Chris Vannini: FWAA Co-Beat Writer of the Year

Chris Vannini of The Athletic and Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com will be named co-winners of the FWAA’s Beat Writer of the Year Award on Monday. The following is a profile of Dodd. For a profile of Dodd, CLICK HERE.

Chris Vannini, The Athletic: Co-2018, FWAA Beat Writer of the Year

Age: 29

College: Michigan State

Chris Vannini

Personal: Claimed FWAA Best Writing Game Story HM (2018) and FWAA Best Writing Feature Story HM (2018). I also won Best Sports Story when working at The State News- Michigan State student newspaper (2011)…I have been married to wife Gabi and since 2012…Dogs and pro wrestling are my passions. You will see both subjects all over my social media accounts. My wife, a dog trainer on the side, has worked at various animal shelters. We always have different dogs coming in and out of the house, along with the ones we own. I am also a pro wrestling fan, watching WWF/E since I was a kid. Writing about the transition ex-football players make to become pro wrestlers was a very fun story to do, combining two of my passions.

Mentors: I have to start with the various editors at The State News. When I was hired as an intern. I had very little journalism experience. I was writing alongside high school journalism all-stars. My early stories were critiqued heavily by the editors. They helped me figure things out. I owe my career foundation to the people at The State News: Joey Nowak, Julie Baker, Kris Turner, Cash Kruth, Matt Bishop, professional adviser Omar Sofradzija and others. The standard at that paper put in place by the students ahead of me was so high, winning a Pacemaker Award every year I was there, and I hoped to keep up that standard when I became an editor as a senior. Even after graduation, Omar was always a sounding board for me. Jason Beck from MLB.com became another mentor when I worked alongside him covering the Detroit Tigers in 2011. Pete Roussel, a former college football coach, hired me at CoachingSearch.com. Although he didn’t have a writing background, he taught me how to simplify subjects in a concise matter and get to the point and make the point. All of these people helped me get where I am today.

Most Rewarding Stories: Writing about the families honored on UAB’s children’s hospital jerseys was very meaningful. Each player was paired with a current or former patient. Some of the names were of children who had passed. Talking to Tracey Thompson, whose son “Jack-Jack” was honored on the quarterback’s jersey, she explained that you miss hearing your child’s name after they die. People don’t bring it up to you, for fear of upsetting you, but the silence makes their lives feel insignificant. So the fact that UAB used his name, especially in such a prominent position with the QB, was honoring Jack-Jack in a way where people would never forget him. I hoped my story had the same effect for those families. On a less serious topic, I pushed hard to write a story on how football players become WWE wrestlers. It took months to complete because I had to work to convince WWE to let an outlet they’d never heard of speak with active wrestlers, who were vital to the story. I also had to convince editors it was worth running during the season. But several events happened during the season to make it feel timely, and it turned out to be a hit with readers. It was a niche topic with a unique angle, but it worked.

Best piece of advice: When I was a college student at Michigan State, I was grappling with the time commitment of journalism (how it takes away from having a personal life) to go along with the declining state of the industry. I was enjoying college life as one does, but when I joined The State News as a sophomore, time with friends outside the paper decreased. I e-mailed Terry Foster, a Detroit News columnist whose radio show I listened to, and I asked about that balance and sacrifice. He responded with this: “If you like journalism, don’t do it. If you love it, then come into the club. You need passion to get through the rough days.” Ten years later, I still have that e-mail printed out, and I still think about that advice every day.

What has changed most in the journalism profession? I can really only speak for the last 10 years, but even so, I’ve experienced a big change on the print side. When I started at The State News as a sophomore, our paper had two eight-page sections every day. By the time I became sports editor as a senior, we only had one section, sometimes at six pages. The quick decline of print advertising took its toll. But I was an early adopter of Twitter in 2009. It was evident then how valuable it could be as a tool. Our sports account at The State News became a must-follow when I was the editor, like when Tom Izzo flirted with the Cleveland Cavaliers job in summer 2010. We had updates throughout the day, photos from the airport, photos from rallies and other news. That wasn’t normal at the time. Professional reporters covering Michigan State sports used to rib me over my constant Twitter usage. Now they are on it just as much as I am. Every job I have gotten has come in large part because of Twitter, whether that was finding a job opening or someone else finding me. Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman discovered my work at CoachingSearch.com through Twitter, and that eventually led to Mandel bringing me to The Athletic.

