The Press & Sun Bulletin in Binghamton, New York published a profile of me today. Any news story would be a cause for celebration, and the timing of this one was a nice surprise – it was published on my birthday.
This article is particularly significant for another reason. For years, my father called the sports section of the paper to let them know about my accomplishments. Now, this is a small city that creates virtually no national or international sports news. Occasionally there will be an Olympian, and that will be well-covered. But, the sports department was blunt in telling my father that freestyle was not a sport, so who cares about Arthur’s world titles.
Enter ESPN. The day the ESPN story was broadcast, the sports department called me for a story. Coincidence? The important thing is that they get it now. A sports writer did the story. It was more than a quick, one paragraph note. They sought out other interviews (Dave Lewis) and tournament imagery (they went with a photo from a shoot I did in their offices about two years ago). They treated the topic with interest and they treated me with respect, and I appreciate that.
But, these type of situations happen for all of us. The local media many times will give extended coverage to activities like a bowling league (legitimate sport but local importance, and not a championship) instead of telling the community about a “local boy/girl who did good,” someone who made their mark on the world stage. That’s really one of freestyle’s biggest challenges. To create stories that are compelling enough that any editor will get it and want to carve out square inches for us.
The sports knowledge of reporters is what it is – usually profound understanding of a very limited range of sports – and we won’t change that. Our responsibility is to make ourselves interesting enough to them, if we want media coverage. In this case, ESPN did the job for me. Usually, it’s up to us.
Let’s take the recent World Championships. Dave Schiller and Tom Leitner won Open Pairs. That’s not a strong media story, because most sports fans aren’t following the Open Pairs race. A better story? That Dave Schiller and Tom Leitner were the first team to sweep the pro divisions of the worlds since 2001. Better yet? That Dave Schiller and Tom Leitner were the first team to win with a perfect (dropless) performance since 1997. Even better? That Dave Schiller was the first player to sweep all three divisions and have a perfect day since 1987. Possibly even better? That little Brady Schiller watched his mom and dad win a world title and watched his dad achieve a once-in-a-lifetime feat. There are hundreds of other angles with which to tell th story, but it’s essential to tell the story in a way that grabs the editor’s attention.