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First Edition: Bidding for a Living

First Edition: Rob Livingstone

By Rosie Downey

Rob-Livingstone-Olympics

For many, the Olympics are really a thought that crosses the mind just about every four years – or every two for those who are fans of both the winter and summer Olympics. But for Rob Livingstone, it’s the basis for his reporting, almost on a daily basis.

The 47-year-old journalist devotes most of his time to the Olympic bids website, GamesBids.com, which he launched in 1998.

Games Bids is a website devoted to the Olympic bid process. It boasts a collection of news and discussions on past, current and future bids for the summer and winter Olympic Games.

He came up with the idea when he was an economics student at York University in Toronto. His interest in the subject matter started when he wrote a school paper on Toronto’s bid for the 1996 Summer Olympics. (That bid was later won by Atlanta).

Livingstone continued to collect bid information after completing his assignment and when the Internet came to be in the mid-1990s, he published those findings online with the encouragement of others.

Today, Livingstone counts many high-ranking officials within the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and individual National Olympic Committees as sources. He has built relationships with these people by going to events, annual meetings known as IOC sessions and the Olympic Games themselves. “It’s a very face-to-face kind of industry,” he said of the process of building trust with his sources.

One unique aspect of Livingstone’s job as a journalist is that he has to introduce himself and build relationships with an entirely different group of people each time a new bid cycle begins.

These new people can come from a lot of places including the committee that is running a bid for a specific country or the consulting firm hired by a potential host city.

In most cases these groups are new to the bid process and “often they’ll have more questions for you than you’ll have for them,” Livingstone said. He explained that it isn’t unusual that “they wont have the answers right away because they weren’t anticipating the questions.”

Bid participants aren’t the only ones contacting Livingstone for information regarding this complicated process. Passionate fans often debate on the site’s message boards, and in many cases, they are sending him tips.

When Livingstone created the discussion forums, on or around the year 2000, he was surprised by the level of engagement from his audience. “That really made it a two-way process, where I was learning from these people, getting story ideas and more information, writing about it and feeding it back,” he said.

That process has proved tricky in the past though with numerous rumors being floated to him via the message boards and through email. “I have to be careful to validate those and I get lots of those,” he added.

Livingstone also spends a decent amount of time doling out advice to fellow reporters who might have experience, but not necessarily with Olympics coverage.

“They are suddenly getting involved with the bid from their city and they’ve never really thought about Olympic bids before,” said Livingstone. “It’s definitely a challenge for new reporters,” he added.

U.S.-based reporters have already begun contacting him about the country’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Boston was recently announced as the U.S. Olympic Committee’s candidate city, and Games Bids will track additional cities across the globe as they announce their candidacy.

That’s when Games Bids will really be put to the test.

“Who’s winning the bid?” is the most common question Livingstone hears in his work as reporter and editor for Games Bids. The repetition of that question is what prompted him to create the Bid Index, a statistical tool that was initially calculated with the help of a few experts. The Index went live to cover the 2008 bid, which was won by the city of Beijing in a 2001 vote.

The Bid Index correctly predicted the outcome for the last three Olympic bids (2016, 2018 and 2020). “It sort of made our website the go-to place to find out what’s going on for the bids,” he said.

His proprietary tool works not by calculating the regular odds, as one would see in standard sports betting, but by calculating the ongoing success of a bid based on the elements it shares with past successful bids.

According to Livingstone, these elements can be as varied as whether popular opinion played into the success of a winning bid and if the IOC has adhered to any kind of geographic rotation in its voting history.

Livingstone finds that his work is very cyclical, with his two busiest periods naturally coming in the ramp up to an IOC vote or an Olympic Games.

The next Olympics will take place in Rio de Janeiro in August of next year, and the IOC vote to pick the host city for the 2022 Winter Olympics will take place July 31 of this year in Kuala Lumpur.

Only two cities remain: Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing. Regardless of the outcome, Livingstone will be covering the race in great detail for the readers of Games Bids.

Though he has a lot of practice gathering the details for each bidding city, that information wasn’t as accessible in the early days of his reporting. “It was quite a challenge to get the right people to speak to, to get the right information out of them,” Livingstone said.

A huge turning point was the Salt Lake City bid scandal of the late 1990s when Olympic officials allegedly received money to ensure that the Utah city won the bid for the 2002 Olympics. “Everything changed after that,” he said referring not only to the IOC’s more open voting procedures but also to the public’s attention to and understanding of the whole process.

