists.

Back in 2007 I took a sports writing class at Alabama with Sports Illustrated’s Lars Anderson as the teacher. Probably one of the best decisions of my college career.

Aside from being a great writer, Lars is also a great teacher. He introduced my class to so many different people in the industry and genuinely wants his students to succeed.

With all that said, last night I got to hang out with his class (now in its 3rd year) and talk to SI’s lead investigative reporter George Dohrmann via Skype.

Dohrmann recently debunked the S.W.A.T.S. (Sports with Alternatives to Steroids) mystery that has recently plagued the likes of Ray Lewis and numerous Alabama football players, but his investigative career began at age 26 when he uncovered academic fraud within the men’s basketball team at the University of Minnesota. (He won a Pulitzer for that story.) As a pre-internet era story, I couldn’t locate it, but here is some extra info from Dohrmann breaking down his reporting.

Dohrmann gave the class some tips on how to handle investigative journalism.

Assume people aren’t talking. He said when the Ohio State tattoo scandal broke he realized no one from the tattoo parlors had been heard from. So he called and got info others didn’t have because they waited for word from the school.

Give sources motivation. When doing hard hitting reporting, sources tend to want to be off the record. The best way to get them on the record is to give the source a reason to divulge their information. When the big story was agents paying footbalI players, he spoke to Josh Luck, a former NFL agent. Luck had told Dohrmann he was giving another writer his information on the business, but Dohrmann realized there was another story. He ended up writing an in depth feature on Luck, one of football’s biggest agents at one point, who was retiring quietly. Luck was suspended from the NFL for a period during his career and told Dohrmann he didn’t want his kids to see that come up when they Googled his name. Dohrmann remembered that and offered him a chance to rewrite what his kids would find. Here’s his story.

While each guest gets individual questions based on their career and experience, there is one question that is asked to all of the guests. And that is, what advice would you give us? In Dohrmann’s case, he laughed.

It’s painfully evident the journalism business is struggling to create a new business model. Jobs are hard to come by, and even veterans in the business don’t have immunity from the layoffs happening around the country.

So what did George say?

Become an expert that can write. Some of the top writers have backgrounds in something other than journalism and it gives them an edge. David Epstein, who helped Dohrmann with the S.W.A.T.S. story, has a degree in biology and his niche is in sports science issues.



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