Sports Sitdown: A writer’s view from the (virtual) press box

  • Samuel Habib, left, interviews Concord Monitor sports editor Tim O’Sullivan. Courtesy

For the Monitor
Published: 9/13/2020 8:42:27 AM

Tim O’Sullivan, sports editor of the Concord Monitor, has been covering the local sports scene since 2003. He didn’t start his journalism career until his late 20s, when he was playing basketball and he struck up a conversation with a reporter from the Portland (Maine) Phoenix, a weekly newspaper, who told him they needed a writer. He loved writing and he loved sports, so he successfully applied to be a writer at the Phoenix. He got the sportswriting bug while working there.

In 2002, he got a job at the Biddeford Journal-Tribune, and also started writing for a new website called The Hoopshype columns, plus his experience at the Journal-Tribune, helped him get the job at the Monitor in 2003. Since Covid, he’s been writing about general news as well as sports.

Samuel: What kind of challenges do you experience in your position?

Tim: Well definitely lots of challenges and they have changed dramatically over the years. I mean obviously we’re experiencing the Covid challenges right now. I’ll leave that alone but before that the challenges of newspapers shrinking, losing money and therefore losing staff. That has been the biggest challenge for the last couple of years. How do you try to produce a quality newspaper with less resources? That gets really especially challenging in the sports department when you’re talking about trying to produce a sports section on deadline where there are games happening at night and you have a very limited amount of time. In the past we were able to solve that problem with a lot of manpower and we just simply don’t have the part-time staff, the full-time staff that we used to have. So you know those last couple hours the night can sometimes be crazy and honestly sometimes we just can’t do as much and the last year we had to cut our coverage area, simply because we were down. Our staff was so small we just couldn’t get out to cover all the schools that we used to. So we had to cut that down a little bit. Those have been the biggest challenges for sure.

Samuel: What was your most memorable moment as the sports editor of the Monitor?

Tim: Probably my most memorable moment I guess would be being in the Boston Garden when the Celtics won their last championship in 2008. I don’t know if that’s my favorite thing but that’s just what kind of popped right into my head. I was able to get on the floor and there was confetti falling and I guess it was already falling but the parquet was covered with confetti and I kind of got to be around the guys, right around their locker room as they were celebrating. Seeing Kevin Garnett up close celebrating his first championship was pretty memorable.

Samuel: What is your favorite part of your job?

Tim: There we go. That’s a good follow-up question to that most memorable part because I figured you were going to ask that Samuel. I was watching the other sit-downs and I was thinking about it and there’s kind of a couple things that are my favorite parts. Two of them are tied for the top. The first one is that it’s really allowed me to become part of the community. I didn’t seek that out when I got this job. I didn’t expect that to happen but it just did and I think it’s because when you’re at a smaller paper like the Monitor, what we’re doing mostly is covering high school sports. You are in the stands with parents, with teachers or athletic directors. You’re writing stories about people that you know their children or you know kids that go to school with your kids. I’ve been in Concord so long now and I’ve been going to these games for so long and know so many of these people. I just really feel like it’s allowed me to become part of the community. I get to help tell the story of Concord, New Hampshire and I get to be a little bit of a part of that story and that to me has been really rewarding and really it’s an unexpected reward. I should have known or if I thought about it I may be able to figure it out but it’s been great. The other thing is I get to be a writer. That’s number two. Ever since I was a little boy I wanted to be a writer and to get to do the thing that you always wanted to do is pretty special. Whenever I get a little grumpy about my job, which happens every now and again, I remind myself I get to do what I really love to do for a living.

Samuel: How has COVID-19 impacted your work and life?

Tim: It stopped sports so that really changed a huge part of my work and the truth is I really am enjoying writing about other things other than sports. I’ve been writing about sports for so long. It’s nice to have a new challenge or just think about different things. I feel like that’s almost been a little bit of a positive silver linings impact as well. I get to work during the day now. I work like eight to four as my schedule whereas the sports editor, was four to twelve. I’d work until midnight and so that got tiring after a while. I kind of like working during the day. I’m always working from home. We are not in the office so we don’t get that camaraderie. I don’t get to go out and be in covering things, being present, watching people do whatever it is they’re doing,  whether it’s playing sports or doing their job. Things that we would be writing, I can do it talking to people over the phone and doing interviews and that’s basically mostly what I’ve been doing but it is challenging to not be able to be somewhere to look somebody in the eye just to watch them do what they do and then have to write a story about that. It’s definitely turned things upside down but I think I feel like I’ve enjoyed it to a degree. I’ve tried to find the silver linings in it and I am proud of the Monitor and the people that work there. I feel like we’ve done a good job dealing with all the challenges and still putting out a newspaper at a time when it’s important to put out a quality newspaper.

