Friday, April 22, 2011

He's Fleeing the Interview!*

*Today's blog title comes from Joel and Ethan Coen's brilliant 1996 movie, Fargo. Read on to find out how it ties into today's post.

Today, I'm very excited to welcome a special guest to The Corner. If you're interested in the NFL, writing, blogging, journalism or any combination of these things, then this will be right up your alley.

Kevin Seifert currently writes the NFC North blog for ESPN.com. Before joining ESPN in 2008, Kevin spent eight years covering the Minnesota Vikings for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and he began his career covering the Baltimore Orioles for the Washington Times in the mid-1990s.

Full disclosure: I've known Kevin since the early 1990s, when we served as co-sports editors for The Cavalier Daily at the University of Virginia. I've always been fascinated by his career, especially by his transition from traditional print reporter to ESPN blogger, and by his use of Twitter and Facebook as part of his arsenal.

In short, I thought he'd be a great person to try my incredibly shaky interviewing skills on.

Kevin, thanks for joining me. A lot of my readers write blogs themselves, and I thought it would be interesting to hear from someone who does it professionally and for a huge audience like you do. Now, onto the questions...

1. Let's start with ye olde resume. How did you get your start in this business?

KEVIN SEIFERT: Truth be told, David, a friend of mine working at The Cavalier Daily said there was free pizza for anyone who visited the offices during first-year open house. I wandered up there and got my first “taste” of sportswriting that night.

2. What happened after that?

KS: They offered me a chance to sit courtside at a women’s basketball game for free. Sounded like a good deal to me. I stayed with it, survived my half-year tenure with you as co-sports editor, took a summer internship with the Washington Times and had no other job ideas when I graduated.

3. Why did you decide to make the jump from print to online journalism?

KS: Like many newspaper reporters, I was gradually doing more online work at the Star Tribune. We started a Vikings blog in maybe 2005 or 2006. I was initially skeptical of the way newspapers began flooding their web sites with breaking news and free content, but finally relented when I realized where things were going. Moving to ESPN.com seemed like the natural next step. When I took the job in 2008, I anecdotally felt that most people of my generation had migrated already from print newspapers and were already consuming most of their news and sports coverage online.

4. How does writing as a professional blogger, especially for the king of sports media, compare to your days as a print reporter?

KS: The pace is much different. At a newspaper, you generally spent your day gathering information and at some point in late afternoon or early evening, you started writing. You tended to have all the information in one story. As a blogger, you write all day long to keep the page fresh with whatever morsels of information you get. It’s more piecemeal and more writing, but I think the audience appreciates the immediacy and the more-constant updates.

5. This might be the same way of asking the last question -- how do you view your role as an ESPN blogger versus your role as a print reporter?

KS: The biggest difference is I’m not responsible for breaking news per se. Adam Schefter, Chris Mortensen, John Clayton and the rest of the ESPN.com football reporters handle that. Obviously, that’s a big part of being a newspaper beat writer. As an ESPN.com blogger, I have to remember I’m writing for a wider and more disparate audience and therefore need to appeal to a different audience.

6. How is the writing different?

KS: It’s huge. There is no definition of what a blog should be, but our goal is to be more conversational and less structured than we were newspapers. Part of what we try to do is be a written version of a radio talk show -- interacting regularly with readers and incorporating their thoughts whenever possible. My style is much more laid back on the blog, and it’s much more fun to write that way than it was under the strict style rules of newspapers.

7. What are some of the advantages to sports blogging that you didn't expect?

KS: There are some conventions that simply don’t exist in this world, most notably concerns about story length. You write what you need to write and don’t worry about whether it fits into the hole reserved for it in the newspaper. Deadlines are much more relaxed, if they exist at all. And at ESPN.com, you find that many of your readers are the players themselves.

8. What are some of the disadvantages that you've discovered compared to print journalism?

KS: Two things. One is that interaction with readers, and the ubiquitous comment fields, means never-ending criticism and harsh words about you accessible to anyone with an internet connection. It’s truly amazing how brutal people can be in a pseudo-anonymous setting. The second is both an advantage and disadvantage. We can post our own copy live to the blog without editing. But that means you don’t have an editor until after it’s already been published. You really need to be a clean writer to avoid typos and other mistakes from getting out there, and the speed and volume with which we work makes that difficult.

9. You're a big social media user -- how do you think that Twitter and Facebook have changed things for journalists?

KS: They’ve mostly just increased the avenues for interaction and made immediacy even more, well, immediate. I’ll be interested to see if media outlets continue to essentially give Twitter free content the way that newspapers did with the web. If you follow an NFL writer on Twitter, and he gives you all the information you need that way, what incentive to you have to visit that NFL writer’s web site?

10. It seems like you don't hear as much about the death of newspapers as you did a couple years ago -- What do you think will happen to print journalism?

KS: Just guessing here, but I think there are some people who will continue to want their news delivered that way. Ultimately, you have to figure we’ll have “information companies” that deliver the news in whatever form people want it. There won’t be newspapers or television stations or radio stations. The successful companies will produce on all media platforms.

11. How many games do you go to a year? Given that you cover all of the NFC North, how do you pick the games to go to?

KS: I go to at least one and sometimes two games per week, so roughly 20 a year before the playoff start. Typically we’ll look at the schedule a few weeks in advance and pick the most interesting and/or meaningful game involving an NFC North team and book it. In some cases, I take into account the fact that ESPNChicago.com will have the Bears covered for the company and choose another of my teams to provide balance.

12. How big a deal was it for Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers to win a Super Bowl?

KS: He definitely ended the national discussion about whether he could win playoff games like his predecessor did. But those of us who have watched Rodgers since 2008 know it was a silly conversation. He has been playing at a really high level since the moment he replaced Brett Favre.

