Tribune writer talks reporter-editor relationships, social media
By Ben McLaughlin
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Chicago Cubs fans will never forget Oct. 14, 2003. The Cubs were playing the Florida Marlins in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.
Coming into Wrigley Field, Steve Bartman was just an ordinary fan. But as Cubs fans know now, he’s much more. He interfered with a play and prevented Cubs left fielder Moises Alou from making a catch that would have ended the inning. Eight runs later, the Marlins won the game. Even today, it is one of the biggest sports controversies of all time.
For Teddy Greenstein, it was his favorite event to cover as a sports reporter.
Greenstein graduated from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in 1994. He worked at the New York Daily News and Sports Illustrated before starting at the Chicago Tribune in 1994.
Today, Greenstein covers Northwestern athletics, the Big 10 Conference, the Chicago Bulls and golf.
In a phone interview conducted while Greenstein was on his way to cover the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., the sports reporter offered great advice for aspiring journalists as well as providing a glimpse into a day in his life.
Q: What is a typical day like for you?
A: It just depends on what month. If it’s football season it depends on when … On Monday, Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern’s football coach) has his weekly session in Evanston. Tuesday, I cover practice in the morning. Wednesday, I’m doing the Big 10 Network show. If you’re talking about Friday I do some radio in Chicago, and on and on it goes.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you face when you cover a story?
A: Deadlines. Our deadline is 9:50, 9:55 at the latest. So if I’m covering a Bulls game, 7:00 o’clock tip, let’s say it ends at 9:20 or something like that. So while the game is going on you’re trying to tweet because people who are following you want some info, you’re blogging both before and during the game and then you’re filing a quick game story. So by that time it’s 9:30 and you’re 15 minutes to deadline and you hustle in the Bulls locker room and you hope the guys aren’t snapping each other with towels. You have to understand they’re not on your schedule. One other thing, you’re also trying to get stuff for your Sunday story so maybe you interview a Carlos Boozer or Joakim Noah and by that time, it’s 10:02, and yeah, it’s a grind. It definitely gets stressful when it gets that late.
Q: Tell us about the importance of social media these days when dealing with reporting?
A: Twitter is great. Once I got into it, I realized it was good for the following reasons. One, if you have a story at noon, but I’m sure it’s not going to be exclusive to me by morning time, you can break it on Twitter. It’s also great for interacting with some people, obviously there are some clowns out there who are going to take shots but that’s OK, but I really enjoy the intelligent fan questions. And then look, we all have to be in the self-promotion business nowadays and with sports writers, there’s a big deal about how many followers you have. If something ever happened where I had to leave the Tribune I think it’d be helpful to say I’ve got over 10,000 people following me on Twitter. I think a perspective employer would look at that say, ‘OK, this guy is making an effort to be on social media and people want to know what he says.’
Q: What is your relationship like with your editor?
A: Ninety-eight percent of the time it’s really good. It’s important to get along well with your editor. Three or four times a year we will have shouting matches because he’ll want to change something you think is ridiculous. We have a good relationship where I’m not going to hassle him about a lot of edits. But about once a month I’ll say ‘why did you change that?’ or ‘please change it back’ or ‘you guys killed me on that headline.’ The only other thing is you have to face these players every day so you’re sometimes trying to remind the copy desk of that.
Q: Building off of that, what are some of the ups and downs of working with your editor every day?
A: I just think if and when they catch a mistake in your copy, you’re unbelievably grateful. Every once in awhile you’ll have a mistake that gets though and you’re like, ‘Really? You couldn’t catch that?’ But it’s on you as a writer because those guys are overworked and short- staffed. I have a lot of appreciation for what they do and their headline writing. I give a lot of props to them. We’ve been working together for 16 years so it’s nice to know when you have some wiggle room on a deadline.
Q: In terms of headlines, what style do you like most? What do you like on your stories?
A: I definitely love a good pun. I just think that’s what it’s about. It’s about being clever.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring sports writers?
A: Yeah, it’s kind of a good news, bad news for young writers these days. The bad news obviously is not a lot of people are hiring. Like at the Tribune, we don’t even have interns. The good news is, if you’re the cream of the crop, everyone is going to see your stuff. You don’t need a newspaper now as a forum. You can start a blog or be on Twitter. If you’re good enough, people are going to find you.