Samuel: Are you working from home now due to COVID-19 and if so, how has your position changed due to working from home?

Tim: I am working from home. I have been out the last couple of weeks. There have been some youth baseball leagues happening around New Hampshire and I have gone to some of those games. Working from home, again a lot of time on the phone, a lot of long phone interviews, which you get used to doing. Previously, I did a lot of that but definitely a lot more of it now. I have been having trouble with my internet connection so that’s been really tough working at home. There are these little difficulties that come up like things like that and when I’m done with work I don’t get to go home because I’m just home. I know a lot of people are dealing with that right now but it is kind of weird to be just in the same building all day long. Just as far as the work itself, I do feel like we’re pretty lucky in that I can make phone calls and I can write from home and we can work from home and produce quality stories in a quality newspaper remotely.

Samuel: What do you think about major college football conferences such as the Big Ten and Pac-12 not playing football in the fall?

Tim: I think it makes sense to be honest with you. I just think there are too many variables when you’re dealing with college kids both on the team and potentially on campus and in the stands. I’m worried about what it might do to some of those athletic programs at the big conferences but also with smaller schools, even smaller division one schools like UNH. The football programs generate so much money for schools that I know it’s going to create some financial hardships and I do worry that people will start losing jobs in sports. That’s a tough thing. All that being said, I think it’s the right decision. The coronavirus is really difficult and that we’ve all had to do things we don’t want to do and I know people are losing patience with that but I think we need to keep doing it for a little while and so I think it’s the right decision. I’ll miss UNH football a lot more than I’ll miss Penn State football or you know any other college football. I have missed sports. I will miss those sports when the fall rolls around but in the end I think it’s the right thing.

Samuel: What do you think about the bubble system that is used for the NBA and what do you think it would be like to be a journalist living and working in the bubble environment with players, coaches and other personnel?

Tim: Yeah, I definitely thought about that. I’ve been listening to podcasts with guys inside the bubble and honestly I don’t think I’d like it. I might enjoy it for a week, a couple weeks, but, oh man, I don’t think I’d want to be there for three or four months. That being said, I’ve loved watching the games. I love how they’re on, like you can watch NBA games all day long. It feels kind of like March Madness or something where you can just start watching basketball at noon or one o’clock and then it doesn’t end. I’ve enjoyed watching and the Celtics have looked great so that’s an extra bonus. You know until Gordon Hayward’s injury ... but that’s all right, I think they can still overcome. I’m excited for a nice long Celtics playoff run but I would not want to be in the bubble. No thank you.

Samuel: How successful do you  think the NFL will be in terms of navigating Covid-19?

Tim: I’m worried about that too because they really can’t have a bubble. There’s so many players, I just feel like there will probably be a lot more positive tests. I have a feeling it’ll be closer to baseball in terms of there will be teams that it just spreads through. As opposed to the NBA where it’s been really, I don’t even think there have been any positive tests and I think that the overall play will suffer. Just look at the Patriots alone already. They’re you know they were one of the best in the league but they’ve had five or six guys opt out and I think guys are gonna test positive and they’ll have to sit down and I don’t think there’ll be a shortage of replacement players. I think there will be plenty of guys willing to step up and give it their all but I’m not as confident and I’m not so confident that the NFL will be able to duplicate the NBA success. Again, my guess is it’ll be closer to the kind of rocky start that we’ve seen for Major League Baseball. I hope it goes great. I hope nobody gets it. I hope the NFL is successful and safe and all that but if I had to bet I would say they have some challenges.

Samuel: Local schools such as Concord High School announced that they were canceling sports in the fall (before reversing the decision and allowing sports in the fall). 

Tim: I’m glad that the kids will be able to play as long as we can keep everything safe. As the schools keep everything safe and people follow the guidelines …  I know it had a really hard effect at the end of the winter season and missing the spring, like a lot of kids who had to miss their senior seasons for baseball and softball and lacrosse and things like that. It just was heartbreaking. It really is and people use that word all the time and sometimes I think maybe that’s a little overblown. We’ve all had to make sacrifices but in the moment losing your seniors it can feel like a lot. Hopefully things will be smoothed out, they’ll be able to go forward with this plan but I think the full effect still really is to be determined.


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