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Interview: Shalise Manza Young of The Providence Journal

There are many things I like about this gig.  Writing is a big part of it; learning from all the passionate commentors is another; and, even chatting with rival fanbases is on the list.  But, one of the highlights is when I get a chance to chat with local sports writers.  I wish I could say I was working on this one forever, putting in the hours for my readership, walking to work...uphill...both ways.  Not the case.  Shalise is cool, really cool.  The conversation went something like this: "Shalise, I'm a guy who runs a blog; here's a pointer.  Would you do an interview for our blog?"  "Sure.  I'd love to."

As you know, Shalise Manza Young pens for The Providence Journal or for you netizens.  Following Marima's links, you'll notice Shalise is linked to or quoted  almost daily on this blog.  She's an excellent writer, doing a bang up job of providing her readership with the latest and greatest from a maniacally tight lipped organization.  But, to diverge a little from her talents as a sports writer, I consider her a role model.  As the father of two daughters (I live in an estrogen bath), I'm constantly on the lookout for strong female figures I can point to and say, "See her?  She did it.  And did it the right way."  In chatting with her, I found Shalise to be proud of her accomplishments, but not in an egotistical, chest pounding sort of way.  She cracked the predominantly male, old boys network that is Boston Sports Writing and did it with chops and hard work.  Spot on ya, Shalise.

What is your background? How did you get into sports writing?

I'm a New England girl born and raised, living in Pawtucket, R.I. from age 8 though college; I graduated from Syracuse University. Before I graduated from high school, I was blessed to get an internship at the Providence Journal through a minorities in media program they are no longer affiliated with. I always had an interest in sports, and it seemed like a great thing to be able to get paid to tell people about sporting events. Lucky for me the sports editor at the time, Dave Bloss, took me in and made me one of his writers during the summers of my internship, and I got to do some things on my own as well as learn from my colleagues, doing sidebars at PawSox and Red Sox games and Patriots' training camp. In the 14-plus years I've been at the ProJo, I've covered just about every sport there is, from high school to the pros, and I became the Pats beat writer in 2006, after Tom Curran left for

From our vantage point, it appears the Patriots organization is fairly tight lipped about news (ex: Brady's rehab progress) and information comes out in a very organized and controlled fashion. Do you ever get "unscripted" news? Are there ever times when you get "unsupervised" access to a player?

New England is *very* tight-lipped about information, and picks and chooses the news it wants to get out there to the public and through which outlets. I've been told that the best way to cover the Patriots is to not count on the Patriots to give you information; look for other teams who can do it, and I've been working on that. There are times when you get unscripted news, which is where sources come into play. As for unsupervised access to players, that comes in several forms: face to face, it's if you go to a charity event for his foundation (not a team-sponsored event), or if you have an emails/phone numbers and the type of relationship with certain players where you can ask for info.

There seems to be no more barriers to publishing a story due to the immediate nature of the Internet; the deadline is literally as fast as you can get it online. Is it all about "being first"? Is good writing suffering as a whole?

For someone like me, who considers herself a writer first, and wants stories to not just be informative but also a good read, this is a particular problem. But more than that, blogging and the immediacy of the internet have absolutely had a negative effect on journalism in general -- you're right, it is all about being first, even if it's by three minutes, and if it turns out a couple of facts in the story were wrong, well, at least you were first and you got acknowledged on the ESPN crawl or or by one of your competitors. And by the time anyone realizes you may have gotten one or two things wrong, you've either clarified or the original story has been forgotten anyway.

It would seem Boston area sports writers has been an "Old Boys Network". What was it like for a female sports writer to crack into that network? Were you accepted right off the bat or did you have to earn your stripes?

Though I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by it, the biggest issue I have is with readers. When they disagree with something I've written, there's a 50 percent chance that they'll insult me and my woman-ness (i.e. go back to the kitchen; you should write for Ladies Home Journal not the Providence Journal). Lots of readers assume that every male football writer played football, and therefore he must know what he's talking about more than I do, and that's not the case. I love football; just because I never put on pads doesn't mean I don't have knowledge of the game.

As for the other Boston-area writers, most have always been pretty cool with me. There has also been a changing of the guard, so to speak, in recent years, and particularly among those on the Pats beat. Many of the other reporters I see every day -- Chris Gasper, Mike Reiss, Chris Price, John Tomase, Albert Breer -- are all fairly close to me in age. That said, I put pressure on myself because I'm a woman, and especially because I'm a minority woman (as far as I know, the only one in the country, which is a source of pride and a little sad), covering the NFL.

Who are your mentors and influences? Who do you like to read?

My biggest mentor is our columnist Bill Reynolds; he has always been a sounding board for me in every facet of my life. When I was at Syracuse (and back when those of us who put out the paper still got it for free), they mailed me the daily paper -- even though I always got it five days late, I always read Bill's Saturday column, and most of his Sunday stories. His style has leaked into my own I think. Jim Donaldson has also been very helpful since I've been the Pats writer; often I'll run stories leads [the first 2-3 paragraphs] by him in the press box and he might suggest a way to tighten it up or carry a theme throughout the story. He also introduced me to Irish coffees at their birthplace, the Buena Vista, in San Francisco :o)

I like to read good writing no matter what it is, though I don't get the chance to do it as much as I'd like.

Tom Brady is quoted as saying he'll be ready for the 2009 season. The question is, "When?" If he's not ready at the beginning of the season, Matt Cassel would have to steer the ship for a period of time while Brady rehabs; then we're chewing up ~$26 million in cap space. Ideally, Brady's progressing nicely and we can negotiate a trade by draft time. Any thoughts?

I was at Brady's appearance on Wednesday, and based on what he said, I think he'll be ready to go by training camp at the latest. He's been golfing, and as any golfer can attest, there's a lot of pressure on the knees when you're swinging the driver -- that piece of info to me is the best sign yet for Pats fans that he's really progressing.

One of the tenets of the Patriot Way under Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli (and I assume Nick Caserio/Floyd Reese will be no different) is spending wisely to insure roster depth; I highly doubt they'd spend nearly a quarter of the salary cap on two players, particularly when not both players can be on the field at the same time. I really think they'll trade Cassel. I feel a little bit bad for Cassel that he won't be able to pick his landing spot, but the Pats are within their rights to franchise and trade him, and just as he came through for them last year [which, by the way, was a heck of a surprise for me -- I was among those who had him getting cut at the end of camp], he might come though again, in the form of valuable draft picks. And we all know how savvy the Pats are with picks.

A big shoutout to Shalise Manza Young for taking the time to chat with us about sports writing, the NFL and, of course, the New England Patriots.  You can catch her most excellent writings at the Providence Journal.