My guest for Episode #138 of the My Favorite Mistake podcast is J.A. Adande. He is the director of sports journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. He is also the graduate journalism Sports Media Specialization leader.
J.A. earned his undergraduate degree in journalism from Medill in 1992. During his time in school at Northwestern, he was sports editor of The Daily Northwestern, the student newspaper.
J.A. has worked in sports media for over two and a half decades, including multiple roles at ESPN. He continues to appear on ESPN’s “Around The Horn,” where he has been a panelist since the show’s beginning in 2002.
He also previously worked for 10 years as a sports columnist at the Los Angeles Times, in addition to jobs at The Washington Post and Chicago Sun-Times.
In today's episode, J.A. shares his “favorite mistake” story about applying for a job, to be a sports columnist in Philadelphia, which probably would have been a failure. Why was it a mistake to want that job, then? How would the newspaper have determined if he was a success or a failure? How would that be determined today in the internet age?
We also talk about questions and topics including:
- Angry letters to the editor might not be a bad thing if that means people are reading?
- Coaching students about handling or bracing for hate mail or flat out hate?
- Tell us about getting into TV – did that ever feel like a mistake? When that was new to you?
- Learning to give “hot takes”?
- Mistakes in reporting — pressure to be first vs. being correct?
- The “Medill F”? A punishment for mistakes like spelling a name wrong… is this a very real practice? A mistake you only make once?
- Greg Cote’s story in a bonus episode about being lied to by an interview subject
- Another mistake story from J.A. — getting a soccer coach's first name wrong in a profile
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- Video of the episode
- How to subscribe
- Full transcript
Find J.A. on social media:
Watch the Episode:
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Automated Transcript (Likely Contains Mistakes)
Mark Graban (0s):
Episode 138, J.A. Adande from ESPN and Northwestern University.
J.A. Adande (7s):
We have podcasting, in this stage, everyone's a Tony Reali or a Mike Greenberg now.
Mark Graban (18s):
I'm Mark Graban. This is My Favorite Mistake. In this podcast. You'll hear business leaders and other really interesting people talking about their favorite mistakes, because we all make mistakes, but what matters is learning from our mistakes instead of repeating them over and over again. So this is the place for honest reflection and conversation, personal growth and professional success. Visit our website at myfavoritemistakepodcast.com. If you'd prefer to watch a video of this episode, if you want a transcript or more go to markgraban.com/mistake138. Thanks for listening.
Mark Graban (57s):
And now, J.A. Hi, everybody. Welcome to My Favorite Mistake. I'm Mark Graban and our guest today is J.A. Adande. He is the director of sports journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. He is also the graduate journalism sports media specialization leader. J.A. Earned his undergraduate degree in journalism from Medill in 1992. During his time in school at Northwestern, he was sports editor of the Daily Northwestern, the student newspaper. So before I tell you more about J.A., welcome to the podcast, how are you? Great, thank you for having me and thank you for wearing your Northwestern attire.
Mark Graban (1m 38s):
I said, make me feel at home. My alma mater as well. I was a freshman when J.A. was a senior. So I was reading said newspaper the daily Northwestern back when it was a random question before we really get into it, is there still a print edition on campus?
J.A. Adande (1m 57s):
I'm not sure they're printing every day. So the Daily might not apply to the print. They're still, you know, hard at work, cranking out stories all the time, but yeah, they, they, and COVID really accelerated the diminished print product, but you still see a few around.
Mark Graban (2m 15s):
Okay. But as well, I think have a chance to talk about today. The, the art, the craft, the, the business of journalism, in some ways the journalism work is the same as the business has changed. But speaking of changing with the business and doing different things, J.A. has worked in sports media for over two and a half decades, including multiple roles at ESPN. He continues to appear on ESPN, Around the Horn, where he's been a panelist since the show's beginning in 2002, he has covered virtually every major sporting events. He works 10 years as a sports columnist at the LA Times, in addition to jobs at Washington Post and Chicago Sun-Times. So as now a television professional, thank you for coming on my little podcast.
Mark Graban (2m 60s):
I'm no Tony Reali, but I think, well, well thank you for being here anyway, and thanks in advance. I won't have the beeping for the points…
J.A. Adande (3m 11s):
We'll be podcasting. And this stage two is that everyone's a Tony Reali or a Mike Greenberg now, right?
