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Vol. 49, No. 3 • March 2012 • .pdf version
Mentors are critical for the next generation
By KEVIN ARMSTRONG / New York Daily News
On March 10, 2008, a Monday, the MAAC championship game, played between Siena and Rider inside the Times-Union Center of Albany, N.Y., distracted attention from the capital city's biggest news: revelations of Eliot Spitzer's relations with a hooker. I listened to the lurid allegations in my car as I drove north from Manhattan, then parked in a garage across from the arena. March Madness, in a most unlikely way, had started.
Once inside, I met with Pete Thamel of The New York Times and agreed to give him a ride back to Manhattan at game's end in order to watch the Big East tournament's beginning the next day. The Saints, behind 21 points from birthday boy Tay Fisher, ran the Broncs off the floor; Thamel and I filed our reports, then walked to the garage. It was locked. No access until 6 a.m. when it re-opened. I failed to read the sign that states closing time is one hour after the game concluded, and now had no room, but Thamel had yet to check out of his down the block. His chair-sized couch would be my place of rest.
It was not the first time Thamel assisted me, and would not be the last. Whether opening his room or Rolodex, he has served as a mentor during my development as a reporter, under deadline and over beers with Maurice the bartender in Manhattan. His reporting, both by enterprising and investigative means, challenges those competing with him, building storylines from the ground up, but his friendship extends beyond that.
The true value of a mentor can be immeasurable. Since first writing for my school paper, The Heights, at Boston College in 2002, mentors offered assuring hands down meandering paths. I collect them like guideposts, knowledgeable of the roads they've covered and ones I will likely follow. I've been lucky enough to learn at the side of many, beginning with former Boston Globe managing editor Tom Mulvoy and alongside Sports Illustrated's team of Luke Winn, Tim Layden and B.J. Schecter. Their examples provide models for success.
They all complement each other. Mulvoy, an understated newspaperman, marked Latin notes in his writers' margins, pushing them to improve while allowing them the space to learn. Winn, an elegant writer with a new-age comprehension of statistics and endless interest in the international aspects of the game, repeatedly challenges other writers to think wider and deeper about issues in the game. Layden, lastly, burns the candle on both ends better than anyone I know, capable of balancing a plethora of responsibilities while writing each story as if it is the sole assignment he has on his plate.
The focus is forever on what's next in reporting, but the most valuable lessons lie in what has been written and reported in the past, particularly now that so much is available in writers' archives.
I continue to study long-form features, exhaustive projects and nuanced reports.
Study the people who put out the product as well. Better yet, befriend them.
Their voices provide you with needed advice. Their generosity can grease the rails for the next generation as well.
Armstrong is the 2011 winner of the Rising Star Award.
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