Tips from the Pros: Janie McCauley

Janie McCauley joined the Associated Press bureau in Seattle in 2000 and quickly made a mark for herself with her insightful coverage of Ichiro Suzuki’s rookie year with the Seattle Mariners. She moved to San Francisco in 2002 has covered the Bay Area sports scene for close to 20 years, along with numerous international events including three Summer Olympic Games, the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, a Super Bowl and numerous World Series.

A native of Leavenworth, Wash. and a 1998 graduate of Washington State, McCauley was named AP’s Sportswriter of the Year in 2006 and was recently honored with the Murrow College’s Achievement Award, given annually to select Wazzu graduates for their outstanding work in the communications field. She will be inducted into the Hall of Achievement during the 45th Murrow Symposium in March.

In this initial installment of Tips From the Pros, Janie talks about her career and offers practical advice to communications professionals based on her years of experience covering both professional and collegiate sports.

Do you remember your first writing assignment as a journalist?

I worked for the Leavenworth Echo weekly newspaper my junior and senior years of high school as an independent study and feel so fortunate to this day to have gotten an early start. I tracked down University of Portland basketball player Curt Ranta from our local Cascade High for my first published story.

What was your career path that led you to the Associated Press?

As a college student at Washington State in Pullman, I helped out the AP with quotes and short game stories and then when the Seattle office was expanding its sports coverage in 2000 I left my first job at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, to join The AP full-time and was immediately thrust into the exciting coverage of the Seattle Mariners’ 116-game 2001 season and Ichiro Suzuki’s Rookie of the Year and MVP season that year.

What have been some of your most memorable assignments?

I have been blessed to see the world doing this job and to witness history, from Barry Bonds’ home run record to the Golden State Warriors’ five straight NBA Finals berths to five Olympics and two World Cups. At the 2016 Rio Games, sharing the story of an Iranian woman at her first sporting event to see the men’s volleyball team transcended far beyond sports and into human rights issues given women aren’t allowed in stadiums in Iran. I was lucky enough to find her that night in the stands as Iran made its Olympic volleyball debut and she was representing all the women who couldn’t be there.

What are some of the key elements to being a good storyteller?

Thinking beyond the court, field or arena is important. Give your readers a glimpse they can’t get otherwise or won’t see on the TV highlights. For example, on Inauguration Day the story of the Warriors’ win against San Antonio was hardly about the game but instead about wearing the “Oakland Forever” jerseys to honor new Vice President Kamala Harris’ proud Oakland roots and presenting her with a jersey.

You interact with a lot of PR people, both on the professional and collegiate levels. What are some of the things you expect and appreciate from a PR specialist?

While this doesn’t happen every month or even year, it is wonderful when a PR person thinks of you specifically for a special story and considers your audience as well and also your rapport with the subject – in this case Stephen Curry, who trusts me. I got to attend the first all-girls camp he hosted in the summer of 2018 and was the lone media member for this one, and it’s still a special story for me to this day. Read the story here.

Warriors media relations chief Raymond Ridder always walks through press row or the media room to check with each writer – local and visiting – at the end of the night. It’s such a nice gesture and effort he makes to go the extra mile.

Any pet peeves?

I don’t mind receiving follow up emails from PR people when pitching me a story idea, but hitting my inbox 3-4 times can be a little much. I work on multiple assignments and I promise I’ll get back to you. Also, calling a press conference on short notice without accounting for the drive time for reporters is near the top of my list. The more advanced noticed that something may be in the works short of an official is always appreciated.

What advice would you give PR pros when pitching a story?

Take the time to do the research of the intended targeted audience and ask, “Why is this story important to the reporter and his/her readers. Associated Press stories are picked up by numerous outlets throughout the country so keep in mind the story idea must have a national interest. Human interest stories will usually catch my eye as long as they have a unique angle. I appreciate some background information, but keep the pitches succinct in the email.

What advice would you give young people interested in pursuing a career in journalism?

Learn another language. Speaking Spanish after pursuing it as a minor and studying for a semester in Guadalajara, Mexico, is one of the best things I ever did for my career and I use it almost every day during baseball season. The players appreciate the effort in their native language even if not perfect by any means. And build relationships based on trust with those you cover.

What are some of your interests outside of work?

I’m an avid swimmer, mostly lap swimming but with so many pools closed due to the pandemic, I really got into open water swimming in the bay. I also love to garden and send handwritten cards, which I think is a nice touch and a lost art.

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