Newsday’s Alan Hahn on life as a beat reporter.
by Matt Lawyue
One of the most overlooked aspects in the basketball universe is the job of the reporter. I’m not talking about the “World Wide Leader” force-feeding you every insignificant Brett Favre moment. I’m referring to the old school, hard-nosed journalists. The ones who travel with the team and immerse themselves in their culture, camouflaging as the fly on the wall. The men and women who provide analysis to help make sense of their cities sports world.
Over the weekend I caught up with Newsday’s Knicks beat reporter, Alan Hahn. He’s been in Saratoga, NY following the Knicks training camp. Hahn’s amassed a loyal contingent through his blog, “The Knicks Fix,” where he discusses the team and then some. He’s been covering the Knicks circus show for the past three seasons.
SLAM: Your bio says you covered eight seasons of the Islanders and NHL before you took over the Knicks in ’06. How was that transition from covering hockey to basketball? It seemed you went from a pretty average Islanders team to a just a dreadful Knicks team.
Alan Hahn: I think covering the Islanders, I mean they had so many dysfunctional moments, it almost prepared me for when I stepped into it (the Knicks) so I was kind of used to it. I feel like they put me there because I had the background for it. Hockey was a passion of mine but basketball I played it. It was a pretty easy transition, I grew up a Knicks fan so I know the history and I followed the team while I was covering hockey. It helped I knew some of the guys on the beat to begin with and it was sort of like a dream come true. When I first got into the business, if you asked me what could I see myself doing, covering the Knicks was definitely on that list.
SLAM: You’re a pretty consistent Twitterer, blogger and you use Cover-It-Live. What’s next on your social media agenda? Are you trying to incorporate any video at all?
AH: I actually did try that on my blog. I put a video of some practice and it came out terrible. I’ll never do that again. It looked like a peephole video, you know what I mean? It was awful. I don’t foresee myself putting any much into that stuff because I’m being paid to write not to produce or be a cameraman. People joke with me on this beat that they say I use too much of that social media stuff. I remember how I felt as a fan. I wanted to know every single detail about the team that I could, even the stuff that you don’t see on TV, which is like practice or even training camp. I just feel like, what’s the kind of stuff a fan would want to know and I throw that in there and try it make it entertaining.
SLAM: That’s exactly my next question. You touched on this, are there any drawbacks to this 24/7 news cycle we live in where everybody can tweet, everybody can blog? Do you think it takes some of the glamour away from being a beat reporter?
AH: I think that’s a good point. I don’t know if there was any glamour to being a beat writer, but I do know what you’re trying to say. At this point it does sort of take the exclusivity out of it. You’re not the “be all end all” at this point. You are competing a lot of times, not just with the people around you covering the team everyday, but you’re also competing with people that can’t get the access they need. Even people just watching on T.V. just because they don’t have the access to players getting the quotes and what not, they still have perspective. I think it just ups the competition and makes you have to work harder. You have to be up on everything at this point. It’s hard. You’re right, the 24/7 you’re not getting much sleep or getting any days off.
SLAM: Professional athletes are a very superstitious bunch. They all have their routines or little quirks before game time. As a reporter, what’s your routine while on the Knicks beat? Do you yourself do any of these weird, quirky things to prepare yourself for game time?
AH: [Laughs] I spend the day of the game reading as much as I can about both teams, so if something happens at the game you know the back-story. For the most part, it’s just getting to the arena as early as possible, talking to people and kind of getting into it. I could never just show up and write. I’m not that talented. I need to be in the mode, and that’s why a lot of times I get to the arena early and I’ll sit on the sidelines or the court. The dance team is practicing and there’s only one or two players shooting around, but there’s something about just being there under the lights, on the court, that just gets you in the mode.
SLAM: Now, I have to ask you this- your Newsday bio says you’re a sports reporter living on Long Island and living with three kids. How many times have you gotten the Everybody Loves Raymond comparison?
AH: [Laughs] My uncle calls me Raymond for obvious reasons. I get that a lot, but I’m sure all the guys at Newsday get that. I think it’s a pretty common thing because of the show. Every now and then my mother, when I don’t take the time to pick up or I’m in the middle of something, she’ll call me Raymond.
SLAM: It’s no secret that the Knicks media policy isn’t the most accommodating to reporters. What would you like to see changed about how they run things?
