Happy game day, everyone. The Birds take on another bird of prey this week down in Atlanta and, speaking of football, we sat down with sports reporter Aaron Carter, who has the fun job of being the first to see some of the region’s high school football talent, and document the dreams of those who aspire to be professional players. Plus, mark your calendars for all the upcoming fall events in the Philly area.
Each week we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. This week, we chatted with Inquirer high school sports reporter Aaron Carter, who gets to witness amateur football players start their prospective careers.
What do you think is most valuable about the stories that come from covering high school sports?
For some of our audience, high school sports can be a respite from the often serious, troubling, and disheartening news we all see in Philadelphia and across the nation every day. For others, high school sports represents hope for the future, if not for our own futures, for the futures of young athletes in our area. For the athletes, our coverage can mean exposure, credibility, motivation, and validation. On occasion our coverage can mean holding adults accountable when they take advantage of or otherwise harm young athletes. All of this is why our commitment to covering high school sports is so important.
How do you normally approach interviewing student athletes and getting them to be comfortable talking to media?
Hopefully, this starts long before I ever hit record on whatever device — audio recorder, video camera — I’m using for an interview. On any beat in journalism, your reputation turns the corner before you do. People notice if I show up an hour before a game and chitchat with people or if I show up right before tip-off/kickoff with my head down. Also, if I twist someone’s words to make a story more salacious, that person knows and likely tells other people, who tell others. Do that enough times and you get a reputation, and then nobody wants to talk to you. During the interview itself, I try to make it a conversation instead of a one-sided “interview.” If the interviewee forgets it’s an interview, that usually means they’ve relaxed, which hopefully gives me better insight into their story.
What are certain sensitivities and boundaries you need to be aware of when covering high school vs. professional sports/athletes?
I deal mostly with young people who are typically between the ages of 14 to 19. That usually means they don’t have experience talking to the media and so, if we start talking about potentially sensitive information regarding family tragedy or personal loss, I will ask if the athlete is comfortable with the entire city of Philadelphia (and beyond) knowing. If they aren’t comfortable, I respect that. Even if they say “yes,” I might still double back to make sure they understand what that entails. In some situations I also talk to parents, which is a good practice anyway, because the more perspective I get, the better. Also, because the city can be a dangerous place, particularly for young people, I am often overly cautious with what athletes say about rivals. When my head hits the pillow at night, I want to make sure that nothing I write or produce could get someone physically injured, bullied, etc.
What story lines are you currently following that you think deserve more attention?
For about two years I have been working on a project that I think has been underreported when it comes to athletes in our area. I can’t exactly divulge the context just yet, but hopefully the project will give our audience a better understanding of what being an athlete in our area entails. During the course of my reporting on this project, I have gotten the sense that people in high school sports are eager for their stories to be told in full, which tells me it’s worthwhile.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Just seeing young people succeed. That doesn’t necessarily mean success in a professional sports setting. It’s fun to see them succeed in life, whether I had the chance to write about them when they were in high school or not. There is power and inspiration to be found when young people succeed, especially in the face of daunting challenges. Who couldn’t use some of that these days?
Art is all around us in Philly, sometimes you just have to look down to see it. Thanks to @gritadelphia for this snapshot.
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Wow. Amazing story and well written, Mike--I appreciated not knowing anything of Savoldi so each of these turns and twists were newsworthy. Bigger than life but happy to do his duty as an American and give back even more afterwards as a teacher. There’s so much hype today about people who do things like post videos on You Tube, then you read a story like this. Worth a book/movie for sure. —Icemannj_f922f, on football star, pro wrestler, and American spy Joe Savoldi.