Mark Graban (3m 18s):
Mike Greenbergl, another Northwestern alum as well. So J.A., with all the different things you've done in your career, I'm really curious to hear your story. What would you say is your favorite mistake?
J.A. Adande (3m 31s):
My favorite mistake was thinking I could come in and be a, a columnist in Philadelphia at, in my mid twenties, early twenties. And it worked out in that it's it's in this case, maybe we should call it my favorite rejection because I didn't get it. And in retrospect, it's the best thing that could've happened to me. So it was a mistake to maybe even go for it, because if I gotten it, I think I would have been in trouble. And I said, I would have been in trouble because I would have been, and I can understand this. Now I was too blinded by my youth to understand it at the time, but to come in as an out of town or outsider into a market like Philadelphia, and to have the role of an opinion of a columnist right off the bat, where I have to start weighing in with my opinions and which coach should be fired.
J.A. Adande (4m 30s):
And, you know, this guy should be traded and all the expectations that that position has, particularly that position in Philadelphia, where it's arguably the most demanding fan base in all of America. And they're tough on everyone that doesn't produce and players, coaches, and even media. And so I just looking back, I think if I had gotten it somehow, and if I tried to come in there without really understanding what makes that town tick, you know, you can learn, you can come up, just be like, I felt, even though I'm not a Chicago native, I feel like I adapted pretty quickly and understood what the city's about and what their fans value.
J.A. Adande (5m 17s):
And I, I could have learned, but I'm not sure I would have been afforded the, the on-ramp so to speak, to, to get up to speed and to learn that city. I'm not sure how patient they would have been with me since I was not one of their own. And I feel like it really could have been a setback, you know, maybe I get run out of town and where do I go from there and does my ego recover in time? And does my reputation recover in time to enable me to have the type of career that I wound up having when I got rejected? So like I said, it's my favorite rejection, but I'll, I'll, I'll, I'll take the blame of the mistake for even even signing up for the interviews and applying for it.
J.A. Adande (5m 57s):
Mark Graban (5m 57s):
I'm a, what was the context at the time? Where were you working? Were you working as a reporter at that point?
J.A. Adande (6m 3s):
Yeah, it was reporter at the Washington Post. And I guess at that time I was still covering Georgetown. So again, I was in my mid twenties, three or four years out of school, and I had covered, I started off covering college sports for the Chicago Sun-Times and in my last year there, I covered the Bulls in 94 the year without Michael, just my luck. I covered the one year in the nineties that Michael Jordan didn't play the one full season. They didn't play for the Bulls. That was the year I was covering them. But actually I tell people, it was a more interesting story that year. If, if he had been there, the story would have been, they won three, can they win four in a row?
J.A. Adande (6m 45s):
There's really not a lot of suspense either way, right. But this time trying to see them, you know, make their way and seeing what they could do without Michael and really exceeding all expectations without Michael Jordan made for a better story, more interesting stories. So I was appreciative of that. And then I left and, and got the job at, in Washington where I was for two years. And then I want to say it was '95 when the Philly Daily News talked to me about the opening that they had for their columnist position
Mark Graban (7m 20s):
And at the Washington Post. I mean, that was already a very prestigious sports department. The one thing that reminded me or made me think to reach out to you about doing the podcast was seeing you being interviewed in the PTI 20 documentary, about 20 years apart in the interruption, Michael Wilbon, Northwestern alum, and a member of the board of trustees and Tony Kornheiser there,
J.A. Adande (7m 44s):
And that Washington Post sports department at the time. Yeah.
Mark Graban (7m 49s):
The Northwestern sports media mafia…
J.A. Adande (7m 52s):
Christine Brennan was another columnist back then.
Mark Graban (7m 55s):
So was it, I mean, at that young of an age, I mean, what was the progression normally for somebody to move from reporter to columnist? Would that have been unusual to do that in your mid twenties?
