There is more to sports media than reporters. There are hundreds of people who work for professional teams and collegiate athletic programs whose job it is to interact with the press in support of their organizations.
I have always felt that handling the press needs for a NCAA Division I program is probably one of the most demanding jobs in sports media. I was pleased to have the opportunity to interview Larry Dougherty, the Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations at Temple University. Dougherty oversees the media needs for the University’s 24 athletic programs.
Dougherty’s story is one that I am sure is no different from others in the collegiate media relations field. But his is one with a proud family lineage.
SMJ- Can you tell us a little about your background, where you grew up, and how you developed your interest in sports?
L.D.- I grew up in Upper Darby, PA – a suburb of Philadelphia. My interest in sports, as well as sports media relations, stems from my father. He served as the Sports Information Director (SID) at Saint Joseph’s University from 1972-81. He was also a rabid sports fan, and instilled his passion in his five children.
SMJ- Were you an athlete? If so what were your athletic aspirations?
L.D.- I would not term myself an athlete. I played sports growing up, but was never quite good enough to make the varsity. So, like my father – guess I inherited his genes as well – became a manager of my high school boys basketball team, and then the women’s basketball team at Saint Joseph’s.
SMJ- How did you get started professionally? What inspired you to follow your career track? Is it safe to say your father Andy (who was Sports Information Director at St. Joseph’s from 1972-1981) played a major role in your career choice?
L.D.-I guess I have already answered this. To go into greater detail, I saw the passion my father had for making sure all that was good in college sports was pushed in his job as SID. Not just in basketball, the major media sport at SJU, but all of the Olympic sports as well.
SMJ- What led you to your current position at Temple?
L.D.-Well, I started my career at Nicholls State in Thibodaux, LA in 1984, and moved from there, to the now defunct East Coast Conference, back to Nicholls, then to my alma mater- St. Joe’s – for 15 wonderful years. I left SJU four years ago to move to Temple. The reason was career-oriented as Temple has Division I-A football.
SMJ- What does your job, in a nutshell, entail?
L.D.- I feel our job in media relations is maintaining a positive image of your institution through your athletic teams, student-athletes, coaches and administrators. It is selling your school to prospective students – not just student-athletes – in the media through the most visible vehicle of any school – its’ athletic programs.
SMJ- What types of information does your department disseminate to the press? In what form?
L.D.- We disseminate press releases, announcements, game recaps, schedules, media guides – in printed form or electronic messages.
SMJ- You have a staff of five (according to the Temple website), what role does your staff play in the operation of the department?
L.D.- Each member of my staff is given “beats” or athletic teams that they are responsible for. We split the sports up so that the person covering say, men’s soccer, is well-versed in the sport and can facilitate any media requests. Also, that person is responsible for maintaining the website for the team and making sure the publications regarding that program are done in a timely fashion. We also have one person, Al Shrier, who is our historian (53 years at Temple) and also handles media credential requests, media parking and media food at events.
SMJ- What role do students play in lending a hand?
L.D.- We are fortunate to work at a school with not only a strong sport management program, but also communications, journalism and public relations. We typically get a student intern or two to work in the office per year. Those students may handle the media relations for an Olympic sport. We also use student workers at games as runners, carrying stats to the media, etc., as well as set-up and disseminating credentials.
SMJ- There are 24 Division I-A varsity sports at Temple. How difficult is it to juggle all of them in getting all the information you need? How cooperative are the coaches and student athletes?
L.D.- As we have a large staff it is not as difficult as it is at say, a Division II or III school. It can be a little hectic during the change-over from say fall-to-winter season, or winter-to-spring, as one person may have two-three active sports.
SMJ- How important is the university website in the dissemination of information? Does it put more pressure on your staff to now be a member of the media, in essence, when creating content for the site? How has the advances in technology in general impacted how you do your job?
