Sports fans across the country are familiar with J.A. Adande from his appearances on ESPN’s points-based discussion show, “Around the Horn.” Los Angeles sports fans likely recognize his name from his 10 years of work as a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
But now, Adande’s career has shifted to educating the next generation of sports journalists.
After 10 years at the worldwide leader in sports, Adande is now the director of sports journalism at the esteemed Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University, his alma mater.
“It was a chance to do something different,” Adande said. “I was young when I got my column … and I was kind of young to be making the move to academia, so I like that notion.”
Adande was on campus Tuesday for the Charley Steiner Symposium, where he participated in a panel discussing relationships between sports organizations and the media.
“Words matter,” Adande said. “I’ve been in the words business all my life. So, you might think, ‘Oh, getting a bunch of people together and having them talk doesn’t do much,’ but I think there’s a lot that can be gained from these.”
When the LA native started with the Times, he was 26 years old, much younger than most columnists at major newspapers at the time.
“I just had to be very careful of making sure I said what I meant, not that I meant what I said, but I said what I meant, and that means really using the right words,” Adande said. “It’s your opinion that you’re putting out there, so you don’t want it to be misconstrued. So, I found myself looking up words in the dictionary more than I ever had, because I wanted to make absolute certain that [a] word conveyed the meaning I wanted it to.”
Despite only publishing a column around three days a week, Adande found it to be more work than when he wrote every day covering basketball for the Washington Post.
“It was as much, if not more draining, because you’re putting more of yourself in there, and you’re putting yourself on the line,” Adande said. “If people don’t like it, that means they don’t like you, to some degree. So, I had to develop a thicker skin than I had before I got that column.”
Despite the fact that columnists inject themselves into their work, Adande said he never once started one of his 1,700 stories in the Times with the word “I.”
“It was kind of a personal challenge, but I wanted to force myself to be focused on the subject at hand, rather than my reaction to the subject,” Adande said.
In a world dominated by social media, the use of “I” is prevalent. According to Adande, platforms have led people to falsely believe their opinion carries weight and that it’s all about the author.
“People don’t care about you,” Adande said. “They might care about what you have to say about the people they care about. So, at best, they care what you have to say about LeBron James or Steph Curry, they don’t really care about you, and a lot of people don’t realize that.”
Additionally, social media blurs the line between journalist and non-journalist, something that is of concern to Adande.
“It’s more important than ever for the trained journalist to separate themselves from the amateurs that are out there in abundance on social media,” Adande said. “A lot of people think they can do [journalism] … It’s real easy to call a player all kinds of names if you never have to see them. But if you have to confront them in the locker room the very next day, would you use the same language?”
Despite all the challenges facing sports journalism today, Adande is optimistic about the field.
“There’s all kinds of opportunities available to people, which is why I think there’s reason to be excited if you’re young and want to get into the business,” Adande said.