J.A. Adande (8m 7s):
It's very rare. And, you know, especially at a place like the posts that didn't happen. And that was one of the reasons I wasn't long for there. It was because as fantastic as working at the post was, and is incredible, the opportunities I had there, I knew I wasn't going to chance in part, because of Mike Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser and those guys, they weren't going anywhere. Thomas Boswell, you know, they had a great roster of columnists. They weren't going to bump any of them to make room for me. So, you know, I understood that and I wasn't saying that they should have, but just in general, it was rare for young people to get columns and part, because it was woven would say, you don't know enough, you know, you know, you, part of what you need for that job is perspective, right?
J.A. Adande (8m 51s):
And A, I didn't have it as a young person. B, I didn't have it as a non Philadelphia person. So that would have made a bad fit for that job. I didn't have perspective. You need perspective economist. Now I wound up getting a columnist job at the LA times initially with the orange county addition to the LA Times at age 26, a year later. But I was a lot more confident and capable and qualified for that because I was from LA. So I understood the history of the LA teams. I understood the nature of the LA sports fan. I could speak to them and for them, and, you know, that's why I really didn't have any qualms taking that. And it wasn't a mistake to take that where as it would have been a mistake to go and get a column, the shop in Philly at that age.
J.A. Adande (9m 39s):
Mark Graban (9m 39s):
So I'm curious at that time in the nineties, when the internet was barely getting started with newspapers going online, it was still very focused on print. And like, how would a paper like the Philadelphia Daily News, or when you ended up in the LA Times, how would they gauge the popularity of a columnist, letters to the editor?
J.A. Adande (10m 3s):
That was a big sense, was okay, is this person generating letters to the editor there? We were in the era of sports talk radio. So I think, could you set the agenda in town? And a lot of the initial sports site radio hosts were local newspaper columnists, right. You know, here was a very format that lent itself to opinion almost from the get go. Maybe it might not have initially, but very quickly sports talk radio became a province of opinionated people. So here you had these people in those towns who were known for their strong opinions and who had a trusted base with the audience. So the sports comm is made for a lot of the, a lot of the early candidates for sports talk radio.
J.A. Adande (10m 43s):
But the flip side was as a columnist. You want it to be the person that dictated what they were talking about here in Chicago. Jay Mariotti, I think was great at that in the nineties. Like he really set the agenda for what people are talking about. And you turn on the early days of The Score, WMVP and you know, some of the, we had three at one point, that's where the sports talk stations in, in, in Chicago, a lot of times they'd be talking about what Jay Mariotti wrote that day, that really, you know, angered people more often than not. So when you talk about those letters to the editor, I mean, they say, nowadays, let's say on YouTube, but the algorithms a thumbs down disliked is considered just as good as a thumbs up because it's a quote unquote engagement in terms of popularity.
J.A. Adande (11m 29s):
And showing that to other people was a, an angry letter to the editor, at least proof that people were reading and they cared. Yeah. One thing that changed with the internet though, was that at least people would read all the way through. And I think the nature of, you know, the newspaper, especially, you know, broadsheet newspaper, your story would start on the front and then you'd get three or four paragraphs in it and say, you know, turn to page 12 or whatever for the rest of the story. And you could tell people, read the headline and maybe the first couple paragraphs and that they didn't jump inside the, read the rest of the story. Cause I'd get these things like, how can you say that, you know this other and I'd say, well, I address that later in the column.
J.A. Adande (12m 10s):
You obviously didn't read. And then in the internet era, when you started getting angry emails, but they will say, you know, in the last line of your column, you said this, and I'm thinking you ran to the last line. That's great. Like at this point, I don't care if you liked it, a dislike, the fact that you read to the last line and you were so engaged that you sent me an email and that was the thing. It was email made it a lot easier. So letters were a truer test of A, who was reading and B who really cared to respond to you to write a letter, was a commitment to send off an email wasn't as much of a commitment. So you took that a little bit like, okay, the one hand you're seeing, you're getting, you know, maybe a better sense of who's engaging what they're thinking and how much they're reading, but it's also like the, the barrier is lower.
J.A. Adande (13m 3s):
So therefore like, okay, they might not be that invested as much as a reader who writes you, a letter was invested
Mark Graban (13m 8s):
Well, and then you have, you know, the social media age. And I mean, there's imagine back when it was a letter to the editor, I don't know if there was a bit of a filter or like nowadays, whether it's,
J.A. Adande (13m 19s):
Well, there was, there was literally an editor who edited the letter to the editor, right? Yeah. So, yeah. So there'll be a filter in, into what we're getting into the paper…
Mark Graban (13m 27s):
In terms of a filter of what made it to your eyes, because if somebody finds an email address or they're in your mentions on social media, there could be not just, just disagreement, but insults or really, you know, offensive stuff that, that shows up that seems like now suddenly like this big intrusion that maybe wouldn't have been part of the job, something.
