Poe’s Perspective: Lessons from a college sports journalism career

I’ve been a student journalist for over a third of my life.

I’m almost 22 and I became a student journalist the year I turned 15, as a high school freshman who was very dumb and very shy and who did not know a damn thing about AP Style. Now I’m eight years older, maybe a little less dumb and shy, and I am completely and irrevocably the person I am today because of the newsrooms that have raised me.

Most of the time, I joke that I hate emotions. But senior year has this strange ability to turn anyone soft. Almost every day this week, I’ve bumped into an old friend on campus and almost began to cry over a random interaction. Every time I walk by Bovard, I feel a little twinge in my chest. Goodbyes are never easy, especially when they’re protracted, and the entirety of this year has felt like a long summation of goodbyes and lasts that are all culminating in the next two weeks.

My favorite piece of writing of all time (that’s a bold statement but I’m standing by it) is written, of course, by Rick Reilly, the immutable GOAT of sportswriting. It was supposed to be the last thing he ever wrote, a column called “Some truths I’ve discovered” that he published in 2014 when he thought he was hanging up his writing boots for good.

I’m no Rick Reilly, and I’m nowhere near the end of my writing career, but as I come the end of my years as a student journalist, I feel like I’ve learned a thing or two about this gig that I’d like to share. So, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna ask for a few more column inches and a few more seconds of your life to share some of my own truths.

If you want a cookie in the press box, grab it early. Journalists are monsters and will eat every scrap of free food in half the time of any other human.

Never get attached to the lede of your gamer. Just don’t do it. There will be an overtime or a last-minute equalizer, and then you’ll have to trash your darling intro to hurriedly type out something that will just never quite live up to the original.

There’s no writer’s block in the world that can’t be conquered by a late night walk across campus (or a dance break by Tomás Mier).

When you’re a senior and you meet a wide-eyed freshman, look closely. They probably look a lot like you did four years ago. Do yourself a favor and buy that kid a coffee, because they’ll be kicking ass in the real world right alongside you in a couple of years.

Talk to everyone. The sports information director, the backup kicker, the water polo captain. Talk to them all. Everyone has a story, and anyone might have the story, the one that makes you the best writer you can be.

You don’t need that third cup of coffee. Really. You don’t.

Good editors are hard to come by, and good friends even harder. If you find anyone who is able to be both, make sure you tell them they’re the best, even if it embarrasses them (yes, this one’s for you, Eric).

There are lots of rules to writing. Break all of them. People will tell you that you shouldn’t start a feature with a quote, or that you can’t start a sentence with “and” or “but.” Sometimes they’re right, and sometimes they’re wrong, but the best way to figure out is to give it a try.

Under any facade of toughness, most hulking, ripped athletes are normally huge softies. Find a way to tap into that in any interview, and you’ll be golden.

Every story has the same focus, and we all write about the same thing. Sure, some people write about football and soccer, some about politics and arts. But at the end of the day, we’re all writing about people. That’s the only thing that matters. Everything else is just scores and stat sheets.

So there it is. My last column, and my last article published in a student newspaper. It’s bittersweet, the kind of goodbye I’ve been dreading and looking forward to for years now. I’m not sure what to say anymore, except one thing — thank you.

Thank you, to anyone who read what I had to say, to anyone who hated it or loved it. Thank you to every member of the Daily Trojan staff, and to every USC athlete who let me learn how to interview by asking them clunky or awkward questions. Thank you to that one dude who commented on a story that I needed to stop writing about sports and go back to watching Ellen DeGeneres and eating corn. Thank you to my mom for reading every, single thing I’ve ever written.

Goodbyes aren’t easy, but I’m thankful for this one. These eight years have been unforgettable, and because of them I know what my future will look like — full of sports and stories and, most importantly, the people who I have met here, who made every early morning road trip and late night deadline the best of my life.

Julia Poe is a senior writing about her personal connection to sports. Her column, “Poe’s Perspective,” ran weekly on Thursdays.