Covering a high-profile sporting event is the dream of many a sports media journalist, and often one not manifested until further in their careers. But for four Journalism and Electronic Media students, that dream came true when both the Vols and Lady Vols basketball teams advanced to their respective NCAA tournaments this season, with the former claiming the SEC Tournament championship for the first time since 1979. For Ethan Stone, Josh Lane, Riley Thomas, and Andrew Peters, the opportunity to sit among professional sports writers and cover these games was one they hadn’t expected to have when they began working at the Daily Beacon, the University of Tennessee’s student-led newspaper.
“College basketball has always been my thing since I was tiny, so to be able to cover the games—we went to Tampa and we also went to Indy—that was just too cool,” said Stone, the Beacon’s assistant sports editor. “Regardless of Tennessee winning or losing, we try our best to be unbiased in what we’re doing, so when Tennessee lost, we were both kind of stoic. But we still got to go on the ride and it was really awesome being able to get that experience, the window into what it’s like to cover these big-time games.”
Lane, sports editor for the Beacon, covered the Vols alongside Stone and said it was the opportunity of a lifetime. Lane covered sports for his high school newspaper and knew early on sports media was the career for him, though he originally thought he’d go into broadcasting. When he had to do a big project for one of his classes that required working with a news outlet, he originally reached out to VFL Films; but VFL Films didn’t have any openings and he had to go with a back-up plan.
“I went to the Daily Beacon as a last resort but I had a great experience here and I loved it. It’s funny that I didn’t like writing in high school, but now I do it all the time and I love it,” Lane said.
Both Stone and Lane credit the College of Communication and Information with providing great opportunities for students to get hands-on experience in media. If a student wants to be involved, there’s plenty of ways they can be, they said.
Thomas and Peters, both of whom covered the Lady Vols, said much the same about their experience at CCI and the Beacon, expressing gratitude to both the college and the newspaper for giving them a chance to develop their journalism skills in a way that prepares them well for entering the professional world of sports media.
“I’m a major fan of the sports here. I kept track of the Lady Vols because of their history but I haven’t been this much in-depth with them before this year, and it’s been awesome to cover them and watch them from a media perspective and not as a fan,” Thomas, a graduate student, said.
For Peters, whose long-time dream has been to cover basketball, the chance to follow the Lady Vols into the NCAA tournament was “a really cool experience.” As most sports journalists at the Beacon do, he started out covering some of the sports that aren’t as high-profile as basketball, including softball and soccer—and even though the chance to cover the women’s basketball team has been an amazing one, Peters said covering a variety of sports has given him a new perspective into his chosen career.
“I’ve grown to appreciate those smaller sports that don’t get as much recognition. When you’re watching 20 plus games per year, you understand that these are some of the best athletes in the world and you learn more about the game and it’s a joy to watch,” he said.
All four JEM students said an unexpected perk of covering UT sports was getting to know athletes and coaches as individuals. They said it’s been great to see how well they work together as teams and that every athlete they’ve interviewed has been generous in giving their time and quotes to the writers. While, as journalists, they attempt to be unbiased in their reporting and not necessarily root for a team, it’s hard not to feel that Volunteer Spirit when the people they’re covering are so inspiring.
“It makes me feel like this is a well-run organization we got here, and it makes me feel that Tennessee has a good thing going on to give me the ability to cover these people. They have this good attitude and that ups the Volunteer spirit,” Lane said.
As for other students who hope to follow in these sports journalists’ footsteps, their advice is to take every initiative CCI offers to students.
“It would be really easy to just coast by in college and only do classes, and maybe some majors you can get away with that, but in communications and journalism it’s more about networking and who you know and working in your field. It’s been great to meet other professionals and make connections. To everyone coming in, find a way to get involved; there’s a ton of student media, radio, print, and TV. Just get connected, especially if you really want it have a career in this field,” Lane said.