J.A. Adande (13m 48s):
Yes and no, because you know, as anonymous as the internet is, they can still track you. You know, if you send an email and especially, I think in the early days, like, I don't know if people were even thinking about sending up some anonymous account. Right. But even if they did, you know, you could get IP addresses, but you could be anonymous through the mail. And so you get these letters and this thing, like, like when you get like the really angry racist letters, like they all have the same handwriting. It was like this chicken scratch, all caps. There'd be no return address. You know, like I said, all capital letters and I swear to God, they all look like the exact same handwriting, you know? And ultimately you'd see that there are different people, but it was like the same feeble chicken scratch, all capital letter writings.
J.A. Adande (14m 34s):
And you don't even, you came to realize, even before you open it up, like, okay, this is going to be one of those racist emails, because they all had the exact or racist letters I should say. Cause they all had the exact same type of handwriting.
Mark Graban (14m 47s):
Gosh, is that something that, you know, as you work with students now at Medill, is this talked about like of bracing yourself for feedback or hate whether you're writing in a local paper or you're on the worldwide worldwide leader of sports ESPN, or is that just through hard knocks
J.A. Adande (15m 8s):
On one hand, maybe I should do more to brace them for the hate. Like they, they might have no idea. I don't talk about that. I talk about, well, Hey, I'd tell them to ignore anything that doesn't have a name attached to it. I like to say that nothing is more meaningless to me than anonymous opinion. So it's easier to ignore. 'cause, it's just some made up screen name. And to also think that they're used to it, they grew up online. Like we, we, you know, came online and, and Justin to being online and, and learned to adapt to the online rules, people that are coming up now that, you know, that made it to my class, they've had a good decade.
J.A. Adande (15m 49s):
They've been raised on social media. So I think they're fully aware of the toxicity that can exist there. So in that sense, I don't think I need to educate them. They can probably educate me a little bit better and either they get hardened to it or, you know, there, the, the flip side is they might absorb it. He gets a sense that young people assess more of their self-worth based on social media, which is a problem. So you actually, you know, I, I give a lecture on social media. One thing that's changed about what I do is that I remember when I first started adding social media to my courses and we've kind of come at the end and now it's one of the first lectures I do because social media is just as important in that prominent, but maybe, maybe I need to teach them in part that, Hey, you can survive this and B maybe what it says, some survival tactics.
J.A. Adande (16m 47s):
Like one thing I would say is I just pretty much disabled my mentions and replies to, or limited and filter it to it's where it's only people that I follow in reply to me, or at least, or, or their replies will be seen by me. And again, cause if, if I wanted your opinion, I would follow you.
Mark Graban (17m 8s):
But say, if a Christine Brennan replies to you on Twitter, you
J.A. Adande (17m 12s):
Right. And it would be intelligent, Joe, 5, 7, 3 8, 2 1 with the, you know, American Eagle avatar. I'm probably not going to see it.
Mark Graban (17m 28s):
When you talk about social media and likes and clicks. And one thing I've heard on your friend, Dan Le Batard show, and you probably know Greg Cote from the Miami Herald, who is on there every weekend and he talks about, or they razz him, but it seems like the reality of cliques being everything. And they sort of razzed him for, for certain, you know, begging for clicks. And it sounds like now with internet news so much as measurable, does that affect the way a reporter or a columnist does their job? I wonder,
J.A. Adande (17m 59s):
Well, here's the thing you might not care, but people that pay you probably do. Yeah. And he's gotten to the point that, you know, I remember there were places at ESPN and I'm aware of other outlets where they've done this, where there's a screen in the building showing, okay, what's getting the most traffic, which stories are doing the best. And they engage in the readers the most. So if they're keeping score, you want to win or at least be up on the board. So it, it has to matter a better matter. And there are taxes you can use to promote your stories, to get more clicks. There are ways you can write, you know, a good, great headline will help.