Best Interview: One of the interviews I’m most proud of was with Ohio University Football Coach Frank Solich this past August. I did a ton of research before the interview, and a colleague tipped me off to something about a class. I asked him an obscure question about being in a class taught by Tom Osborne when he was a Nebraska student-athlete, and he brought up that he nearly went into the FBI. I followed up on that a few times and got more details, which became the lead of the story. After the interview, an Ohio communications staffer told me that he never talks about the FBI topic with anyone, so the fact I found my way into the topic and got him to open up about it was encouraging. I was also told before the interview that he wouldn’t talk about Nebraska and his firing there, but I was able to ask numerous questions in ways that invited him to open up about it in a comfortable way. I got the important insight the story needed. I’d consider that one of my best interviews.

Dennis Dodd: FWAA Co-Beat Writer of the Year

Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com and Chris Vannini of The Athletic will be named co-winners of the FWAA’s Beat Writer of the Year Award on Monday. The following is a profile of Dodd. For a profile of Vannini, CLICK HERE.

Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com: 2018 FWAA Co-Beat Writer of the Year

AGE: 62

Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com

PERSONAL: Married. Wife Janet. Two children–Haley, 26, and Jack 22. Haley is a graduate of Missouri and is working in Los Angeles in social media. Jack is a senior in journalism at Kansas. Dennis has won three FWAA Best Writing Contest Awards. He is one of seven media members to cover all 16 BCS title games. Written two books, one on the history of Missouri basketball and the other on the formation of the Big 12. Calls wife Janet, “the absolute light of my life, guidance counselor, travel companion, cancer survivor and best friend.” One of his hobbies, NCAA Football on the PlayStation, was taken away from him by litigation; Jack took the Xbox to college. His passions are Happy Hour, hockey and Friday nights before Saturday games in college towns dining with media friends. “There’s no better fellowship,” he says.

MENTORS: The gang, Tom Shatel and Steve Richardson, early on. Richardson, Dodd says “mentored him when he came to Kanas City in 1981.” Shatel: “I wish I could be him as a writer and a father.” They can all still be seen in San Diego in somebody’s picture of that little joint by the sea. Dodd started going there 36 years ago; Shatel was along for the ride. Ivan Maisel, he calls his “literary and personal hero.” He also wants to thank Vahe Gregorian, David Jones, Todd Jones, Dick Weiss, Mark Blaudschun, Tony Barnhart, Chris Dufresne, Pat Forde and everyone who has pounded the key boards at midnight with him.

BEST STORIES:  Most proud of two—one was on Dave Redding. Drove up to central Nebraska to see legendary strength coach Dave Redding. In a profession full of characters, rogues and heroes, he was all three. Red Man had been stricken with Parkinson’s. He lived in a house built on the banks on of the Platte River by himself and his dad. His only companions were a couple of dogs and a houseful of memories. He showed me his Super Bowl ring he earned with the Packers. His went in depth on two brothers who made it big in Hollywood before both dying of HIV. He kept asking me if I wanted a drink. It was 2 p.m. It was clear he was lonely. I had to decline because I had to drive back to Lincoln. “I’m really proud of honoring him by winning for that story.”

In 2001, I had the idea to drive out to Cottonwood Falls, Kansas to find the Knute Rockne Memorial. It was the 70th anniversary of the plane crash that killed Notre Dame’s legendary coach. Before the days of GPS or Siri, I drove 90 minutes to Emporia, got directions to Cottonwood Falls, and then got directions again to Bazaar, Kan. That’s the closest spot to the memorial which stands alone on a 1,500-acre plot of land in the Flint Hills. I met a gentle soul named Easter Heathman, who as a 13-year old in 1931, had seen the plane come out of the clouds and crash. He was one of the first persons upon the scene. He remembered seeing a body with the legs wrapped with bandages. Years later, he figured that must have been Rockne because the coach had phlebitis. Well, over the years Easter became a caretaker for the memorial, taking anyone who wanted to see it, up to the site. The land owner had given him a combination to unlock a gate.

BEST ADVICE: Came from Janet, of course: “Listen…listen to her, listen to your children, listen to your heart. Professionally, listen to your interview subjects. They are doing you a favor by talking to you. They have a story to tell. It’s up to you to communicate it clearly. Also read (your story) one more time before sending it. Several editors.”

THE BIGGEST CHANGE IN THE PROFESSION: The lack of intimacy. I don’t have to tell anyone here how hard it is now to connect with subjects. Open locker rooms are few and far between. Interviews are now “media availability”. A chat must fit into an available “window.” I believe schools sometimes are doing disservice to these kids. They come to college to grow as people and, sure, as athletes. For a lot of them this is going to be the time of their lives. I’ve said many times, on the college beat we’re there to write something positive 80-90 percent of the time. Don’t make it so hard. I mourn the loss of access. Often the story that gets told is not THE story.

