It had been a long day and the only thing on my mind was curling up in my hotel bed, watching a Law & Order SVU marathon and trying to sleep as best as I could before my 4 a.m. wake-up call.
My position as president of the Association for Women in Sports Media had brought me to New Jersey for the day to observe workplace conduct training sessions at the New York Jets. So it wasn’t a surprise that my smartphone was dinging as I drifted into an early slumber.
But the content of the message was.
Sportswriter Jim Kelley had passed away after battling cancer for the last year.
Kelley built his career at The Buffalo News, starting as a copy boy when he was 17 years old. A native of South Buffalo (and proud of it) he was one of the most respected hockey writers around earning entrance into the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
You may remember him as the writer who had the hallway confrontation with then-Buffalo Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek during the 1997 Stanley Cup playoffs.
I remember him as the guy who noted that the first story I ever wrote for The Buffalo News, a feature story on women’s hockey coach Margot Page, was 60 inches long. It was good, he told me, but 60 inches?
From that point forward, I tried to remain aware of the story I was telling, to stay focused and to be aware of my medium and my audience.
In the past two years three colleagues from The Buffalo News have passed away. In fact, the last time I saw Jim was a few weeks ago, when past and present members of the sports department gathered to remember Tom Borrelli, a hall of fame lacrosse reporter who died after suffering injuries from a press box fall while covering a high school football game. Unfortunately I didn’t get to visit long. Duty of covering college hockey called.
Still, it was good to see him.
It reminded me of that brief conversation we had after my first story. Reminded me of the adage I had been taught — that reporting and writing is about people. It’s about telling stories.
“Don’t write what you think,” Kelley often said. “Write what you know.”
What I know is that the media landscape is changing constantly — from navigating social media to instant news to an environment which blurs the line between entertainment and journalism including soliciting conflict and hostility as some delusional form of credibility.
It’s not about what you think. It’s about what you know.
It’s about getting out of the way of the story.
I’m a better person, a better writer and a better reporter for having know Jim. And with any bit of luck, I’ll be able to remember the lessons I learned from him as a way to challenge myself while staying centered on the principles which mean the most to me.