Over time, Livingstone has learned not to be surprised by these races and has continued his coverage without getting personally invested in the fates of the winning and losing cities. He said his motto is ‘always expect the unexpected.’

Reporting by Rosie Downey. Edited by Stephanie Forshee.

Want more sports journalism stories? Read about USA TODAY’s Scott Gleeson and FOX-5 in Atlanta’s Merissa Lynn.

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First Edition: Merissa Lynn

First Edition: Merissa Lynn

By Taylor Newman

Merissa Lynn’s heart was set on covering hard news. That is, until she was assigned to help shoot a soccer game during her senior year of college.

Quickly acclimating from her rookie status, she became the face to deliver short mid-day sports reports for her college T.V. station and lent her voice for sports updates on radio.

Covering traditional news took a back seat.

“I was always nervous about having to make that decision between news and sports,” Lynn said. “Fortunately, it was kind of made for me, so it was a big sigh of relief.”

Now, she’s the sole female sports anchor/reporter at WAGA (FOX 5) in Atlanta, Ga. She reports on the Falcons, Braves, Hawks, Georgia, Georgia Tech and the local high school teams. Her role also extends to producing, editing and taking photos.

“TV isn’t just about being a reporter or a producer or a photographer, so I’m pretty much a one-man band. I do everything,” she said. “On any given day it’s a different role I’m playing.”

Lynn grew up in Tampa, Fla., surrounded by sports. She was a figure skater for almost 10 years and also competed in track, doing discus throw and shot-put. Her three brothers all played sports too.

On weekends, she’d attend live football, baseball or basketball games.

She got her first exposure to reporting when, in high school, she anchored on the morning announcements. Her passion for being in front of the camera carried with her to college at the University of Florida where she earned a degree in Telecommunications, with a minor in Spanish.

Early in her sophomore year, Lynn got involved with the school’s radio station, WRUF-AM850. Her junior year she started working as part of the student-run team that produced full-fledged thirty minute news shows as part of the PBS-affiliated TV station WUFT-TV on campus. She did it all: weather forecasting, sports anchoring and news reporting.

“It was a good experience,” she said. “It was a good learning tool for us all. It helped us start our careers a little bit.”

During those summers, Lynn sandwiched in internships with NBC Channel 8 WFLA-TV and ABC WFTS-TV in Tampa. She worked at the assignment desk, went out with reporters and shot stand-ups.

After college, she freelanced in Gainesville on game days before landing her first permanent job in Augusta, Ga. as a weekday news digital journalist and a weekend sports anchor in 2010. She produced countless stories on topics ranging from high school football to the Masters.

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It was in Augusta she put together the story she’s most proud of.

Lynn investigated a girls’ high school basketball team in Swainsboro, Ga. that earned a state championship back in 1958 but never received recognition for it. Lynn produced a story that showcased the women’s stories, and after her story ran, their title was put down in the record books of the Georgia High School Association.

“These women are 60 to 70 years old now, and still to this day, what happened with their team is something they want to be remembered for,” Lynn said. “I wanted to tell their story and make sure that those women were honored.”

Two years in Georgia prepared Lynn for her next stop as a full-time sports anchor/reporter at WOLO in Columbia, S.C. In her short eight-month span there, she provided coverage on SEC and ACC college football.

“College football is my favorite sport, so I was in heaven. It was fun and fast-paced, but so tiring and exhausting,” she said.

For almost two years now Lynn has been the face of sports in Atlanta. She considers it the turning point of her career. She’s liked being in a bigger market, filled with professionals who have been in the field for many years.

She’s expected to know and do most everything. No two days are alike.

One week in November, for instance, had her wearing just about every hat there is: She produced for the main anchor on Monday. Tuesday, she shot a presser before the University of Georgia football game against Auburn and then she shot a high school football game. Friday she shot one of the high school football games for her show and then edited and produced. Over the weekend she anchored.

“I know for sure for the most part I’m going to be on air on Saturday and Sunday, but during the week it’s always something new,” she said about her schedule. “I don’t know until the day before, the week before what’s going on. It’s stressful, but it’s nothing I can’t handle. You kind of just have to go with the flow.”

Lynn’s work week mirrors the changing role of journalists. Being just a reporter or just an anchor isn’t the nature of the business anymore.

