Twenty-nine years ago, Peter King graduated from Ohio University with a degree in journalism and no idea that he'd be a sportswriter – let along one of the best known sportswriters in the world - nearly three decades later.
King chats with PRWeek less than a month before he'll deliver the commencement address to the graduating class of 2008 at his alma mater.
PRWeek: When you graduated from Ohio University, did you think you'd go into sports journalism, or did you think you'd do it for a few years and see how you liked it?
Peter King: I never considered that I would be a sports writer until I got out of Ohio University because I never really wrote much sports [coverage] in college. I was mostly a news writer, and I was the managing editor of the college newspaper my senior year, writing no sports. My first two jobs out of Ohio University, both with the Associated Press, were not sports jobs. So I have a pretty strong news background. But I really never considered that I would be a sports writer, it just turned out that way.
PRWeek: So how did you get interested in sports journalism?
King: [It was] my first job after the AP. I had two fairly short jobs there, each lasted about three months, and then I got a job as a general assignment sports reporter in Cincinnati. When I was there, they had an opening to cover the Bengals, and at the time my wife and I had our first child and I thought, ‘Oh, it's going to be a terrible job for someone starting a family.” But it turned out to be a pretty regular job for someone starting a family. The hours were fairly predictable, and obviously it was one of the biggest beats at the paper. I was just a kid; I got into it, loved it, and just sort of decided over time to make that a career.
PRWeek: What's the breakneck pace of what you do like during the NFL season? How many hours do you work during a Sunday and a Monday?
King: Well on Sunday, in the morning I go to NBC, watching on the NFL games and responding to whatever news happens during the day. As well, I'm trying to think what am I going to do for Monday Morning Quarterback, my column for SI.com, or if I have something I have to finish for SI, I'm also thinking of that. So that becomes pretty much a sleepless Sunday night, and at 12 or 1 o'clock on Monday afternoon, I'm able to kind of catch my breath. But Sunday nights, for the past few years, since Monday Morning Quarterback has become a 5,000-to-6,000-word project every week…becomes a pretty massive undertaking at 1 or 2 am on a [Monday morning].
PRWeek: Is it fair to say that the internet and SI.com becoming as big a part of Sports Illustrated as the print edition itself has changed a lot of what you do?
King: SI.com has changed my life, and Monday Morning Quarterback has changed my life in terms of what my assignment is, what my value to a company is, and what I feel that I'm best at. I feel that Monday Morning Quarterback and Web stuff is something that takes me back to the days when… I remember one day when I was covering the [New York] Giants for Newsday in 1987, and the day they were eliminated from the playoffs. I wrote seven stories the next day.
I've always been someone who feels like if you're a reporter, you're a reporter, and just because you're not necessarily writing everything in your notebook, you're still reporting on stuff. And that's one of the things that's been fun about Monday Morning Quarterback. There's some of the quirky crap I put in the column every week about travel and coffee and things like that, but 85% of what I cover every week is hard-core football - the stuff I've gathered during the course of the week and the stuff I gathered on Sunday night.
PRWeek: You interact with your readers a lot every week, and that's something that's prominent on the Web. Has that changed your view of sports reporting?
King: A lot of times, when a reader writes something to me that makes a lot of sense, and that changes how I approach a story…I had a writer recently who wrote me a letter, because I said the [Tampa Bay] Buccaneers should just get it over with and release [quarterback] Chris Simms, saying he's a good kid, he probably doesn't have a future there, so give him a chance to go out and get a job with another team…And I got this letter from a guy who put it all in perspective. He said shed no tears for Simms. After he ruptured his spleen, the Bucs could have left him laying by the side of the road and released him, and not only did they not release him they gave him a new contract in the past year and he's made $5 million in salary for not playing a down, so I don't feel bad for the Buccaneers and I don't feel bad for Simms, and I'm a Bucs fan. That makes a tremendous amount of sense. And I get a jillion letters every week, and even in the offseason I'm getting 1,500 to 2,000 pieces of e-mail, and I can't read them all, and I have a really good staff at si.com that forward me the most thoughtful letters and they're fantastic.
I have to say, I don't tend to get, and I'm sure I get some but I just don't read them, the sort of reactionary talk-show kind of e-mail from people that has sort of infected the airwaves. [Saying] Oh, fire this guy he stinks,' you know what I mean.
PRWeek: We have a lot of talk radio in New York. Whether its sports related, or politics or general news, do you think there's too much bomb-throwing out there?
King: The talk radio that I listen to is more well reasoned. I'm not a big fan of the screamers, and I listen to Mike and the Mad Dog, too, and even though [host] Chris Russo is a sometimes a real incendiary host, I also think that he's a great voice of the fan, and I think there are a lot of the guys out there who might be loud, who are also intelligent, and I don't really get mad at all those guys cause I think they're good for the sports landscape. The talk shows that I don't like are basically the people who ought to be sitting at home and watching games on TV and yelling at the TV. They aren't either smart enough or well informed enough to have an opinion that is worth my time to listen to. It's sort of hard to explain, but I think you can be incendiary and bright at the same time, which I think is what Chris Russo is. I think he's incendiary and I think he's bright, and those are the kinds of guys that make sports radio fun. But there are a lot of people out there who are not a lot of fun in sports radio, and I don't listen to very much of them.
PRWeek: What's your interaction like with PR professionals? Do you get pitched?
King: A lot of times in the offseason, I will get sent story ideas that are legitimate, good stories ideas from very good PR people, and I listen and sometimes I do them. I'm in the process of doing one now, I'd rather not say what, but I think that PR people, especially ones that I've had a relationship with for a long time and I trust and [listen] when I say, ‘No, that's ridiculous. I have no interest in doing that.' That doesn't happen often, because they know not to give me that stuff.
I think PR people serve a great purpose especially if they know what I like. A lot of times PR guys will send me an e-mail and say this might be something we like for Monday Morning Quarterback, it's the sort of quirky thing we read there.
PRWeek: Do you ever get pitched by the players?
King: I don't often. It's not that it never happens, but I don't often. I'm getting pitched by the pr people rather than the players.
Name: Peter King
Title: Senior writer
Outlet: Sports Illustrated
Preferred contact method: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site: www.si.com