Shooting Hoops: Q&A with The Oregonian’s Lindsay Schnell

At the end of her stories comes a signature byline: Lindsay Schnell (I came, I saw, I tweeted).

A 2009 graduate of Oregon State, Schnell is a prolific “tweeter” while covering Ducks basketball for The Oregonian. With 18,000 tweets and counting, Schnell offers followers a strong dose of both basketball insights and humorous asides.

Last week, Schnell took a break from transcribing interviews to answer a few questions about her career, the sports journalism industry and Oregon basketball.

Q: How did you decide you wanted to be a sports writer? When did that realization set in?

Schnell: I got into sports writing the same way a lot of men do: I was involved in sports from a young age and they were a constant in my life. My dad has been a college basketball coach for 30+ years and my mom was a big-time professional and college basketball official, so we were always in a gym.

I knew from a very young age (the 4th grade, to be exact) that I wanted to be a writer. I also wanted to be a college basketball analyst for a long time, but my freshman year of high school I realized I could put the two together and that’s how I got to this point.

Q: What is the most important lesson you learned as a budding journalist?

Schnell: Always make sure you spell everyone’s names correctly.

Q: Who is your role model in the journalism industry?

Schnell: Gary Smith from Sports Illustrated, who is commonly thought of as the best sports writer in the world, is my hero. I like to refer to him as my version of Michael Jordan.

Q: What is the most memorable Ducks basketball moment you’ve covered as a reporter?

The Oregonian's beat writer Lindsay Schnell is a fixture at Matthew Knight Arena for Oregon's home basketball games. (Photo by Ben DeJarnette)

Schnell: Dana Altman going absolutely bananas when Garrett Sim hit that 3 that turned into a 4-point play the other day against UCLA is right at the top of the list. I also had a memorable, and funny, exchange with E.J. Singler’s mom on twitter about him needing to cut his hair.

Q: What is the public’s biggest misconception about sports journalists?

Schnell: A.) That we’re fans of the teams we cover, or should be (neither should be true if you’re doing your job right).

B.) That we just get to hang out at games and practices and everything is dandy. We do get to hang out but when everyone leaves, we get to work. I can’t tell you how many times I fell into bed well past 3 a.m. this football season. To do this job well, you have to put in A LOT of time, and you work a lot of nights and weekends when other people are off having fun.

C.) For me, a lot of people assume because I’m a woman I don’t know anything. Please. I’m happy to discuss the finer points of a matchup zone defense, and my basketball knowledge could make many people’s heads spin.

Q: Which of your stories is your favorite?

Schnell: This one [about Oregon State pitcher Jorge Reyes.]

Q: When you cover a team everyday, do you develop an attachment to the players and coaches?

Schnell: I wouldn’t say you develop an attachment to players or coaches, but you see them as human beings, not just the guy or girl that can or can’t shoot, or made or messed up a big play.

It’s easy for critics of stories to sit and say that we aren’t hard enough on players or coaches, but I think we always work to ask tough questions. And we spend A LOT of time with these people … we see them with their spouses, kids; we know about some of their personal struggles because it comes out in off-the-record conversations, etc. That just makes you a little more sensitive to ripping them apart.

For me, I’ve always found that you develop more of an attachment — or deeper relationship — with someone when you spend a lot of time writing about something really personal in their lives. That two-part series above, about Jorge Reyes, took me about 3 months. When you spend so much time with someone talking really in-depth about some heavy issues, there can be a weird feeling of loss when the story is over and suddenly you’re not around that person anymore.

Q: What is your prediction for the remainder of the Ducks season?

Schnell: I’m thinking the Ducks will win the regular season Pac-12, lose in the semis of the Pac-12 tourney and receive an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament. Then they will fly to Buffalo and get the snot beat out of them by some mid-major. This is, at best, an educated guess.

Q: What piece of advice would you give to aspiring sports journalists?

Schnell: Introduce yourself to anyone and everyone you can. This business is all about connections and as a student you have what one of my old profs called “the adorability factor;” it’s easy for you to gush over a professional because you’re not yet at their level, and writers have huge egos so stroking them is never a bad idea. Also, most people in this profession are nice and want to help you. Remember Gary Smith, my hero? I wrote him a letter when I was 20 and he’s been my friend for the last five years because of it. Besides writing me a kick-ass letter of rec, he is someone I call to brainstorm with occasionally. How cool is that?

Get an internship each summer of college, but only work for free once. Take every writing class you can find in college, because learning to write creatively and concisely is the key to good journalism regardless of which department you work for. Take classes that are going to make you think outside of the box, like [political science] and philosophy. Remember that all good writing is about PEOPLE.

Read, read, read, read, read and read some more. You cannot read enough. Read and think about what makes some of your favorite stories so good. Learn to be an excellent note taker, which often comes with writing down things that are not a quote; describe the scenery, write down what it smells like, etc. Anytime you interview someone in their house, ask to use the bathroom and get a drink of water from the kitchen. Both of those spaces can tell you a lot about a person.

Trust your instincts and ask for help when you need it. Years ago one of the best investigative journalists in the country told me the best question you can ask is, “I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand?” In other words, get everything in simple terms. Double check all your facts, and triple check the spelling of names.

Most importantly — believe that you are good enough to be hired.

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