Changing with the Times: Dog shows to sports brackets

New York Times sports reporter Richard Sandomir speaks to journalism students Wednesday about his experiences working as a journalist and his new book “The Final Four of Everything.”
Jed Dean | Lariat Photo Editor

Journalist relates his varied experiences as freelance writer, New York Times reporter

By Stephen Strobbe

Award-winning New York Times sports and business reporter Richard Sandomir was on campus Wednesday to discuss his experiences as a journalist, answer questions about the news industry and provide advice to students looking for careers in journalism.

About 40 people — a mix of students and teachers, most from the journalism and media arts department, attended the talk from in Castellaw Communications Center.

Plano sophomore Blair Stephens said she attended hoping for advice on what a working journalist looks for in students emerging into the professional world.

Sandomir shifted effortlessly between sharing humorous light-hearted stories, like the time he was sitting in a courtroom with a surprisingly Yiddish-speaking boxing promoter Don King, to more serious subjects, such as the evolving nature of the journalism industry and what that means for aspiring journalists.

Sandomir began by sharing a brief history of his career. He started out as a business journalist, he said, and was on track to be a business reporter for the rest of his life until moving to the now defunct Sports Inc., which gave him his first opportunity to cover the business and law side of sports.

Sandomir has also worked as a freelance writer for the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.

“I found that marrying my interest in sports with my knowledge of business gave me an advantage,” Sandomir said. “Now there are a lot of people who cover sports business, but we were, in essence, creating a speciality. And then from there I freelanced for a while after the magazine went out of business.”

Sandomir joined the New York Times covering sports media and sports business and said the nature of writing for a newspaper has changed dramatically since he started there 20 years ago. He said ESPN’s game day coverage and websites like Deadspin, which is able to cover more salacious stories than the New York Times, have changed the newspaper game.

“Since you’re taking journalism classes, you know that newspapers are not what they used to be. My feeling is the Times will be the last one standing if there are no newspapers standing. I hope they will keep standing,” Sandomir said to the full room.

“The economy has leveled a lot of newspapers. Now, with the economy slowly getting back to life, we’re doing a little bit better. But the Times will not ever be as big as it used to be in terms of advertising.”

Sandomir was also promoting the newest edition of his latest book, “The Final Four of Everything.” The book takes the idea of “bracketology” — the concept of brackets like those used by the college basketball playoff system — and places it in the hands of experts in various other fields.

From presidential speeches to food, the book asks 150 experts in their fields to lay out brackets and detail the process to their final four, and ultimately their victor.

“I have a dentist who did a whole bracket of teeth. A bracket of 32 is perfect for a bracket of teeth,” Sandomir said. “And, you know, he chose his favorite tooth. And it was a vigorous tournament! I know somebody who has decided their children’s name with a bracket. They did a boy bracket and they did a girl bracket,” Sandomir said.

He touched briefly on the convergence of social media and traditional news and shared stories across a myriad of subjects — from the difficulties of working as a freelance writer to the humor involved in covering dog shows.

“It’s about personalities. The dogs, yes, but also the handlers. If any of you have seen the movie ‘Best in Show,’ it’s very close. Very close. Embarrassingly close. They’re just better dressed,” Sandomir joked, eliciting laughter from the crowd.

“But I cover it like good-hearted fun,” he said.

Sandomir’s “The Final Four of Everything” is available at the Baylor bookstore.