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Northwest Arkansas sports editor tackles many challenges

By Robby Korth
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Northwest Arkansas Times sports editor Chip Souza talks about the challenges in today's changing journalism world.

Sports can be challenging for everyone involved.

Athletes are pushed to their limits through tests of endurance, coaches stay up all night putting X’s and O’s on a chalkboard and administrators make difficult decisions about the people involved.

For journalists, the challenge is the sometimes-tedious job of documenting all that goes on in athletic competition. And behind-the-scenes, a sports editor is the one coaching and directing those writers.

Chip Souza, sports editor of the Northwest Arkansas Times and former sports editor of the Morning News of Northwest Arkansas, knows all about the challenges facing sports editors.

But being a sports editor is not the first tough job he’s faced.

“Other than running the press there’s nothing in the business I haven’t done,” Souza said in an interview at his Springdale, Ark., office.

While at the University of Texas at Tyler, Souza took a job as a night clerk taking calls from high schools across the area and putting box scores in the next day’s paper.

“There was no Internet, there was no ESPN, so everything you gleaned, everything you got was from the newspaper,” Souza said. “So I soaked up the box scores.”

He worked his way up through the ranks of Donrey Media doing everything from managing tiny weeklies to selling ads for the company, now known as Stephens Media.

Eventually, he  became the sports editor of the Morning News.

And the challenges of a small market continue to push Souza even now.

The Morning News merged with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to become the sole newspaper in northwest Arkansas, an area that has a population of 464, 623, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

To keep up with the demand for sports news at a high school and college level NWA Media, the new company that formed after the merger, created two separate sports staffs.Now  Souza and six reporters are charged with covering six class 7A high schools, the highest classification in Arkansas, the smaller regional high schools and the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.

His paper  does not use a wire service like the Associated Press. That means that the seven men have to fill an entire sports section entirely on their own.

And with work limits set at 40 hours per week, it’s quite a challenge, Souza said. They not only cover sports for the newspaper but also maintain an online presence through various mediums, including social media.

“We tweet religiously all day long,” Souza said.

Each reporter, Souza included, has a Twitter account that they use to live-tweet events and stories. And it’s key for his staff to get its message out  to potential readers,  Souza said.

“Even though we are a new company that merged with what was our biggest competitor, the Democrat, we still have competition with Internet-based companies like 247 preps, Arkansas 360, maxpreps, whatever,” Souza said. “We want to be the first to get news out there. We want to be the first to report the first quarter score between Fayetteville and Springdale.”

And another reason to keep tweeting is that company policy keeps Souza from having a blog with opinion in it. That’s difficult, Souza said,  because opinions are really necessary to make sports blogs effective.

“Sports generates more opinion than anything except maybe politics and religion.”

But even with the challenges of a small media market in northwest Arkansas, Souza enjoys his job. And part of that is seeing the people who work for him succeed.

Reporters like David Ubben of ESPN.com and Steve Gorten of the South Florida Sun Sentinel got their start under Souza.

And it’s stories like theirs that keep Souza plugging away at his job as sports editor.

“We’ve done some good things here,” Souza said. “We’ve done some really good projects and we’ve won some awards, we’ve done all that. But the thing I really take pride in is we’ve been a good launching pad for the careers of some really talented sportswriters. That’s what I enjoy most.”

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