Tuesday, June 10, 2008

“I felt like I was a blind squirrel finding an acorn.”

Ivan Maisel’s interest in writing began slowly, meandering its way from a vague idea to a full-fledged career once he experienced the “little thrill you get when the rhythm in your head matches what you type on your screen.”

When he was younger, Maisel aspired to be the next big radio announcer for the Atlanta Braves; with his extraordinarily deep Alabaman twang, he wasn’t entirely off base. However, after attending Stanford University – and proudly being the last guy in his class to declare his major – Maisel fused his love of sports with his knack for the written word and began covering college football for the Atlanta Constitution.

His claim towards his initial academic lack of direction (“my major ended up being American Studies,” he chuckles, “the most generic major there is.”) is undermined by the fact that he found his professional calling during those first few months at the Atlanta Constitution – he has covered college football ever since, reporting on the sport for the Dallas Morning News, Newsday, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN.

Maisel was the first college football writer hired by ESPN.com in November 2002, a move that was extremely strategic from a professional standpoint – it seems as though he foresaw the imminent turn journalism would take on its bumpy ride towards Internet domination.

At the time, he “felt like [he] was a blind squirrel finding an acorn,” the proverbial acorn being the question, “Where is journalism headed?” or “What is the state of my profession today,” or “Will I be ruining my career or heightening it if I begin working for a website?” – something like that.

Ultimately, Maisel had a sense that the Internet was “where things were going,” an inkling that was only confirmed when he did some research. “I called three or four sports information directors (the people in charge of media) in different regions of the country and asked them the same questions: did they take web journalism seriously? What do athletes and university students read? All the answers pointed towards the Internet.”

Working for a website, Maisel says, has actually been relatively similar to working for a newspaper – especially compared to working for a magazine, the glittery diva of this journalistic triumvirate. “Magazines belong to editors – newspapers and websites belong more to the writers,” is how Maisel sums up the difference. Because newspapers and websites are published much more frequently than magazines, which have weeks to edit and groom and tweak articles, Maisel feels that reporters “own” their newspaper and website articles in a more substantial way.

I ask him if his affinity towards ESPN.com over ESPN the Magazine could be explained through the professional/social/sartorial/culinary mantra that I follow loyally: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” He laughs and explains that his philosophy is similar, but slightly tweaked: “I don’t play well with others. Let me do what I think I know how to do well and I’ll be nice.”

Perhaps it’s this confident attitude that landed him a spot as the only journalist on a recent six-day trip to the Gulf with five college football coaches from the University of Notre Dame, the University of Georgia, Yale University, the University of Miami, and Auburn University. Maisel recorded the trip, which consisted of visits to three air force bases and the navy ship U.S.S Nassau, by writing blog-esque diary entries to be posted on ESPN.com each day.

“It was incredible to see the tasks those men and women undertake, and the pride and efficiency they showed. They had such joy in their eyes knowing that these coaches came 8,000 miles to see them,” says Maisel of the trip, during which the coaches held sessions to sign autographs for the troops and participate in panel discussions moderated by Maisel.

If his Internet journal entries in and of themselves are not enough to demonstrate the remarkable progressiveness (due to remarkable wireless connection) of online journalism, perhaps the fact that Maisel was able to type an entire 700 word article into his BlackBerry (due to not-so-remarkable wireless connection) truly conveys how much publishing has changed.

1 comment:

dgold911 said...

Kudos to Ivan for typing a whole article into his blackberry. That couldn't have been easy!