USA TODAY Golf and Tennis Editor Joe Fleming on Approach Shots

Journalism veteran and current USA TODAY golf and tennis editor Joe Fleming took a few questions on how his periodical approaches the coverage of tennis.

Global Village Tennis News: As both the golf and tennis editor of USA TODAY what are the unique challenges in covering each sport?

Joe Fleming: Frankly, tennis is the greater challenge for me because USA TODAY does not have a dedicated tennis writer on staff. I write when I can, and I have a contract writer, Douglas Robson, who covers the Slams for us. And we use Doug for all sorts of features/news stories as they come up. Tennis also is so global, spread all around the world, and the players hail from so many places. Golf is global, too, of course, but our main focus is on the U.S.-based PGA Tour. The other issue for me is the prominence of the Slam events, which so overwhelms the regular tour events. It’s hard to draw attention to what’s going on in tennis outside the Slams. Golf has that problem, too, but it is less of a factor: The PGA Tour is on network TV every weekend from January through September.

GVTN: Which sport is more “media” friendly and why?

JF: Both have their strengths … and weaknesses. I love tennis’ mix of fabulous personalities … there’s no Petkorazzi in golf. And I personally love the fact that they come from so many places. And I give the nod to tennis’ athletes in terms of their connection with fans, their embrace of new media. Some golfers have bought in, of course, but I find golfers overall a bit more reserved. (Some of this is no doubt a function of age.) I think tennis also has an advantage with its female stars, who occupy the same level as the men. Not so in golf. As in all sports, tennis’ big stars can be hard to get to. Golf does have one huge star (Tiger Woods), and he’s American … USA TODAY does try to focus on Americans (the home team, if you will). Tennis’ huge stars don’t move the needle in the USA the way Woods does. But, as mentioned above, golf has a steady, reliable presence on networks TV in the USA. Tennis does not.

GVTN: Does USA TODAY have any sort of “philosophy” in its coverage of tennis?

JF: First, for many reasons, we place our emphasis, effort — and money — on coverage of the Grand Slams. The vast majority of our yearly budget goes into the four majors, and particularly Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Second, we try to concentrate on American players. Again, for USA TODAY (we call ourselves The Nation’s Newspaper, after all) they are the home team. That means focusing on Americans at the Slams … and, in what has become an annual story, really, the state of the game in the USA. Where are the next stars? Are tennis’ governing bodies in the USA doing what’s necessary to find those stars and promote the game. Third, we look for trends, breaking news and good reads. As for the week-to-week regular-tour events, those do get adequate coverage online. In the print edition, they get short shrift … space restraints, mostly. Although we do find room for bigger play, say, in March, for the back-to-back combined events in Indian Wells and Key Biscayne and in the summer for the US Open series.

GVTN: How do you see the future coverage of tennis?

JF: The future already is here. Blogs — bloggers are covering events regularly, perhaps more than traditional media are now. Twitter — I can follow matches pretty closely by monitoring the various Tennis Twitterati (my word). You might be amazed at how loyal — and knowledgeable and insightful — some of these people really are … about their favorite players and the game itself. I expect more of this. I think there is more room for the kinds of stories USA TODAY tries to do now, not always tied to results but focusing on the personalities and the trends in the game. I also worry that some of the mainstream media might end up doing less and less. That might not be a concern for everyone, but as someone who works in the mainstream media it worries me.

GVTN: If you could change anything about covering the world of tennis, what would it be?

JF: More regular, consistent and understandable TV coverage. A challenge, of course, because the tours are playing all over the world. But it is a problem.

GVTN: Are you a tennis fan yourself and do you play?

JF: I am a tennis fan and have been as long as I can remember. My first real memory was being shocked to hear that Jimmy Connors had lost to Arthur Ashe in the 1975 Wimbledon final. I watch when I can, and I follow each week. As for playing, I love to play but don’t get out as often as I would like. My game is a work in progress; I spray it from the baseline and cower at the net … probably could be voted worst player in all of tennis media. Alas. … Frankly, if USA TODAY needed a representative to play in a media tournament, I would tap Doug Robson, who played tennis at Yale.

Joe Fleming has been a journalist for 22 years. He’s worked for the Arkansas Gazette, the Desert Sun and USA TODAY. Since 1997 Fleming has been with USA TODAY and became the golf and tennis editor in 2006.

In his spare time he enjoys playing golf, traveling, reading, eating and whiling away the hours in a good bar.

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