Sports coverage in the 518 is changing, and not just because a new 838 area code is about to be introduced to the Capital Region.
In a trend driven by 21st-century technology, students are getting immersed into sports reporting before they even attend their first high school prom.
The leader of the pack is a website called 518sports.com, founded last year by Dylan Rossiter, a Schodack resident and a senior at Maple Hill High School and a student in the New Visions Multimedia and Digital Communications program at the Times Union.
"With the area code changing, we're going to have to rebrand at some point," said Rossiter, who created 518sports.com in May 2015 but counts October as its true startup.
Rossiter has about a dozen unpaid students contributing to his site, reporting on stories that range from local high school soccer to Major League Baseball.
One of the 518sports.com reporters is Alex Feuz, a junior at Schalmont High. Besides contributing to Rossiter's site, Fuez also devotes time to his self-created "Sports Feuzion" site on YouTube.
The days when high school journalism was reporting for the student newspaper or working on the yearbook staff have evolved. Now, teenagers are creating their own forums.
"They're not necessarily involved in a high school media outlet, but they're recognizing what they can do with a simple video camera or their laptop computers or their phones, and technologies like YouTube and others," said Adam Maksl, an assistant professor of journalism at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Ind., who has performed research on youth media and medial literacy. "It has allowed them to have an incredible platform. It's fascinating to see some of the ingenuity of young people who are saying, 'I can get interviews with these famous people and will have an outlet for it.' "
The 518sports.com site gives budding journalists — especially those from smaller schools that often miss the spotlight of traditional media — a voice in the market.
"It's a huge market," Rossiter said. "You've got so much high school action. There are a lot of kids in my school, and with me personally, that are interested in journliasm, sports journalism. To create a platform to give other students a place to write was an idea, and it just took off."
Rossiter said the site averages about 200 hits a day. The young journalists also are active on Twitter, where the @Real518Sports handle has 13,000 followers. Rossiter said he pays $100 a year for the domain name; he recoups some of the fee through advertising on the site.
On the video side, Feuz began his "Sports Feuzion" site three years ago. He has conducted 242 mostly one-on-one interviews, which he records and posts on YouTube, Soundcloud and iTunes.
"I was in eighth grade, and Michael Kay (a Yankees broadcaster and New York radio host) came on with his show," Feuz said. "I wanted to create my own sports show, and that's what I did.
"My first two months of shows, I was just running down the top sports news. They weren't much. In December, (former Schalmont football star) Nick Gallo was my very first interview. It went crazy considering. That's when it started."
A majority of the videos show Feuz, usually surrounded by some type of memorabilia, facing the camera. He is able to Skype with some subjects.
Among his guests have been former major leaguers Curt Schilling, John Flaherty and Todd Stottlemyre; TV broadcasters Tim Brando, Ken Rosenthal and Jayson Stark; and dozens of athletes and reporters from around the Capital Region.
"It's surprising to me that they're giving me the time of day," Feuz said. "Some of these guys, they're on 'SportsCenter' and doing their own shows, and it's nice they're giving me 10 or 15 minutes. It's nice to talk to a top baseball reporter or NFL reporter or basketball reporter for 10 minutes, just to talk to them about sports."
For Stark, a longtime writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer who has worked for ESPN since 2000, it simply was a matter of paying it forward.
"It's something that people in our business ought to do for guys like Alex," Stark said. "I don't know if I was the first to do that with him — Ken Rosenthal (of Fox Sports) might have beat me to it — but I've always tried to do this for years. When I was a kid, I used to write to my heroes, guys like (former Philadelphia Daily News columnist) Stan Hochman, and I was always so grateful when they got back to me."
Maksl, the professor, said Rossiter and Feuz are practicing "citizen journalism."
"We're seeing young people taking that role as an informed citizen who can help inform other citizens about what's going on in the community," he said. "You're seeing that a lot.
"You mentioned these two examples in sports. You're seeing examples where students were able to engage with their interests, and they're able to do that with wide audiences that they never would have had before because of those tools."
Once they realize that these aren't high schoolers merely looking for a free ticket, most of the area's teams and organizations have been cooperative with the young reporters. Siena College, the University at Albany, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and even the NCAA (for the hockey regionals in March) have given Rossiter full access to cover events.
"At the start," said Rossiter, who is legally blind (20-400 vision), "you got, I wouldn't say weird looks, but it was like, 'Who are you?' With the exception of the New York State Public High School Athletics Association, we've been treated perfectly fine."
NYSPHSAA, which governs state tournaments in all sports, is in a bit of a quandry. Its championship events in 28 sports are covered by media statewide, and its venues often limited space for reporters.
Chris Watson, recently hired as director of communications for NYSPHSAA, said the association has reviewed its guidelines, given the changing landscape of media outlets, and expects that 518sports.com will receive credentials.
"We like to use the phrase 'bona fide media outlet,' and we want to make sure whoever we credential is going to provide coverage of our event and that it's going to be out there for public consumption," Watson said. "I've seen the work that they've done, I've seen what Dylan and his team are up to, and they're providing a great resource.
"Things have changed. A hundred years ago, when I was in high school, I was a high school journalist, but you didn't have to go through the extents you do now to be accredited and to be credentialed. You could show up at an event and just cover it. For the betterment of the sport, and the safety and the student-athlete and the association, things have changed. Certainly, those guys are doing a great job."
Not surprisingly, many of these aspiring journalists are hoping to find careers in the communications business.
Feuz would love to do baseball play-by-play. He calls Yankees radio voice John Sterling "the second-greatest baseball announcer, with Vin Scully No. 1." Sterling also is on Feuz's wish list of "Sports Feuzion" guests.
"For any sports reporter," Rossiter said, "ESPN always sounds appealing as the place to go, but for me, I'd just be happy to land in a market with a good job and lots of great stuff going on. I like reporting on stuff, but I fell in love with the whole business aspect of it."
Rossiter hopes to attend Emerson College in Boston next fall, which he admits will create a challenge to keep the website going. "But we still have people here," he said.
As long as there is technology and a will, there is a way. After all, there's no substitute for enthusiasm.
"When I got into the business," Stark said, "I was working in Philadelphia, I got a note from a 15-year-old kid named Tyler Kepner, who said, 'I want to grow up and do what you do. Take a look at this baseball magazine I put out with my brother,' and it was great. I encouraged him, and look where he is now (Yankees beat reporter for the New York Times).
"That was really my motivation with Alex. Plus, Alex's enthusiasm was so infectious. It was so clear just from the way he contacted me, what he was all about, what he was trying to do, why he was trying to do it. I couldn't help but say yes."
firstname.lastname@example.org • 518-454-5416 • @Pete_Dougherty
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