Local Ball is Big Deal for Journalist Brandon Ogden
When you want the latest coverage of the NBA or major college hoops, you know where to go. You know the names to follow on Twitter. You know the websites to monitor. You know the channels to watch.
We know about national media: the anchors you see on SportsCenter, the beat reporters always asking questions in the locker room after games, the social media magnates. But as they’re occupied with the “big” stuff, who is giving you the mom and pops shop equivalent of basketball coverage?
Brandon Ogden, that’s who.
One year ago, he moved to Tyler, Texas, to work for the Tyler Morning Telegraph, the newspaper for the city’s roughly 105,000 inhabitants and many of the surrounding small towns. Previously, he worked at the Lufkin Daily News, Longview News-Journal and The Daily Sentinel of Nacogdoches.
Ogden was born and raised in East Texas and has covered sports in the area for 16 years, dating back to his high school days in the early 2000s. He’s done football, baseball and others, but “everyone knows basketball is my favorite,” he said.
“It’s the non-stop action,” he said, a former high school player himself. “There’s something always happening. You have to be locked in because you never know what’s going to happen. It’s the surprise element of basketball that anything can happen at any time.”
The pace of the game creates a challenge for reporters like Ogden. When you cover the pros or many college games, stats are available online in real time or printed and distributed at timeouts. But for small-town high schools, reporters must hand-collect their own stats.
“Some people, they just keep points,” Ogden said, “but I keep everything. That’s just how I’ve always been.”
When you’re working in Ogden’s position in the modern day, you also have to monitor and post updates, photos and videos to Twitter. When you’re covering local high school basketball, you’re often the only one people can turn to for the news.
“While I’m covering a game, I have my phone out, trying to get certain things,” he explained. “I’m always writing something down when a slam dunk happens, and I always seem to miss the video of it. I’ve got a couple, but you never know when it’s going to happen, and a lot of times it comes out of nowhere. A kid goes up, and you think, ‘Oh, he’s just going to lay it in,’ but all of a sudden, he goes and dunks on somebody.”
When he first started covering basketball, social media wasn’t a thing. At live games, Ogden would keep stats, take notes, prepare for post-game interviews and write whatever was necessary. Now, he has to add Twitter to his list of responsibilities.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Social media has exposed his work to thousands of people who otherwise wouldn’t have seen it, and it allows him to share amazing plays and other clips that fans previously had to see live to see at all.
But that’s not the biggest challenge in Ogden’s work. That would be carving out makeshift press boxes.
“You’re sitting in the bleachers with the fans,” he said. “Have to make sure to find a spot where people aren’t going to be standing in front of you, but that’s nearly impossible, because people are going to be walking in front of you all the time. It’s hard enough when you have a table to write on, but if you got your notebook in your lap, and I keep multiple sheets at a time, I get my laptop out, I got my phone trying to (get video). I covered a state championship in (February), and they didn’t have a designated media table. I kind of created one. Other than that, you get to watch basketball, so you can’t complain too much.”
The havoc is part of the fun, with constant action on the floor, relentless fan activity in the stands and the separate chaos contained to his lap and thumbs. When you’re posted up only a few feet away from the game, you never know what’s going to happen.
“A lot of times, you get to be courtside. You see certain things that people in the stands may not see,” Ogden said. “I like that part of it. Sometimes, I’m really close to the action. I think I’ve been hit by a ball at least five times this year. I’ve had a phone broken before. I saw a guy in the media this past weekend, he had his iPad smashed. Sometimes, you’re too close to the action, but it’s still fun.”
For as much as Ogden loves the rush of live games, the intimacy of reporting is what he said makes his profession special.
When you cover sports, you’re given access into people’s lives that most aren’t granted. People share their own mistakes and realizations with nuggets of wisdom sprinkled in that can teach you about life, mankind and how to improve as an individual.
That’s not to say the pomp and circumstance of four thousand people packed in an East Texas gym on a Friday night, everyone experiencing a collective emotion, isn’t a nice bonus. But you can’t beat human connection.
“I love going to games, but I would much rather sit in an empty gym or a parking lot and talk one-on-one to a player or coach, get to know their story and be able to portray that to the public,” he said. “In media, you’re supposed to be unbiased, and you are for the most part, but you also get to know these people and build a connection with them. You secretly kind of root for them to be successful, because you know their story, you know the work they put in to get to where they’re at. That’s the fun part of it is the relationships you build and the stories you learn and get to tell people.”