Since the start of the Fall 2018 semester, the office in room 141 of Lowell Thomas, reserved for the Director of Sports Communication, has laid empty. However, on Tuesday, Oct. 2, Marist announced the new occupant: Jane McManus.
McManus’ qualifications speak for themselves. As a long-time reporter for ESPN, she covered New York sports, as well as U.S. Opens, Super Bowls and NCAA Final Fours. Her byline has appeared across multiple publications, and she has appeared on multiple panels discussing issues in sports and interviewing athletes and other innovators in the field. She also gained academic experience prior to joining the Center for Sports Communication as an adjunct professor teaching sports reporting at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism—where she received her own Master’s degree.
McManus will begin leading the program on Dec. 1. As for what occupying that office means for the department itself, the horizon is full of new ideas, as well as the expansion of current ones. For McManus, the only direction is forward.
“I have a ton of ideas and it’ll take some time to see what is possible and what most interests faculty and students. I’d like to do some research on the media industry, really diagnose some of the issues in sports media and assess what direction things are heading in,” she said.
Coming from such a prevalent sports background, students across the board are excited for the opportunity to work with McManus. The experience she brings can benefit the students’ education as well. With the addition of Leander Schaerlaeckens as the interim director and newest sports communications professor last September, a fresh perspective, coming directly from professional experience, was added to the department. As a writer for FOXsports.com, ESPN, and Yahoo Soccer, Schaerlaeckens was able to provide insight and education directly from the field many of the students hope to go into. With McManus on board, this perspective will continue to broaden.
“I think having Jane McManus running the Center gives us a major injection of industry know-how, credibility and cachet,” said Schaerlaeckens. “Her experience and insights from decades in the industry will, I think, really propel us to a new level.”
McManus also sees the importance of teaching from experience. Emphasizing the significance of going out in the field and gaining one’s own experience, she sees the value of incorporating those experiences into the classroom.
“The incredible faculty here has had years of experience covering events and issues,” McManus said. “Journalism is one of those disciplines where you learn in the classroom but need to practice it yourself.”
As in any academic department, the focus is on providing students with an education that can serve them in their future careers. Part of what she believes can best serve the students is the ability to understand the workings of the industry itself.
Under the current curriculum, the seminars of Sports, Culture, and Communication and Issues in Sports Media lay the base for the concentration at Marist. Before students get into the practical sides of the industry, they learn about its history and how it applies today. When she arrives at Marist, McManus plans to continue to focus on this history and integrate it into the practical future of the field.
“I’m also a big believer in sports journalism as a craft with a deep history, and one that sometimes gets lost in a chaotic news cycle,” she said. “I’d like to weave in a sense of where we as an industry have been, and how storytelling has functioned in our history—whose stories get told for example—so that we see our own stories in a context.”
The Center began its own launch into the future last January. With the introduction of Center Field, Marist Athletics is being comprehensively covered for the first time. The students recognized this as a gap in the market and used this as an opportunity to learn while publishing their own work in a professional-like environment. Additionally, the Center for Sports Communications has been supporting a number of student-run podcasts. The student-driven work within the department is something McManus hopes to expand upon and push even further into the practicalities of the industry.
“There are so many solid pieces in place already. I want to make sure we maintain a technical edge in terms of equipment and training, and I want to keep bringing in professionals who can show our students how to use these tools to communicate in a way they will likely need by their first day on the job.”
New leadership can bring a great deal of new ideas, as well as a new outlook and support of ongoing projects. Schaerlaeckens sees both of these factors as significant in the development of the department with McManus on board.
“The list of things we’ve wanted to do is almost endless, and Jane brings her own vision to the table. And with her as our director, we’re limited primarily by our imagination,” he said.
As new technology is becoming a stronger part of the department, McManus sees the importance of learning and perfecting these technical skills. However, another area she hopes to emphasize is one that people have begun to forget about with the emphasis on technology in the past several years: the namesake itself, communication.
“The goal is engagement,” she said. Getting students to learn how to effectively communicate outside of their everyday comfort zones is something she sees as important in every discipline of communication. While recognizing the importance of other aspects, such as distributing media and finding sources, McManus believes those concepts are only part of the bigger picture. “The ability to see through someone else’s eyes is the first step.”
As well as teaching students to communicate well in different sects of the field, she values discussion within the department as an important learning tool. The Speaker Series that the Center for Sports Communication hosts every year is set to start up again during the spring semester. Expanding on the insight this event brings from people already in the industry, she wants students to be a part of important dialogue as well.
“I love discussion and would want to have a number of yearly symposiums where we can take a moment, say Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka’s U.S. Open final, and really get into the layers of what happened there with journalists who were there and experts who can give that moment context.”
From the technical side of the industry to the deep historical and cultural implications, McManus brings a wide range of knowledge and new ideas to the department. The excitement of bringing someone with the experience and qualifications of Jane McManus on board is very clear among students and faculty alike. Regardless of what happens next, as Schaerlaeckens said, the only limit is imagination.
Edited by Meaghan Roche & Will Bjarnar
Header Photo courtesy of ESPN.com