On the positive side, the best biggest change is the influx of women into our profession. There still aren’t enough, but they keep coming. That’s a good thing. Thank you, Stef Loh for being our 2018 FWAA President. Thanks to all of you for your passion for sports and professionalism.

BEST INTERVIEW:  Jeff Sims.  He’s the coach at Garden City Community College. When I visited a couple of years ago, this was before Last Chance U. Sims grew up in St. Louis and had a dad who smoked marijuana in front of him. He waited outside a prison for a player who was completing 3 1/2 years for armed robbery. There’s a book here somewhere about the desperation at the junior college level — for the players to get there, get good, and get out. During my visit there, I sat across from a linebacker, Alex Figueroa, who’d been kicked out of Miami for sexual assault. His teammate had body-slammed a high school security guard and beaten up his girlfriend on camera in the hallway. These are kids Sims pursued to be on his team. I’m not making value judgments here. I’m just telling you how fascinating the interview was. Coach and players made no excuses about why they there in the southwest corner of Kansas — to get out as soon as possible.

Mike Griffith named FWAA Beat Writer of the Year

ATLANTA-Mike Griffith of SEC County was named the Steve Ellis/FWAA Beat Writer of the Year during the association’s annual Awards Breakfast on Monday morning at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel.

Griffith, FWAA President in 2007 and a frequent award winner in the association’s Best Writing Contest, becomes the eighth recipient of the Steve Ellis/FWAA Beat Writer of the Year Award, which annually honors one of the best beat writers in college football. The award is named after the late Steve Ellis, a standout beat writer who covered Florida State football for the Tallahassee Democrat for a number of years.

Mike Griffith

Griffith follows previous winners Doug Lesmerises, Cleveland Plain Dealer; Steve Wieberg, USA Today, and Mark Blaudschun, Boston Globe (co-recipients); Jon Wilner, San Jose Mercury News; Tim May, Columbus Dispatch; Chris Dufresne, Los Angeles Times;  and  Jason Kersey, Daily Oklahoman.

“Mike has been a relentless reporter on whatever beat he has covered over the years,” said FWAA Executive Director Steve Richardson. “Now that we are in an era of a myriad of reporting platforms, Mike has mastered the switch technique of adapting to the many different mediums.

“He’s also forever a guard of his and others’ job space in the press box. One time a couple of years ago, he was on the prowl when he was told a road SID was going to limit the time reporters could stay in the press box after a night game. The media and the FWAA are better off with a watch dog like Griff.”

Griffith fits in very well at SEC Country as its main Tennessee Vols reporter.

“On the Tennessee beat the past year, Mike has been a one-man wrecking crew,” wrote Ken Bradley, the SEC Country Deputy Sports Editor, in Griffith’s support letter. “Going up against competitors with multiple writers, he never backed down. In fact, he embraced the challenge. He stayed up late producing content to roll out the first thing the next morning. He thought of different ways to provide video content that others weren’t doing. He attacks every day the same way with the same goal — to inform, entertain and attract readers to SEC Country’s Tennessee coverage.

“A new job, with a new company mixed with modern-day digital journalism enabled me to cover college football a variety of ways this past year,” Griffith wrote.

Griffith’s duties on the Tennessee football beat include a daily podcast, attending and writing from football-related functions, Tuesday morning radio appearances on Huntsville and Nashville radio stations and Sunday morning appearances on Knoxville’s highest-rated local television sports show.

Special assignments involved travel to the homes of several signees as part of the “Next Generation” series, with Facebook Live presentation videos a part of the extensive interviews performed with recruits and their families.

In-season responsibilities also included taking pictures and setting up video to live-stream press conferences, team arrival at stadium and Facebook Live “stand-up” reports from after the head coach’s weekly press conference, as well as stand-ups from the pregame and post-game stadium field level and a co-host role on a Thursday night television show.

Griffith, a Michigan State graduate, was hired by Cox Media Group SEC Country in May 2016 after covering high-profile Michigan State football and basketball teams for MLive for four years. During his first stint in Knoxville, Griffith covered Tennessee football and basketball for the News-Sentinel for 14 years while also doing television and radio weekly.