AH: It’s actually gotten a lot better. It’s nowhere near what it was during Isiah’s (Thomas) time. We’re actually invited in to watch practices or scrimmages, which is unprecedented when you consider the history. The new regime — Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni — are very acceptable and they’re very comfortable to talk to. It’s not like they’re sharing secrets, but it’s always good to be able to pick the brain of the franchise or the head coach. That’s come a long, long way. I mean, does the team give you full access? No, no team in the NBA does. But it’s certainly not what it was. What policy would I like to see changed? I would love to sit in the locker room before the game to see what the coach has to say [speaking facetiously]. I’d be there at the end of the game too to see what he has to say too.
SLAM: There are a lot of beat reporters following the Knicks compared to other cities. How do you balance the underlying competitiveness to ultimately get the story out first? You obviously have to see these guys every day, so how do you balance that with the camaraderie you guys have?
AH: You have to be professional and understand that a job is a job. If somebody got something up first, you know everybody will have their turn, you just have to show respect. “Hey, good job.” You can’t take that stuff personal. I’m not doing something to make Frank Isola (New York Daily News) look bad. You know what I mean? I’m not doing something to make Howard Beck (New York Times) look bad. And I’m sure they’re not doing that to make me look bad. You’re just doing your job. You’re making your calls and when you hear something you put it up. And if it happens to be first, you hope the other guys tip the cap. The hardest thing about coming on to a beat like this with guys that have been around, like Mark [Berman] (New York Post) and Frank have been, you have to say to yourself, you know I’ve got to catch up. I’m the new guy. For the last three years all I’ve been doing is playing catch-up and I still think I am at this point.
SLAM: In July of last summer, Newsday was bought by Cablevision, which owns the Knicks. What’s it like working under a James Dolan umbrella? Did anything change editorially for you?
AH: Not for me. I’ll be honest with you, and I mean this sincerely, I was extremely happy when Cablevision bought Newsday. The reason was, the industry right now and the way the business is going and how many papers are struggling, a couple even going under like the Rocky Mountain News did. To me, the company was financial stability. It made me feel better because we were owned by Tribune before that, and that company was struggling and wanted to get rid of all its different assets and we were really worrying where we would end up. There were talks that the Post was trying to buy us. I looked at Marc Berman and said, “They’re not going to need two of us.” No one came to me and said, ‘Hey by the way, you start writing as if you’re writing for NYKnicks.com or you’re fired.’ That never happened. I was allowed to continue to do what I do. So far, so great.
SLAM: In the New York sports media scene, if you’ve picked up a paper in the past 10 years or so, more than likely you’ve read from Mike Lupica of the Daily News or one of Peter Vecsey’s column’s in the Post. Do you have any interesting encounters with them?
AH: I don’t know Mike at all, but Peter did call me out once last year on a story I had. He didn’t mention me by name but he mentioned Newsday in his column, suggesting that I had gotten the story wrong, which I had gotten the story right. People were like “are you mad at Peter?” I said, “No, it’s an honor!” I got called out by him, so he actually reads what I write. Here’s what it was: I had written before training camp last year that the team was talking about buying out (Stephon) Marbury before camp, so he wouldn’t be there. And then there’s Marbury at camp on the first day. They ended up talking about it but not doing it. So I’m at camp and there’s Peter looking at me, with this face on like he’s waiting for me to bash him and act all mad, but I laughed and said, “Hey, thanks for the mention.” He just started laughing. To have my story referenced in his column was an honor. He’s been covering this beat almost as long as I’ve been alive. He’s a hall-of-famer now.
SLAM: Who’s been the most difficult player you’ve had to cover so far?
AH: Steph, obviously is up there. You always had to be around in case he said something. I’m not big into the whole paparazzi thing, where you have to run up to them with a tape recorder. But that’s what it got like. That was annoying because you wanted to concentrate on other players on the team and you’d be in a conversation with a guy, and then Steph walks into the locker room. You’d have to interrupt your conversation to get over to his locker just in case he had something to say or if he was going to pop off. In saying that, I also found him very entertaining. He’d always give you something to write about.
Isiah (aka “he-who-shall-not-be-named” — ML) was tough, but I don’t know if it was his fault. He just wouldn’t talk and wouldn’t reveal anything. He wasn’t very warm, but I think he had good reason for that too.
SLAM: I’ll get you out of here on this last question — Do you watch ESPN’s Around the Horn at all? Any chance of us seeing you on there some day?
AH: I don’t even know how to get on a show like that. It seems like the same guys. There are some people they say you went into print media for a reason or you have a face for radio. Maybe that’s what people think of me, I’m better left in print.
Knickled & Dimed List
— Knicks media policy
— Reporter’s politics
— Around the Horn not showing NY love