J.A. Adande (18m 41s):
You know, your editors can help you out by writing a good headline. Then we'll get more clicks. But I always say, and this is partly a nature, the nature of where I worked at the LA Times, where they wouldn't like they wouldn't write a synopsis or a tease for your story, they would just take the first line or two of your story. And that would be under the headline. And basically the decision to click or not to click was based on the lead user story. And so that forced me to change how I write, where I really have to, I have to turn the, you know, the, the intro to my story, into a synopsis of the story, right. I got to entice the reader. I've got one. I view it as I've got one sentence to get you into tent.
J.A. Adande (19m 22s):
Whereas when I used to write for the newspaper and you'd have, you'd have those three or four paragraphs before the jump, I used to really feel like I had three or four paragraphs. So it was a more leisurely, more measured and arguably maybe more boring introduction into the column now, whereas now I just jumped right in. I literally just gave a yesterday lecture yesterday where I stress to my students as I continuously do though, to, you know, you've got one sentence, I think to grab them.
J.A. Adande (20m 11s):
It's funny. I just saw ESPN put out an update. They, they had their highest viewership for Get Up and for First Take. Take this Monday after the cowboy, not only did the count so eight, you had the Cowboys, but you had the Cowboys losing. See you had them losing in this, you know, incredible fashion and for our purposes debatable fashion, right? Like that was just rich material. The way that ended by that decision to do a drop play and try to, you know, spike the ball in time to get one more playoff and just how calamitous it turned out. And the fact that it was the Dallas Cowboys. That was the perfect mix and recipe for a highly rated show on Monday. Yeah.
Mark Graban (20m 50s):
One of the questions for you, I mean, on the topic of TV, when, when you shifted into television, I mean, I'm curious how that was at first, whether every day is where it felt like that was a mistake. You did, you define yourself as a writer and this was two different, or I'm just curious how
J.A. Adande (21m 9s):
I thought of ourselves as writers. And to be honest, that's what the value for the value does for our are not the writing necessarily, but the ability to formulate an argument, you know, that's why you saw a lot of columnists populate. These shows was, you know, we've proven that, okay, we can make an argument and have a debate, but we had to learn television and it was go back and look at some of those early around the horns. And it was pretty rough. You know, we were, we were a bunch of writers on television. We weren't TV people. We were writers on television. But what I would say is that you can learn to do the TV, I think easier than you can learn how to be a good journalist. And that doesn't mean that I think that anyone can be Bob Costas or Mike Tirico or any of the highly, highly skilled, very talented people at the top of the TV profession.
J.A. Adande (21m 59s):
Now that's rarefied air, but you can become proficient enough. You can learn the TV aspects of it. I think a lot easier than you can learn what it takes to be a good journalist.
Mark Graban (22m 8s):
Now, was there a process there's probably a difference in laying out this argument in 800 or a thousand words, like I said, a little bit more leisurely versus the quote unquote hot take. Like, is that something you have to get better at?
J.A. Adande (22m 19s):
Yeah. You have, you have to get to the point, but again, that can translate into, you can take that back to your writing. And I think writing has changed now where you need to get to the point earlier. You know, people, aren't, people were reading, they're reading in the newspaper and then on the internet, initially they're reading on a desktop and that's just a different manner of consumption than the way people read now, which is on their phones is they're scrolling through their phones. So you have to, even in the writing written format, you gotta be able to jump out to somebody that's just taking their phone and scrolling through. And then, you know, in terms of hot take, you know, I, I, I will say I had any of those.
J.A. Adande (22m 60s):
Every it gotta be taken care of, but I had an ESPN executive come to me early on, like, you know, like, did your informed opinion, you know, like, like he really, he wanted smart takes more than hot takes, you know, but, but he wanted very opinionated, but you know, to show off your education and show that you knew what you were talking about, but match that with, you know, don't be on the fence, you got to really dedicate to one way or another. So I imagine that doesn't mean I got to clarify, nobody ever told me what to say, but I will say they, one time they weighed in and it was how to say it, you know? So you don't want to be wishy-washy, but I think there's a perception out there that people, oh, you just take the side because he has been ordered you to say this or ESPN hates this team.
J.A. Adande (23m 44s):
So, or they hate this city. So they want people to be negative. No, they tell us what to say, but I will say that they would say the manner in which you say it there's a formula that works on telephone.
