The Digital Evolution of Sports Journalism: Q&A with Michael Vaccaro (@MikeVacc)
Editor’s note: This question-and-answer blog is the first in a series of blogs featuring journalism alumni from the Jandoli School of Communication. Our award-winning communication school has been developing journalism for more than 70 years, and counts Pulitzer Prize, Emmy, Peabody, National Sportswriter of the Year and many other journalism award winners among our talented alumni.
In this first Q&A, we explore the evolution of digital journalism in the sports world with Michael Vaccaro, 1989 St. Bonaventure alumnus and columnist at the New York Post.
Q: For those who may not know you, can you tell us about your current position and what you do on a near-daily basis?
Michael Vaccaro: I’m the lead sports columnist for the New York Post. Essentially, my job is to write off the news of the day, regardless of what that news is — a breaking trade, a firing, an important game, a significant death. I usually write 4-5 times a week, although that can change depending on whether it’s a busy or slow time of the calendar.
Q: Now that Twitter, blogging, podcasts and smartphones are pervasive, how do you feel about the fact that practically anyone – even amateur journalists – can use these tools to report on sports in real-time? What do you see as the perks and/or pitfalls?
Michael Vaccaro: I think it’s more important now than ever that we rely on the things that make us different as journalists — our access, yes, but also our ability to maximize that access, to report thoroughly, to write with an authoritative voice if you happen to have a forum for that, as I do. I think it’s wonderful that any passionate fan can voice their opinions in public ways they never were before, but I also think it makes it especially important to offer something beyond what a fan’s opinion might give.
Q: How has this evolution impacted your career?
Michael Vaccaro: I think it’s forced me to never allow myself to settle for things — whether that’s a mediocre quote or a murky fact. The key word in these times for journalists is “essential” — you need to remain an essential part of your readers’ daily life and the best way to do that is to always make sure the work remains fresh and lively and, above all else, accurate.
Q: Compared to the past, news today is faster, more agile and nimbler. For example, an athlete can tweet something controversial and that becomes a legitimate news story. Overall, what kind of impact has this evolution in journalism had on athletes?
Michael Vaccaro: I think their first inclination is to believe maybe they can bypass us and take their message directly to their fans and maybe, in some instances and in some markets that’s true. In New York, that won’t ever fly. Readers and listeners expect to be told the truth and journalism is still, even now, a place where truth is the most important commodity.
Q: Who is another journalist you admire who really has their finger on the pulse of modern sports journalism?
Michael Vaccaro: Not to make this sound like a huge family reunion but I do think Bona’s own Adrian Wojnarowski has shown the power of being malleable, of adjusting to all platforms. He can deliver on live TV, he remains an excellent writer and is an unparalleled reporter and he understands the possibilities of social media in a way that’s impossible to minimize. Maybe not everyone can be as gifted as him but I think all journalists, regardless of age or experience, can work as he does — which is to say, very hard and very smart.
Q: You graduated from St. Bonaventure with a degree in journalism. What kind of lasting impact has it left on you?
Michael Vaccaro: I feel it is as honorable a profession as there is and I feel a daily responsibility to be equal to that charge. As Russ Jandoli himself told me and hundreds of his students who came before and after me: “To whom much is given, much will be expected.” I feel we have been given the gift of journalism, of being journalists, and we have to honor that gift every day.
Q: St. Bonaventure University is now offering an online Master of Arts in Sports Journalism, as well as an online Master of Arts in Digital Journalism. Why are programs like this important in today’s journalism world?
Michael Vaccaro: They’re important to the student because it is now expected that on Day 1 after graduation they need to be conversant and fluid in the possibilities of digital journalism. And it’s important to the university to gain a reputation equally to the J-school at large so it can continue to attract the best and brightest future journalists, to keep the chain that began around 1950 alive until 2050 and 2150 and beyond.
Q: St. Bonaventure University’s journalism programs have always emphasized and prioritized ethics. Why are journalism ethics more important and relevant today than ever?
Michael Vaccaro: Because there are more potential potholes and pratfalls than ever before, because the digital realities allow for all manner of shortcuts including the two capital crimes of fabulism and plagiarism. Every time one of these frauds is exposed the entire profession takes a massive hit and wears a ghastly black eye and we just cannot tolerate it. Trust is our most precious asset. And ethics assure that trust will always be essential.
Q: Baseball, football or basketball? Why?
Michael Vaccaro: Baseball. Babe Ruth called it “the only real game” and who am I to argue with the Babe?
Michael Vaccaro is a journalism alumnus of St. Bonaventure University and is the lead sports columnist for the New York Post, where he’s worked since 2002. He has won more than 50 writing awards and is the author of Emperors and Idiots: The Hundred Year Rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox, From the Very Beginning to the End of the Curse and of 1941: The Greatest Year in Sports.