“I see a lot of younger talent going after the networks because they want to stray away from that multi-talented role,” Lynn observed, but added, “You’re better off getting a job in the business now knowing how to tweet, shoot, report, shoot your own standup, write a script and produce.”

Lynn knows this firsthand, because she was recently tasked with posting her own material to the Web. The station’s YouTube channel and social media sites have, of course, become additional outlets for viewers to get their FOX news.

Some days Lynn looks back at her job and can’t think of any other word to describe it but ‘crazy.’

“I’ve had days where my boss would call me and I’d still be sleeping at 10 a.m. and he’ll be like, ‘Breaking news, get down to Turner Field in an hour.’ And I’m like ‘Are you serious?’” she said. “You throw on a dress, put your hair up, throw whatever you can on your face and just run out the door.”

She understands this is what she signed up for.

No longer can she go to a game as a spectator. She is constantly faced with the stress of deadlines and making sure audio and video material sends through.

“I definitely miss going to games, but when you look back at what you’re doing, people think what you do is so cool. They wish they could go to a game and make money writing a story,” she said.

Sports journalism goes beyond reporting stats from a game, though. One story that Lynn considers to be one of her more interesting ones came in April. It was a feature on Ervin Santana, one of the Atlanta Braves’ starting pitchers last season.

She noticed a peculiar hashtag he had tweeted pretty frequently: #smellbaseball. It seemed unusual, so Lynn searched for the reason behind it. She interviewed Santana and his teammates, and found that Santana’s tweet was a way of expressing his passion for baseball; in other words: if you don’t smell it, you don’t love it.

Lynn’s fun discovery wound up being picked up by a couple of Major League Baseball sites and was shared with FOX’s affiliate stations.

“It was a weird sports story, but it was fun because we weren’t talking about wins or losses,” she said.

As a female covering male sports, Lynn said she hasn’t run into any difficulties. She can access every locker room and clubhouse just as easily as her male colleagues.

Although she feels as if in some ways she has more to prove, she’s never been disrespected or told she couldn’t do something because she’s a woman.

Throughout her career, the biggest hardship she’s actually faced is staying confident.

“I think confidence is something that you really have to build up in the business,” she said. “It can be easy for someone to knock you down.”

Luckily, she has a supportive staff that has reminded her of her talent.

“We have a great working environment and it makes sports fun,” Lynn said. “Obviously there are terrible things to talk about. The Falcons aren’t doing too great and the Braves have their issues right now. For the most part, though, these teams are fun to cover.”

First Edition: Scott Gleeson

First Edition: Scott Gleeson

By Alex Vejar

Gleeson interviewing future NBA superstar Joel Embiid before the 2014 NBA draft.
Gleeson interviewing future NBA superstar Joel Embiid before the 2014 NBA draft.

When Scott Gleeson was a sophomore in high school, he saw a young Derrick Rose, his same age at the time, go up for a windmill dunk during a high school game in Pontiac, Ill. That’s when it sunk in for Gleeson that he wasn’t going to be able to compete with players like Rose, who would turn out to be the star point guard for the Chicago Bulls.

“Everyone sort of has that moment where they realize they’re not going to be a professional athlete, and I think mine came really late,” said Gleeson, now 25. “I didn’t want to give up that dream.”

But when that moment finally came, Gleeson already had an alternate career in his back pocket. Still in high school, he created, self-published and hand-delivered “Baller Magazine,” a publication that featured his writing on all topics dealing with the sport of basketball.

Gleeson's
Gleeson’s “Baller” magazine

The first issue of “Baller” focused on Gleeson’s favorite NBA player, the late “Pistol Pete” Maravich, along with various articles about high school and college basketball.

The magazine was Gleeson’s jumping-off point into the career of sports journalism, a profession he said he knew he’d pursue from a very young age, and would work hard to excel in.

“I was determined to be damn good at it,” Gleeson said.

Now, Gleeson is the colleges digital editor at USA TODAY Sports and primarily covers college basketball. He’s based on the West Coast and writes the national web columns Bracket Briefing, Starting Five and Basketball Brunch, while projecting the 68 teams to make the NCAA tournament. Throughout his career, he has been fortunate to cover such events as the NBA Draft and the NCAA Final Four — things he could only dream about covering when he was a kid.

While covering the NBA draft, Gleeson has had the chance to profile several blossoming stars and deliver exclusive news. He tabbed 2013’s post-draft interview with Nerlens Noel as “the money quote,” when Noel vowed to him after being picked sixth overall, instead of first, “I’m gonna make them pay.”