Prior to Knoxville, Griffith covered Alabama for the Mobile Register for four years and Auburn for the Anniston Star, including Auburn’s unbeaten team in 1993. His first job out of college was covering Idaho State for the Idaho Falls Post Register. He worked all four years in college at the Lansing State Journal for Steve Klein, who went on to develop the blueprint for USA Today’s online product.

“When I think of Mike Griffith, eight words come to mind: talented, versatile, creative, hard-working, collaborative, professional and meticulous,” Bradley wrote. “If you were searching for a beat writer and could get half of those, you’d be happy. Mike brings all of that to the table every day.”

 

Jason Kersey named Steve Ellis/FWAA Beat Writer of the Year

Jason Kersey

Jason Kersey

Former Oklahoman reporter Jason Kersey has been named the Steve Ellis/FWAA Beat Writer of the Year for the 2015 football season, when he was covering the Oklahoma Sooners for the newspaper.

Kersey, almost 30 and now a writer for SEC Country and covering the Arkansas Razorbacks, is the sixth annual winner of this award. He will be honored during the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 9 in Tampa, Fla., at the media hotel for the CFP National Championship Game.

“I am genuinely stunned and overwhelmed,” Kersey said. “I want to thank the committee for this unbelievable honor. It means more to me than I can adequately express. I want to thank Ryan Aber (an FWAA member), who was my cohort on the OU beat. He was as perfect a beat partner as anyone working in this job could ever hope to have.

“Also, thanks to my dad for instilling in me a passionate love for sports. Thanks to my mom for how irrationally proud she is of any accomplishments, be it massive or minuscule. And a special thank you to my wife, Annie. This job can be tough on spouses, and Annie not only puts up with it but also encourages and supports me because she knows how much it means to me.”

For the first time, the FWAA Beat Writer of the Year Award will be known as the Steve Ellis/FWAA Beat Writer of the Year Award.  The late Ellis was a standout beat writer who covered Florida State football for the Tallahassee Democrat for a number of years.

Previous winners of this prestigious FWAA award: Doug Lesmerises (Cleveland Plain Dealer), Mark Blaudschun (Boston Globe), Steve Wieberg (USA Today), Jon Wilner (San Jose Mercury News), Tim May (Columbus Dispatch) and Chris Dufresne (Los Angeles Times).

“Jason was instrumental to The Oklahoman’s Sports section’s success in print and digitally,” said Mike Sherman, sports editor of the Tampa Bay Times and former sports editor of The Oklahoman. “He worked his way through various roles in our department, capitalizing on every opportunity to build skills, relationships and his capacity for great storytelling. His reporting broke news and ground.”

In his nomination folder, one fellow writer said: “Jason’s work during the 2015 season perfectly paralleled the play of the team he covered. Oklahoma was at the top of its game, and so was Jason. His versatility shines through on a daily basis, as he reports the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Kersey gave Sherman an assist for his award-winning coverage.

“Mike Sherman is the best sports editor in the country,” Kersey said. “He hired me as a part-timer when I was just an awkward, 19-year-old college sophomore. Throughout our almost decade-long working relationship, he always believed I could do better. I miss working for Mike Sherman every single day because he flat-out makes writers better.

“When I was little, I thought I would someday be a quarterback. I didn’t have the arm, so I tried wide receiver,” Kersey added. “And when I found my speed and athleticism lacking, I decided writing might be my ticket to a career involving football.”

KERSEY BIO

Jason Kersey joined The Oklahoman’s staff in November 2006 and worked as a part-time results clerk, a page designer/copy editor and a high school sports and recruiting reporter before spending four years on the OU football beat.

His work covering the Sooners twice resulted in national recognition as a top-10 beat writer from the Associated Press Sports Editors, as well as top-10 APSE honors for features, breaking news and multimedia. Jason has also won awards from the Tulsa Press Club and Society of Professional Journalists. During his time covering Oklahoma, Jason chronicled the Sooners’ monumental 2014 Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama, the rise of quarterback Baker Mayfield and OU’s run to the 2015 College Football Playoff.

His work at The Oklahoman also included extensive coverage of the racist fraternity video that shocked the entire country and spurred social change on OU’s campus; exclusive reporting on a Title IX sexual assault investigation involving a football player; and the Joe Mixon saga.

Jason left The Oklahoman in May 2016 to join Cox Media Group’s new venture, SEC Country, as its Arkansas beat writer. He is wrapping up his first season covering Bret Bielema and the Razorbacks.

A Noble, Okla., native, Jason graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2009. He lives in Fayetteville, Ark., with his wife Annie and dog Buster.

