Former New York Times reporter teaches sports journalism

By Tanvi Acharya —

J/MS students in the Sports Journalism class of new Professor Joe Lapointe are hearing it from the horse’s mouth.

Lapointe has been in the field for 40 years and has covered major events like the Olympics, the Super Bowl and the soccer World Cup.

Professor Joe Lapointe, left, interacts with J/MS student Julio Prestol during his sports journalism class. Lapointe often takes students to watch professional games. Photo by Tanvi Acharya

Professor Joe Lapointe, left, interacts with J/MS student Julio Prestol during his sports journalism class. Lapointe often takes students to watch professional games. Photo by Tanvi Acharya

But he just doesn’t tell war stories. When questioned about what he focuses on the most in his classroom, he replied, “The basics.”

Lapointe, a former sports reporter for the New York Times for 20 years and segment producer for “Countdown With Keith Olbermann’’ on the now shuttered Current TV, expects clear writing, accuracy, speed and most important, keeping up with the deadlines. Students are told from the start that the class requires a lot of hard work and is not an easy A.

He said that the worst thing a student can do in his class is to either miss it or miss a deadline. “The students get disappointed, but there are deadlines,” he said. “If you don’t submit it on time at your newspaper then you can’t do anything about it. You’d probably lose your job.”

Another rule that he enforces in the classroom to help the students once they starting working as sports journalists is to not wear any sports team merchandise.

“The students know how to be a fan but here they learn how to be a sports journalist,” he said.

Being professional, he emphasized, includes not cheering for your team while covering a game from the press box.

And during the semester the students get a chance to enter that professional atmosphere. He takes a few students at a time to watch a game of the Giants, the Jets, the Mets or the Devils, depending on everyone’s availability. The students also get to go to the locker rooms and talk to the athletes. And like professional sports reporters, they have to submit their story a few hours after the game.

While this is a traditional approach to teaching a sports journalism class, Lapointe decided to do something additional and designed the class to be a hybrid. It means that the students meet in class just once a week. The other times they are either covering games from the stadium or having critical student-teacher discourse online.

The class “meets” on Facebook and discusses the game that all are watching online. At the end, Lapointe assigns everybody to report about the game from a specific angle and write something akin to an opinionated column in two to three hours.

It is not a necessity for a student to be interested in sports to take his class, he said. The student should want to write.

To write a good story, he said, “You have to be calm and report what is happening around you. Just look around and keep writing.”

Lapointe stresses the importance of unrelenting hard work when it comes to writing a good story. He said that the students fail to realize that it is very rare to get a good story in the first draft.

He himself makes around seven drafts and claims a good story is 90 percent perspiration with 10 percent of inspiration.

“You need to polish it again and again to make it sing,” he said.