Gleeson also penned a profile of WNBA player Britney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury who came out as a lesbian during their interview.

Athletes aren’t always the most accessible, so Gleeson feels the key is to connect in a positive way so the person will more easily open up.

“I always believe with a source, you really have to have a relationship first,” Gleeson said. “The relationship side of it is so incredibly vital. I think it’s all about tone; it’s all about having the right demeanor. To me, that’s something that is undervalued.”

Gleeson’s most defining career moment came in December 2012 when Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher committed suicide after killing his girlfriend. Gleeson was the lead programmer on the website when the editor-in-chief of USA TODAY, David Callaway, wanted to cite the Associated Press. Mary Byrne, the managing editor of USA TODAY Sports, however, wanted to report the news in their own story.

Gleeson kept his composure and followed Byrne’s wisdom. As it turned out, their version of the story garnered high levels of traffic for the publication’s website.

“That really was a defining moment for me in my career because it gave me confidence to know that in the biggest pressure situation that I can thrive,” Gleeson said.

As a die-hard basketball fan, Gleeson admits there is often a need to separate work from pleasure. He said going to a sports game as a reporter is vastly different than attending one as a fan. Fans go with their friends, drink beer and have a great time, he said.

“For me, I’m losing my hair. I’m stressed just trying to get a story in on deadline,” Gleeson said. “It’s a different dynamic than people realize.”

Gleeson studied journalism at Illinois State University, where he was the sports editor and writer for the Daily Vidette from 2007 to 2011.

In his classes, Gleeson recalls his editors telling him to write a story in his head so he could type it faster when he finally sat down to write it on deadline. While that’s one approach, he doesn’t necessarily believe in that philosophy.

When Gleeson sits down to type, he wants the story to come out “organically and fluently.”

“I think in order to do that, you really kind of have to not have a plan,” Gleeson said.

When writing a recap on an NBA game, Gleeson said one trick writers can try is to construct several openings to a story based on what the outcome could be.

“It’s really a lot of planning ahead and gauging and guessing,” Gleeson said. “You really get comfortable with it the more that you do it, definitely.”

With interviewing, Gleeson said it’s important to pay attention and attempt to connect with a source rather than taking notes, fiddling with a recorder or thinking about follow-up questions.

“For me, I always felt like it’s more important to relate to someone than to have my recorder on,” Gleeson said.

For example, Gleeson said he was able to get Noel to give him that juicy, memorable quote after getting snubbed in the 2013 draft because he spent an entire day prior getting to know him. So when it came time for Gleeson to ask Noel how he felt about being picked sixth, his familiarity with Gleeson helped him communicate what he really felt.

“It wasn’t like I did anything fantastic,” Gleeson said. “I just sort of dug a little bit deeper, and I did it based on something that I had built on the day before.”

Gleeson said it’s important for sources to trust and like journalists.

“The biggest thing in terms of breaking news is that people like you,” Gleeson said. “If people don’t like you, they’re not going to give you information.”

Gleeson also advises journalists to do things differently and to be as innovative and multidimensional as possible.

“Don’t come into the business thinking you want to be a certain type of writer or type of journalist,” Gleeson said.

Even Gleeson couldn’t have foreseen the places his career would take him.

“I still remember getting the call from USA TODAY that eventually led to a chance-of-a-lifetime internship in the sports department,” he writes on his website. “It gives me chills down my spine. And just as easily, I remember my first big byline – typing my name, followed by “USA TODAY.”

Scott and his dad Tom running the Anthem Richmond Marathon
Scott and his dad Tom running the Anthem Richmond Marathon.

Gleeson’s love of basketball came from his father Tom, who tragically died of cancer. Gleeson’s loss inspired him to start working on a book called “Cancer’s My Blessing,” which will tie sports with fighting adversity.

The book is to have 26.2 chapters (the same number as the length in miles of a marathon, another pastime of Gleeson’s), and will include interviews with athletes who have dealt with mental illness, persecution, loss and sadness.

The “.2” chapter of the book will feature an interview with his dad before he lost his battle with cancer.

Although Gleeson has been covering sports since the early days of his career, that is not what defines him as a journalist.

“The reason why I love this career is not because I’m a sports fan,” Gleeson said. “It’s because I love journalism.”

Reported by Alex Vejar. Edited by Stephanie Forshee

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