Mark Graban (23m 56s):
And there's probably something to be said for being succinct. Maybe the nuance gets lost, but like you said, things that are debatable, should they have run that play or not? Did the refs screw up, did Dak Prescott screw up? There were so many aspects to the end of that Cowboys game where it would be easy to have different size. And as they say on first take, if this is still the tagline “embrace debate,”
J.A. Adande (24m 22s):
But also you have to recognize that the different shows are different, have different formats and different styles and paces. So on around the horn, you don't have a lot of time in, and it's really not set up for nuance. You know, PTI is more conversational, so you don't necessarily have to take a side. It can be a conversation. It doesn't have to be an argument for it takes more conversation, but you have a lot more time. You have, you know, the way first take is set up. Now you've got these lengthy segments where you can really get into depth. So you can have in-depth conversation. It's not super privileged. It's not just off the top. The one thing about around the horn, believe it or not is it's actually easiest to get your take in on filtered because when you're talking is just you and you can go whatever direction you want and PTI, they want you to follow the conversation.
J.A. Adande (25m 7s):
So you might have an excellent point that you prepared to make, but the conversation goes in a different direction and you never get to make it around the horn. If you really have something you want to say, and you ready yourself to say it, you're going to get to say, yeah,
Mark Graban (25m 22s):
Well J.A., maybe a couple questions while I've got you. I'm just curious a little bit about, you know, the, the, the craft of journalism. I was editor of the high school paper growing up and always enjoyed writing, even though my career took a different path away from journalism. But when you think of, you know, reporting and, you know, having multiple sources, getting things right, there's so much emphasis on that. Of course, nowadays, is there more pressure to be first? And does that cause challenges, if you, if you thinking, being first being right, how, how do you do both?
J.A. Adande (26m 0s):
There is more pressure. There's also more penalty for being wrong. So the old adage, I'm sure you've heard it. You know, it's better to be right than to be first. It still applies as much as ever. Yeah. There's more rewards for being first. You know, if you can continuously be the first one and have a reputation for that, but it hasn't changed the need to double-check, you know, if anything is forced more scrutiny, I think I would say the problem is there are fewer layers and there's less filtering. And in particularly if you're going to try to tweet something out and you don't have an editor that can at the very least proofread it, but, but secondarily can maybe help push you and challenge you to make sure you have it right.
J.A. Adande (26m 50s):
To question the source and the agenda, the source to apply logic, to make sure this, this really makes sense now is could this really happen? You know, sometimes you need somebody to be a little skeptical. So what I worry about is how much pushback people have. And so much of the news breakers. Now we're just doing a straight to Twitter. And the problem with that is you're not getting any pre-publication feedback and, and critical assessment.
Mark Graban (27m 17s):
And the longer, bigger investigative pieces have not just editors, but a lot of cases, lawyers involved before something goes to,
J.A. Adande (27m 25s):
And, you know, we all hate having our stories vetted by lawyers. We hate having our stories edited period, right? But it can really save you and a good editor can make it there. That's one thing that really stands out about the Washington Post, especially the editing was so good that I got there. They helped me grow as a journalist. And I just worry about a lot of people. They go out either starting on their own or starting at these smaller sites and you don't get edited again, as much as we say, we hate editing as a writer by, by nature. There's a lot of value to having a good editor.
Mark Graban (28m 1s):
A good is like a coach. Who's helping you continue your,
J.A. Adande (28m 6s):
Or a safety net. If I jump out of a building, you know, I want the equivalent of a safety net. And you know, every time you write, every time you put in your byline out there, in some ways you're dumping out a bill, you're putting your reputation on the line.
Mark Graban (28m 18s):
So maybe the final question when it comes to mistakes, you know, again, even though I was not a student in the Medill school, even just knowing journalists or being around, or you hear reference to the Medill F is that, is that a real practice? And it's a thing. Yeah.
J.A. Adande (28m 35s):
And tell us about that might not actually be an F you know, might be a D a in practice, but the Medill F is based on the need for factual accuracy. And so if there is a factual error, you know, a name is wrong and data's wrong of figure is wrong. You know, some, if there's something that could be checked, that's a factual error proper. Now, if you get that wrong, you fail the assignment, automatic F or C or D. And it's, it's a it's, it's legendary.
