By Katie Cracchiolo
Paul Buker has spent the last 35 years reporting for The Oregonian. He has covered just about everything in sports at this point. Currently, he lives in Portland and continues to cover the Pac-12, the Trail Blazers and the Winterhawks.
1. What does a typical game day look like for you?
When I’m covering a team, a typical game day would involved checking other sports sections (USsportspages.com website) for stories about the team I cover, and checking other media outlets in the region (who follow Ducks, Beavers, etc.). Other than that, it’s just waiting for the game, or getting ready to drive to the game if it’s out of town. Many papers now require gameday fact boxes or pre-game blogs, so sometimes you are working on online stuff in the hours before kickoff or tipoff or whatever.
2. How did you decide you wanted to be a sports reporter?
D-Day in Catholic grade school for “vocation” choice was about 5th grade I think. You had to give the Nuns a career option besides priest, and I came up with sportswriter. Played sports, followed sports, enjoyed reading and writing. Seemed like a natural direction, especially to a kid who didn’t want to be a priest. Got lucky, and got my first professional job while still in high school
3. Who is your role model in the journalism industry?
Role models early in Oregonian career included Leo Davis, one of the area’s top sportswriters when he passed away. Don’t really have a role model right now, just a lot of beat writers and columnists I follow and enjoy reading. To name a couple, John Blanchette in Spokane and Bill Plaschke in Los Angeles. Also like the online work of ESPN.com and guys I know such as Ted Miller (who covers Pac-12)
4. What is the most memorable moment you’ve covered as a reporter?
SO many. Indy 500s. Final Fours. Pro football. NBA. Seeing Michael Jordan’s last game. US National figure skating. Even bowling. The things that resonate the most (been at the O. for 35 plus years) might be writing about former area coach Pokey Allen during his final days (died of cancer), or covering a group of oldtimers celebrating a state basketball championship won decades before, or telling the story of an Oregon State football player who was victim of horrible child abuse
5. Have you developed a relationship with the coaches and players?
Oh yes. After 35 years you start covering the SONS and DAUGHTERS of people you wrote about years before. That’s when you feel old. Most of the coaches are great people to deal with. The ones who understand the business realize that even when you were being “negative” you were just trying to do your job. I did cover one guy (former UO basketball coach Don Monson) who couldn’t stand me and to this day would walk across to the other side of the street if he saw me in public.
6. What piece of advice would you give to aspiring sports reporters?
Go to TV or radio. More money. … for the ones who insist on sports writing, make sure you are adept at online work, make sure you’re comfortable with blogging and even doing your own video because that’s the direction the business is going. Lots of online concentration and reporters who not only tell the story but shoot their own video, too. There will always be a market for great reporters, reporters who have good news sense. I like the advice given by a famous Denver media guy named Woody Paige. He suggests taking a low-paying job at a small community newspaper (even if it’s in the middle of nowhere) and just working your ass off to learn the business from the ground up. … the more real-world experience the better.
7. What is your favorite part about your job?
When I do something that resonates with people, makes them think, or makes them laugh, or makes them cry. I enjoy being around sports people in general. It’s a world I feel very comfortable in.
8. Were you a Blazers fan before you started covering them?
More of a Lakers’ fan. I’ve covered the Blazers several different times, some more enjoyable than others. It’s a lot of work, very time-consuming, and sometimes the 20-something multi-millionaires don’t want to talk to the lowly media guys making $75,000 a year. Can’t blame them, but it makes the job more difficult. … I think I would care about the Blazers more if they got a different owner.
9. Any lessons you wish you hadn’t learned the hard way?
When I was young and dumb (as opposed to old and foolish) I wrote a lot of things off the cuff and stuck my neck out a lot, assuming things that later proved to be quite different than I thought. I trusted some sources that weren’t reliable. And ended up with egg on my face in the morning paper. The main thing here is, learning the hard way is probably the best way.
10. What about sports reporting appealed to you?
I have always loved writing game stories, figuring out different ways to tell the story besides the usual AP style. I also like the challenge of writing on deadline, seeing how good the story can be when you have just a few minutes to bang it out. … one of the great joys of the business back in the Jurassic period was either waiting for the paper to come out late at night or grabbing one early in the morning to see how your piece turned out, or to see where it was played (page one, page two, big headline, little headline, etc.). All of that has changed because now you write a story and immediately post it online