From The Dew Tour To Daytime Court Judge, A Q&A with Jazz Beat Reporter, Ross Siler

You don't have to read SLC Dunk for long before seeing a link to one of Ross Siler's columns, blog posts, or many insightful or news-breaking tweets.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Siler is one of the hardest-working beat writers out there. That's no knock on the other beat writers by any means. He's become one of the best in the country.

For a small glimpse into what his day consists of, check out the NBA TV profile of him

So with his departure from the Trib, I don't think it's an exaggeration that we're losing part of the Jazz family. That family consists of the Jazz organization itself, the fans, and the news organizations.

It's never easy making decisions like this one you've achieved so much but I think it's a noble one on his part. I wish nothing but the best for him and his family.

Thanks to Ross for answering a few questions for SLC Dunk

Most fans' reaction is, "Are you crazy? You're giving up a dream job!" I know you love your job as a beat reporter but I also know it's not the most glamorous position that most fans think it is. For those that might not know, can you say why you're leaving your position as a Jazz beat writer?

I’ve long thought that everybody wants to have my job, but most people probably would reconsider after they did it for two weeks during the season. It’s not such a dream job when you’re sitting in the Minneapolis airport at 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 31 having gotten zero sleep and hoping that you’ll make your connection in Atlanta to get to Oklahoma City for that night’s game. That was one of our back-to-backs last season.

I’m heartbroken, though, to be leaving this job, which I loved tremendously. People congratulate me on going to law school and I’m just numb because I don’t know what to say back. My wife and I went back and forth on how we could make it work having a family with me continuing to be a beat writer and kept coming up empty on an answer.

There’s also no escaping the realities of the newspaper business. All I’ve wanted is the chance to work at a place like the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times or Boston Globe. Given the struggles of those papers, I guess I lost my faith that at some point hard work would be enough to get me there.

And with the sacrifices you have to make in this job - - spending 100-plus nights a season on the road - - I started to consider a different career path. I took the LSAT last fall as a fallback plan given the economy, then went ahead and applied to law schools and am going to be heading to the University of Washington in Seattle.

This has been a painful decision at times and there have been nights when I’ve reconsidered, especially when I start thinking about all the high school cross-country meets and junior college football games and Dew Tours I covered just to get a chance at being an NBA writer. But I’m also intrigued by what law school will bring.

I’ve let down some people at the Tribune who’ve gone to great lengths in looking out for me over the years. The one thing I want to stress is that even though I’m leaving, the Tribune could not be a more exceptional place for a beat writer to work.

At the absolute depths of the recession last summer, I went in to talk with my editor about planning for the next couple of months. The Jazz were heading to summer league in Orlando, Fla., were going to Europe in the preseason and we had John Stockton and Jerry Sloan being enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

I went in acknowledging that we’d have to make some tough choices about what to cover - - every travel budget in the country was being slashed - - but I was told to buy the tickets to all three. The Tribune never said no to staying on the road an extra couple of days to do a feature on Kyle Korver’s hometown in Iowa or what happened to Kirk Snyder.

There’s a commitment there that a lot of people probably don’t realize. This is one of the best beats in the NBA and that’s not even taking into account that you’re writing for one of the most rabid fan bases in the country. There were no limitations in being able to do the kind of work you were proud of.

You worked for the Daily News in LA where you landed the job as beat writer for the Lakers. We're glad you decided to take the job at the Trib to cover the Jazz, but from a career standpoint, it seems like covering the Lakers in a big market is right near the top of journalism gigs. Why the move to Utah?

It can be a maddening experience trying to compete on a beat like the Lakers against a paper like the L.A. Times. It was as simple as wanting to prove what I could do as the primary beat writer for a paper like the Tribune. It would have been an incredible experience to cover a championship team, but I was able to do much better work coming to the Tribune. Our Jazz/NBA coverage won national writing awards for game stories, features, enterprise writing, project reporting and investigative reporting in the last two years. It really was one of the easiest decisions to come work here. I knew getting on the plane to come interview that I was going to take the job.

Besides the lengthy travel and short deadlines, what are you not going to miss about being a beat writer?

We actually have remarkably good deadlines, even for those 8:30 p.m. TNT games. I’m not going to miss the back-to-backs, when I slept probably an average of 2 1-2 hours a night the last six years. I’m also not going to miss those interminable first-round playoff series as well as the madness of trying to cover free agency.

What are you going to miss the most?

When I first started as a beat writer, I figured the travel would be the best part of the job and dealing with the players would be the worst. I had it exactly opposite. There’s something wonderful about covering a small-market team like the Jazz in that you get to actually know the players in the locker room. I’m going to miss those interactions the most, the kind that you only get when you’re in Indiana in the midst of a four-game trip. I’m going to miss the games and waiting to see what storyline would develop each night. I’m going to miss watching Deron Williams’ continued growth as a player. And I’m going to miss being around the funniest Ukrainian in the world.

I think what most fans admired most about your writing is that you reported on a lot of the stuff that fans would ask players if they were in your position or reported stuff that they would want to know. Your blog reported more of this kind of stuff than the main article that would run in the paper. Did you have this manner of thinking when you're writing your stories? That you're writing for the fans? How did you come up with the angles or questions to ask?

I just went into each day trying to write about what I thought was interesting with the team. Between the shootarounds, the practices and the games, you end up with a lot more material than you need for the stories in the paper and I thought the blog was a great outlet for that. I always considered it like the special features part of a DVD. One of the key things in doing this job is to remember that you’re writing for so many different audiences. There’s fans who watch every game each season. There’s people who post on message boards and the comment sections of the papers. There’s casual fans who follow the team and go to a handful of games a year. There’s Illinois fans who follow just because of Deron Williams and Marquette fans who followed just because of Wesley Matthews. You have to make sure to remember that you’re writing for all those different audiences regularly.

You seemed to have a fountain of knowledge, stats, player info at your fingertips. Do you have a master spreadsheet of sorts where you keep track of all of this such as player movements, who played whom and when, etc.?

I am nowhere near that organized. After you do this job long enough, you know where to look in your own files or on the Internet to find all of that information quickly. The salary information is especially important when you’re writing about payroll commitments and such. The Jazz’s p.r. department also was very helpful. My two favorite stats that I had them look up in my time on the beat were Brevin Knight’s career winning percentage when he came to the Jazz (terrible) and Kyle Korver’s winning percentage in the games he played in Utah (extraordinary).

What's next after law school? Is there any particular industry you're looking into? Are you going to be repping Deron in a couple of years when his contract is up?

I would love to find a path that leads back to the NBA, but I’m going into this expecting to make a complete career change. Everyone asks if there’s a particular area of law I want to go into and my answer for now is that I want to be one of those judges on daytime TV. I would love to work on contracts for a team or be a capologist but those jobs are few and far between.

...

Just in closing I’d like to say thanks to Tim Buckley for being a good guy to do the beat with. It’s crazy, because I’ve never been to Europe with my wife but I have been with Tim.

I’ve also never been to Oklahoma City with my wife but I have been with Tim. I’ll also note that after leaving the Lakers beat, the team went to the NBA Finals three consecutive years and won two championships. I’ve reminded Kevin O’Connor that my departure might be the greatest thing that could happen to the Jazz. Thanks also to everybody for their support over the years . . . even the lawyers who’ve sent messages on Twitter that I’m making the worst mistake of my life. I’m looking forward to catching up with the Jazz in Portland next season. I'll be leaving @tribjazz for the next writer but eventually will make my way over to @rosssiler.

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