13. If we have football in 2011, what are some of the big storylines people will be talking about?

KS: One thing I’m interested in seeing is which teams handled the uncertainty of the lockout the best and thus were best-equipped to open the season under unusual circumstances. You would have to think the Packers are among those teams.

14. Let me ask you about the lockout. Do you think we're going to have football in 2011? Why or why not?

KS: I do. Put simply, I think there is too much potential lost money at stake for this thing to erase a significant part of the season.

15. People are upset about the lockout. But the way I look at it, when they come back, I'll watch again. I don't care if this is a battle between rich players and even richer owners. I knew that already. Other than paying for cable, I don't pay anything to watch football. Do I have a right to be upset? Or will I be a dumb sheep for going back so easily when the lockout ends?


KS: You make a good point. I think people should do whatever makes them happy. If you like football, by all means watch it. If you’re offended by the fight, then back away. My sense is that most people have adopted a “wake me up when it’s over” mentality. They’re not missing much now other than free agency and some minicamps. No one is really angry yet, and I don’t think the NFL has lost many people.

16. What impact will the new research on concussions have on the game?


KS: Potentially huge. I don’t know if there is anything that can be done to dramatically risk the potential of head injuries unless the basic rules of the game are changed. My ultimate grand conspiracy theory is that it will slowly lead to a class change at the lowest levels of the game and eventually flow upwards to the NFL. The only people who will continue playing this game into adulthood are going to be the ones who knowingly sacrifice their long-term health for short-term financial gain. Who are the people most likely to do that? Those from poor backgrounds. Just my little thought.

17. If there was no lockout, what would you be working on right now?

KS: The draft. So not much has changed yet. After the draft, we could be stretching things a bit.

18. Since, sadly, there IS a lockout going on, what are you working on right now?


KS: See 17.

19.What's are some memorable moments from your career?

KS: The most dramatic came at the end of the 2003 season, when the Vikings lost the division title and a playoff spot on the final play of the season on a wild Arizona Cardinals touchdown. But my time with the Orioles and Vikings has mostly seemed like a soap opera. I saw Robbie Alomar spit on John Hirschbeck’s face and Davey Johnson fired on the day he was named manager of the year. I was covering the Vikings during the Lake Minnetonka boat party and when Randy Moss said he would pay fines with “straight cash, homey.” But no story will ever hit the way the death of Korey Stringer did in 2001. I don’t think it will ever sink in that someone died while practicing football.

20. Who are some of the players you most enjoy interviewing? Why?


KS: Moss is certifiably crazy sometimes but often hilarious and always interesting. Rodgers is very thoughtful and takes great care to ensure he says what he’s thinking. Matt Birk is a funny, smart guy. I loved talking baseball with Harold Baines when he played with the Orioles. He was one of the greatest hitters of his generation but had the most simple approach you could imagine.

21. The Internet makes it easy for readers to launch attacks on writers -- what are some of the best insults you've ever received?

KS: I don’t think I can bring myself to type out most of them. It is truly amazing what people will say behind the relative cloak of the internet. Maybe the funniest one was this, which I provide verbatim: “I am extremely happy you are no longer fully covering the Vikings. Even when you were here I thought you to be a little weezle of a man who thought he was so clever in how he rights.” My reply: “Yep, you got me. I’ll make sure to share your insight with my friend Weezy on our way to the Weezer concert.

22. If you weren't a sportswriter, what would you be doing?


KS: Based on your videos, I definitely wouldn’t be a doctor or lawyer. I honestly couldn’t say. I always say I became a sportswriter because I didn’t have any better ideas. That’s still the case.

23. Things are so different than when you started out as a beat reporter. What advice would you have for anyone thinking about journalism these days?

KS: Have a fastball but throw all of your pitches. These days, you need to at least be competent in areas that haven’t always been required. A reporter needs to be able to write, edit, produce videos and speak coherently on the radio or on podcasts. It’s good to have a specialty among those groups, but don’t enter the industry thinking you’re going to be one or the other. You’ll probably end up doing all of it in some form.

24. If you could trade lives for a day with one NFL player or coach, who would it be?

KS: I would pay straight cash to know what Randy Moss does on a given day. Fascinating.

25. Which player has made the best transition into TV commentary/analysis?

KS: I think Cris Collinsworth is great. Makes quick, insightful observations that make sense but carry credibility and, I think, are dead-on more than most analysts.

26. Your ESPN bio says you live in Minneapolis. Is the soundtrack from the movie Fargo on a constant loop in your head?

KS: “He’s fleeing the interview!”

27. Are you jealous that I have no gray hair?

KS: Pick your poison, pal.

Kevin, thanks again. It's been really cool to see your career develop over the years. All you NFL fans, follow Kevin on Twitter here: @espn_nfcnblog

6 comments:

  1. Great interview, David. It was nice reading about an area of writing I don't know much about. It must be a great opportunity for Kevin - being able to combine his passion for writing and sports into one career. It's great when people genuinely love what they do!

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  2. Cool interview, thanks for doing it, guys. Good call avoiding U.Va. sports questions - just too depressing.

    It's interesting how important electronic media has become to all types of writing. Sportswriters, newswriters, novelists, even think tank analysts all have to be versatile and capable to reach and retain readers on all types of media.

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  3. Kevin Seifert is my hero.

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  4. @Paul -- Kevin's definitely had a fascinating career -- one that young sportswriters dream about. You won't find a harder-working writer out there.

    @Matt -- agreed on electronic media. UVA? "Here in Cleveland? I didn't realize they still had a team!"

    @Anonymous -- as well he should be. call him "sir."

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  5. This is such a great interview! So, so helpful and informative. Thank you for sharing.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

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  6. @Sarah -- thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed the interview!

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