J.A. Adande (29m 16s):
It's funny. There's a, there's a, a listserv among us. That's called the Medill F as a nod to the Medill F. You don't hear other schools that like you don't hear other schools that have that F attached to their name, and it speaks to the standards that Medill's held traditionally. And, you know, it's not an expectation. Everybody's going to be perfect. You don't get an F for a typo, but you do get an F if you misspelled somebody's name. And the goal is to instill that dread, that fear, that sick pit in your stomach from making a mistake and having to get to print.
J.A. Adande (30m 2s):
I instilled the Medill F unilaterally. When I was teaching at USC, you know, they didn't have the policy, but I mandated in my class, factual errors were failed assignment. And the best reward was I had a student who was, she was in PR. She went into PR eventually, but she told me that I still like double check everything, the names I want to make sure, you know, I still remember you would give me an app that if I got it wrong and you know, I could still, and like, that's the goal that you want to haunt these students for the rest of their lives. You know, when it comes to making mistakes and, and it's working, that's, that's, the intention is to make you so afraid to make a factual error that you double and trick every double and triple check everything.
J.A. Adande (30m 47s):
So it doesn't happen again, whereas we're all gonna make mistakes, but you want to minimize it. And most importantly, you want to instill the fear of making a mistake so that you, you know, you really, really force people to be careful.
Mark Graban (31m 0s):
Well, there, there was one story. I mentioned Greg Cote earlier. It was a bonus episode of this podcast where he recorded and shared a story. When he was working as a reporter in Miami, it was back during the Falklands war. So this is going back a while, and a professional soccer player there told him a tale about some family members involved in fighting in the Falklands war. And he took it on face value. I guess there was no second source. He didn't go check with any of the governments or militaries and he printed it and it turned out it was all just a made up hogwash. And, and, you know, I think the player was just pulling a joke on him, or so he thought, but, but Greg said that to your point, that dread that fear.
Mark Graban (31m 44s):
He said something like, if someone says their name is Smith, I double-check how they spell Smith over to that.
J.A. Adande (31m 51s):
Well, I'll tell you a mistake, a mistake, you know, they get to the nature of your podcasts. I mean, I, I was thinking of having this be the main one, but somewhat common though. And that was, I wrote a story. There was a indoor soccer coach in Orange County whose father died and his players urged him to keep coaching. You know, he wanted to step away and they were like, we need, and they thought it'd be better. So he coached for them and, and, you know, and he wanted to do it as a tribute to his dad. So I wrote the story and I, I thought, I felt like I did a good job, you know, telling his story. And I try to, you know, add a human touch to it.
J.A. Adande (32m 37s):
And he called me the coach. And he was like, that's a very nice story about my dad, but I forget his exact names, but he goes, you know, his name was Steve, and you called him Dave. And I used the wrong name for it. And I just got it when I was writing it. It just was, you know, they was in my head or whatever the name was, you know? And, and I just, I was so convinced I was right. I didn't double check it. And I had to write that, you know, the editor, it was like, how did this happen? I was like, I just, I thought I was right. That's not good enough. No, that wasn't good enough. I thought I was right.
J.A. Adande (33m 17s):
And I didn't, I trusted myself. That was my mistake was I trusted myself. You should never trust yourself
Mark Graban (33m 24s):
Unless you're a Northwestern football player. And they have that board that says, trust yourself on it,
J.A. Adande (33m 34s):
Mark Graban (33m 34s):
Well, J.A., thank you for, for being a guest today and for sharing some of your stories and your thoughts and insights. Again, we've been joined by J.A. add-on and we talked a lot about ESPN, but again, his currently director of sports, journalism at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. And I'm really, really appreciate you making the time and being on here today. Go ‘Cats,
J.A. Adande (33m 58s):
Mark Graban (33m 59s):
As always. I want to thank you for listening. I hope this podcast inspires you to reflect on your own mistakes, how you can learn from them or turn them into a positive I've had listeners tell me they started being more open and honest about mistakes in their work. And they're trying to create a workplace culture where it's safe to speak up about problems because that leads to more improvement and better business results. If you have feedback or a story to share, you can email me firstname.lastname@example.org. And again, our website is myfavoritemistakepodcast.com.