One of the best pieces on Cal sports in the past year came from Sports Illustrated, which wrote about Jorge Gutierrez and his incredible journey from Chihuahua, Mexico to Berkeley. In this feature, Jorge's time with fellow Mexican high school basketball players is documented, as is his relative poverty in the states before making his way to Cal. It's not hard to figure out why he's one of the toughest Golden Bears we've ever had.
Jordan Conn was responsible for that excellent piece. Conn talked with us a little bit about being an aspiring sports journalist, making it through journalism school, and what writing about Jorge was like.
What are the things you learned to be a good journalist in journalism school?
The basics — reporting, writing, and multimedia storytelling. At Berkeley, you're working on a hyperlocal news site covering a particular community — either in San Francisco, Oakland, or Richmond — from the first day of class. They throw you into the fire and expect you to produce quality stories, and they give you a level of editing and instruction that can't be duplicated, even in an entry-level journalism job. My instructors really stretched me to be a better reporter. I've always been a confident writer, but being a good writer isn't enough. You have to make the extra phone call, chase down potential sources, make the extra effort to take the story to its fullest potential. That's how my instructors pushed me the most.
How did the Berkeley School Of Journalism prepare you for your job at SI?
Well, first of all, it should be made clear that I am not an employee of Sports Illustrated. I interned there in the summer of 2009, and they've been really great about giving me opportunities to freelance for them since then. But I can say — without a doubt — that I would not be getting these opportunities if not for the J-School. My experience at Berkeley made me a much better reporter and gave me the opportunity to work on stories that I wouldn't have otherwise gotten to do. Those stories caught the eye of an editor or two at SI, and since then I've just been looking for any opportunity I can get to contribute.
How'd you first learn about the Jorge Gutierrez story? How long did it take you to construct it? What was the process you had to go through to write it?
I found out about the story just by talking to Jorge. I originally pitched what I thought would be a pretty short story about Jorge taking on a new role and leading Cal's rebuilding efforts, but once I started talking to him, I realized there was a lot more there. So I decided to make some phone calls to see what else I could find out. From the time I pitched it to the time it ran, about three of four weeks went by, partly because I was working on other stories and partly because I wanted more time to fish around and see what I could find. Once I sat down to write it, it took maybe a day. I had a pretty good idea of the structure I wanted once I had all the pieces in place.
What was it like dealing with Jorge? He can be very soft-spoken. Did you learn most of the story from him, or did you have to talk to everyone else who knew him to assemble the puzzle for your story to take hold?
Jorge was great. Before I interviewed him, a lot of people warned me that it might be tough because he's so quiet, but really, he was pretty open with me. I don't know if I just got lucky or if he had never been asked these questions before, but he came right out with everything. I was curious about his path from Mexico to the US, and it didn't take much prodding to get him to open up. Once he started talking about living in this extreme poverty and living as an undocumented immigrant and enduring this controversy over his age, my eyes sort of went wide — that's when I realized this could be a much bigger story that I originally thought.