President’s column: Beat Writer award to be named for Steve Ellis 1

By Mark Anderson, FWAA President

A friend and I were traveling through the West with Steve Ellis back in the early 1990s. We all woke up in Provo, Utah, one morning ready to hit the road. But first we had to wait for Steve to file a Florida State football notebook.

In July. On his vacation.

2016 FWAA President Mark Anderson

2016 FWAA President Mark Anderson

That was Steve. From him, I learned the value of great reporting. No one could ever outwork Steve. The trips with Steve also gave me a love for this region of the country and an appreciation for the beauty of the West. I eventually made my way from the Tallahassee Democrat to the Reno Gazette-Journal and then to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Having worked with and having known Steve, I think it is truly appropriate that we name our FWAA Beat Writer of the Year Award after him. I have to credit FWAA Board Member Malcolm Moran, a long-time friend of Steve’s, with the idea. We both wish Steve could be here to enjoy the recognition.

Steve, sad to say, died on Nov. 19, 2009 after suffering a heart attack nine days earlier. His widow, Karen, will attend the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 9, 2017 in Tampa and present the award in his name.

Karen shared her thoughts with the FWAA:

When I found out the Football Writers Association of America planned to name its Beat Writer of the Year Award after Steve, I was completely overwhelmed with emotion. I know Steve was an outstanding writer and a special man, but to be recognized by his peers is just amazing. I watched Steve work 24/7 to make sure he didn’t miss a story and to ensure all the facts were correct. The other writers on the Florida State beat always said they had to work harder just to keep up with Steve. He truly loved what he did and knew at an early age he wanted to be a writer.

When we first started dating Steve was working on a story about a freshman football player and was worried about a quote he thought could give people the wrong impression about the young man. He called the player’s position coach and was up until 2 a.m. waiting for a quote from the coach that would help give credibility to the player with fans. More…

Dufresne to be honored as FWAA Beat Writer of the Year; read his farewell column after 40 years at the LA Times

2013 FWAA President Chris Dufresne

2013 FWAA President Chris Dufresne

Chris Dufresne, president of the Football Writers Association of America in 2013, will be honored as the FWAA’s Beat Writer of the Year and receive a commemorative football at our annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 11 at the JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort and Spa.

Dufresne also recently retired after 40 years at The Los Angeles Times. CLICK HERE to read his Farewell Column, published on Dec. 8 in The Times.

 

 

 

 

Tim May Wins FWAA Beat Writer of Year Award

DALLAS –Veteran Columbus Dispatch reporter Tim May has been named  the winner of the 2014 FWAA Beat Writer of the Year Award for his superb coverage of the Ohio State Buckeyes, who played in the first College Football Playoff  Title Game here.

The FWAA’s Beat Reporter of the Year Award is based on a comprehensive look at the way a person covers the beat and encompasses all categories of coverage over a period of time. May was recognized at the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast at the media hotel in Dallas on Tuesday, the morning after the Buckeyes faced Oregon in the title game at AT&T Stadium in nearby Arlington.

May has been a sports writer at the Columbus Dispatch since 1976, covering all manner of events from a few Super Bowls to a few national Putt-Putt tournaments. He has been on the Ohio State beat since 1984.

“I’m honored and humbled to receive this award,” May said. “Most of us local guys just bang away, day to day, but covering Ohio State football for 31 seasons has been quite the rollercoaster ride, from the Rose Bowl to the toilet bowl and back up again. As I’ve always said, I’d have the greatest job in the world if I didn’t have to write.”

More…

San Jose Mercury News’ Jon Wilner named FWAA Beat Writer of the Year 1

Jon Wilner San Jose Mercury News

Jon Wilner
San Jose Mercury News

DALLAS — Jon Wilner, a veteran sportswriter for the San Jose Mercury News, has been awarded the 2013 FWAA Beat Writer of the Year Award for his coverage of the Pac-12 Conference and West Coast college sports.

The FWAA’s Beat Reporter of the Year Award is based on a comprehensive look at the way a person covers the beat and encompasses all categories of coverage over a period of time.

Wilner, 46, has worked at the Mercury News since 2000 and has held various reporting roles in the college scene for the newspaper and its website, covering Stanford, Bay Area colleges and Pac-12 beats. Wilner’s highly popular blog, “College Hotline,” receives millions of page views annually.

He has claimed numerous Associated Press Sports Editors awards.  Wilner has had a vote in the Associated Press Top 25 football and basketball polls for more than a decade.

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