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IU sports journalism alumni adapt to reporting around coronavirus



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Rays pitcher Brendan McKay is interviewed by Tricia Whitaker from Fox Sports Sun's June 28, 2019. Whitaker graduated from IU in 2012. Tribune News Service

With major organizations such as the NBA and MLB paused indefinitely, IU alumni in sports journalism are adapting to a new way of covering their respective beats.

Here are four Hoosiers who are still providing content to their readers during the coronavirus pandemic:

Scott Agness, covers the Indiana Pacers for The Athletic, class of 2012

On March 11, Scott Agness was sitting in row three of Bankers Life Fieldhouse watching IU play Nebraska in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament. The news that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 broke during the game. He said the final 10 minutes of the game was a blur. 

Agness received an email from the NBA and showed the staff and ushers. He said he knew their jobs would be affected and wanted to alert them to the breaking news. Then something on the court caught his eye. 

Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg, who was sick before the game, began making his way for the exit. Agness said he immediately thought of the coronavirus.

“I saw Fred Hoiberg being taken back to the locker room clearly not feeling well," Agness said. "And to see him suddenly get ill, was the first thing going through our minds."

Hoiberg was later diagnosed with influenza. 

That previous night, Agness was in the arena covering the Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers game. He was within 10 feet of Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who later tested positive for COVID-19. 

Agness did not contract the coronavirus from attending either of the two games and is currently working with editors on producing content in the absence of the NBA season. 

The Reminders app on his iPhone contains 56 story ideas. One idea was a preview for the possible first round matchup between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat in the NBA playoffs if the league decided to forgo the remainder of the regular season and carry out the playoffs with the current rankings. 

Another source of creative brainstorming for Agness is in a channel on the instant messaging platform, Slack, for the entire company titled “Let’s Get Weird.”

“Someone brought up the idea of designating 32 writers as general managers, and we draft quarantine items,” Agness said. “You are absolutely getting outside the norm and doing creative things.”

Tricia Whitaker, in-game reporter for the Tampa Bay Rays, class of 2012

Whitaker received one of the strangest requests in her reporting career during post-game interviews at a spring training game March 11 against the Boston Red Sox: she was asked to stand six feet away from the Rays’ players to do the interview.  

“I just remember feeling just a really eerie feeling at the ballpark that day because I had this sense that would be the last game for a long time,” Whitaker said. 

After Gobert tested positive, the reality of the situation sunk in. Whitaker found herself packing up her apartment in Saint Petersburg, Florida, and traveling back to Indianapolis to be with her fiancé. 

In Indianapolis, Whitaker has been doing remote interviews with Rays manager Kevin Cash and other members of the organization. She said her job as a journalist is to deliver the story no matter the circumstances, including a pandemic.

“All you can do right now is hope and try and help as best you can, and that means staying home, giving some blood and maybe making some face masks,” Whitaker said.

During a normal season, Whitaker is part of a show called “Rays All-Access” on Fox. She has since renamed the show to “Rays All-Access At Home.” 

She did a FaceTime interview with Cash and his wife, Emily, on March 30. They talked about how the Cash family has transitioned to working at home with three kids doing school work. The following day, she FaceTimed infielder Willy Adames as he fried plantains and salami. 

Whitaker said her aim is to create different environments where she can interact with the players. She made a studio in her bedroom with a white wall in the background and added flowers for decoration. 

Whitaker said she hopes to go out on a boat with some of the Rays players or broadcasters for another segment of her adapted show. 

“To try and think outside the box while you are literally in a box, your own house, is really difficult,” Whitaker said. 

Greg Rosenstein, managing editor of The Athletic; covers MMA and Boxing, class of 2011

Greg Rosenstein usually writes about boxing and MMA matches on a weekly basis for the Athletic. He prepares fight previews, recaps and profile stories on the fighters. 

The announcement of Gobert testing positive for the coronavirus caused Rosenstein to step back and reassess his work.

“It was pretty crazy once the NBA decided to suspend the whole season because I think that’s when the whole world took notice,” Rosenstein said.

Without the normal flow of articles to edit and fights to preview, Rosenstein and his staff focused their attention on other creative pieces that audiences could engage with.

The Athletic published a profile March 26 on a ring doctor and his role in protecting fighters throughout a match . Rosenstein is also helping the staff with a story on ranking the biggest knockout artists in the sport. 

“That’s something people are going to debate, and those are the kinds of pieces that we need to do,” Rosenstein said. “It’s not focused on one particular fight. It’s just something interesting in the world of boxing or MMA, and it’s something people can enjoy.”  

Rosenstein said it is tougher to brainstorm fresh ideas, but there are more opportunities to have fun with his work. 

“Sometimes we’re super serious in terms of trying to break everything down from every angle,” he said. “It’s like, let’s take a step back and do something fun that people want to read and care about.”

Courtney Cronin, ESPN reporter covering the Minnesota Vikings, class of 2012

Courtney Cronin was in the studio recording “Purple Daily,” a Minnesota Vikings podcast, when she and her colleagues heard the NCAA Tournament would be played without fans.

As time progressed, other leagues such as the NHL and MLB announced indefinite postponements. Within days, the NFL was the only major sports league in some type of action.

“It was like watching a car wreck in slow motion,” Cronin said. “From there, it was kind of a domino effect.” 

With the NBA, NHL and MLB on hold, Cronin said she was relieved that NFL free agency coverage was still continuing. 

Despite being unable to have in-person conversations with players on or off the field, she is still providing content to a market that is no longer saturated with multiple sports.  

“It’s nice to cover things that are still relevant for people who are starved for it right now,” Cronin said. “People are bored and want to consume as much as they can.” 

For inspiration, Cronin is reading “Quarterback” by John Feinstein and “The Genius of Desperation” by Doug Farrar. Along with these books, Cronin said she hopes to have time with the athletes that the Minnesota Vikings draft on April 23. 

Once athletes are drafted, Cronin and other members of the press talk with them on a conference call before the players head to rookie mini-camp. In light of COVID-19 and the teams’ inability to practice, Cronin will look to take advantage of the extra time and have longer conversations with the soon-to-be Vikings.

“Now we have time to slow down and really sink our teeth into good, well-sourced and well-developed stories,” she said.

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