L.D.- By University website, I am going to assume you mean the athletic website – Two different things. I believe it is very important as media go to the site constantly for information regarding teams, student-athletes, stats, etc. This new media has been tremendous, but at the same time – a burden – for media relations staffers. The information must be updated constantly and there is constant pressure to make sure information is disseminated in a timely manner. The job has never been more 24/7 than it is today with the advent of websites.
SMJ- How many sports media organizations cover the University on a regular basis?
L.D.- In Philadelphia we have numerous media outlets that cover the athletic programs, but on a regular basis I would limit it to the two main papers – the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, a few suburban papers, the student newspaper and the Associated Press. Electronic media is hit-and-miss as there are so many teams/schools in the media coverage area.
SMJ- Are the student based media organizations on campus afforded the same access as the traditional “working” press?
L.D.- Yes, I treat the Temple News the same as the Inquirer. They are the writers of tomorrow, and there are many former Temple News writers in the professional ranks now.
SMJ- What is the university’s protocol for handling requests by media outside of the Temple media market? Are there some opponents that carry with it more media attention than others? Which ones?
L.D.-We handle all visiting media requests through the visiting SID. If we get a request that comes from an outlet we are unfamiliar with we will check with that team’s SID to see if it is legitimate. Rarely will we turn down a legitimate media request as we have large media facilities at both the Liacouras Center and Lincoln Financial Field.
SMJ- Is it a little disappointing that all the sports at Temple may not get the same media attention as the big revenue sports like football and basketball? How much more difficult is it to try to generate interest in those sports? What do you try to do to change this?
L.D.-To me it is very disappointing, but I am also a realist. The Inquirer and Daily News must service their readership and they utilize the space they have for high-interest sports. We still pitch away at stories and when we land one, like we did with our softball player – Adrienne Repsher – who was a First Team Academic All-American – it is very satisfying.
SMJ- Is it safe to assume that although it may carry more work, you would prefer an overflow press box at each sporting event, reflecting a successful season? Does such a scenario provide you with more excitement, yet more pressure to meet the needs of the media?
L.D.-I would hope no one in my profession would want anything less than a high-demand for their event. It is definitely more work, but something I think we all thrive on in our profession. Normally, like with our men’s basketball game against Duke at the Wachovia Center two years ago, we can anticipate the demand and have the proper staffing. One of the most important things we need to do is that when we are at capacity, that we service the media well. As we want them to feel good about our program and want to come back.
SMJ- What is a typical gameday for you and your staff?
L.D.-A typical gameday consists of going through a checklist to ensure that all is ready as you are hosting an event. Setting up the press area, name tags, etc., making sure all of the credentials are ready, parking list is complete, media food ordered. Game notes copied and in the media room. Fax list from the visiting team is in your possession. Student workers are in place. Stat computers and monitors are at the venue. Phone lines are operational. Then when the game begins, everything should in place.
SMJ- Are there some media members more demanding than others? How do you handle them?
L.D.- Yes, there are some “high-maintenance” media members, as there are “high maintenance” people in all aspects of life. We try to help them with all of their requests, and when we can not provide the information, or interview, that they are requesting, we just professionally explain our policies and procedures.
SMJ- Can you share with us a request made by a member of the media that was a little out of the ordinary?
L.D.- A few years back a print reporter asked to go inside our men’s basketball locker room prior to the game to decide the Atlantic 10 Regular season championship. And, if we did not win the game, we would not get a story. I asked the coach, and we were able accommodate. It helped that it was the New York Times.
SMJ- What do you like best about your job?
L.D.- I like placing the human interest stories about our student-athletes. They are role models and there are so many good stories that can inspire our youth. When we are successful in placing one, it give me a good feeling.
SMJ- What aspects of the job are you not so thrilled about?
L.D.- The long hours and time away from my family.
SMJ- What are your plans for the future?
L.D.- Hopefully, one day I will become an Athletic Director at a Division I University.
There are those in the sports media who take the work of someone like Dougherty for granted. That’s too bad. For without these hard working communications professionals, the reporter’s work would be much more difficult.
Larry Dougherty photo courtesy of Temple University.