Kiel: Have you race play a negative part in other reporters’ relationships with players?
Smith: I’ve seen it, and it has been more of a respect or trust thing that hasn’t been built. Some of it – as with every profession or industry – is people bringing some of their personal issues and biases into those situations whether they realize it or not. There’s been a few times – not a lot – that I have encountered some reporters who had a lot of animosity towards certain players because they thought they were overpaid or felt like a player wasn’t working hard enough; almost like a jealousy thing for some people. To me, that’s a non-issue. I don’t think it’s wise for people in my field to look at it like that.
Kiel: How do you, personally, build such a great rapport with players?
Smith: The biggest thing for me is knowing your information – knowing things about the people you cover so you can have a touch stone in your conversations. My best friend is from Seattle, and I’m very familiar with that city because I’ve been there multiple times, so if I’m talking to a guy from Seattle I might bring up something about the city and that might spark a conversation. To me, it’s always about being relatable. Common knowledge is key. I was in Memphis the other day, talking to Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley; I knew Conley because he was in high school when I was covering the Pacers; I met Zach while he was in high school in Indiana. I was living in Memphis when Marc was in high school there and Pau was playing for the Grizzlies. So I’ve known some of these guys since before they made the league, and those are the connections you make. Things like that are great for bringing up to people, and it immediately sparks a conversation. The greatest icebreaker has always been common ground.
Kiel: How have you seen media change over the years?
Smith: When I was in college at Jackson State, the setup in our Communications school consisted of the newspaper being upstairs on one end of the hall, and the TV station being on the opposite end. While I was in school, multimedia didn’t really exist; you were one or the other. The broadcast people would come in, and go to their end of the hallway and the newspaper people would come in and go to their end. I never ventured to the broadcast hall when I was in college; it was never a focus on mine. I was unfamiliar with it until I went to work for NBA Digital and Turner Sports. I got more and more comfortable with it over the years, but it took time. It wasn’t an easy transition because I grew up in the newspaper. It has been a staggering transformation for the news gathering business to go from the print product being the main thing to the digital product being the only thing. It’s not like you go to a different city and pick up the local paper because you’ve already seen it on your iPad. I did not foresee the meshing of print and digital back then; otherwise, I would have dabbled in both for sure. Looking back, I wish I did because it might’ve helped me make that transition sooner in life.
Kiel: What’s your main advice to young content creators who want to break into the field of digital media?
Smith: The ability to self-publish is an element that I wish would’ve been around when I was younger. Having your own blog or developing and cultivating your voice without a newspaper or some other platform is key right now. There’s so much you can do outside of those lanes that you couldn’t do back then. You must have the fearlessness to put yourself out there and not worry about the negative reaction. It’s a wide open landscape for anyone who wants to get in the business.
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