Being a sports writer is a dream job for many sports fans. You basically get to watch sports, write about them and get paid for it. The one caveat: You need sports to actually be happening in order to write about them.
Normally, that’s not an issue, but these are not normal times. Basically everything sports related has been canceled for the past month due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving sports reporters on unsteady ground. Some are still telling players’ stories or breaking down old games. Others are writing about lighter topics like video games. But some, like Alex Putterman of the Hartford Courant, have made the full transition from covering sports to covering COVID-19.
Putterman, the UConn football beat writer and a general sports reporter for the Courant, said he was called into the editor’s office on March 4 and was told that he would be helping out on the coronavirus coverage for a few days. At that time, Connecticut didn’t have any cases and the threat still seemed somewhat low, so Putterman said he didn’t know how long he would be covering coronavirus for and how that would interfere with his duties in the sports department.
“At that time, I kind of thought maybe the next few weeks … maybe I’ll just have to be balancing sports with non sports,” Putterman said. “I was getting kind of stressed thinking about it, but then less than a week later, basically sports were canceled. And so from that point, it became clear. I was almost kind of lucky to be on coronavirus coverage because I wasn’t gonna have a whole lot to write about otherwise.”
Now, Putterman is one of the lead reporters for the Courant on the virus, providing daily updates and even maintaining a Google spreadsheet with updated data on cases, deaths and hospitalizations. He has also written stories about hospital preparedness, COVID-19 testing and the numbers and spread of the virus among different demographics in Connecticut.
Here's spreadsheet I've been working on showing daily data on COVID-19 in Connecticut, overall and by county. It also has data from other states, for the sake of comparing both overall and per-capita numbers.
I'll try to update at the end of every day.https://t.co/o1YC8N65Gc
— Alex Putterman (@AlexPutterman) April 6, 2020
Putterman said that despite not really leaving his apartment, he is actually even busier now than he usually is covering sports.
“Outside of football season, in terms of being a regular sports writer, there are slow days when maybe I’m working on something that’s a little more long term or when I don’t have a whole lot to do,” Putterman said. “With this, I don’t really have slow days. Every day, I’m working on something.”
For a lot of sports writers, such a major transition in role would be a tough adjustment. But Putterman is a versatile reporter who does a lot outside of sports. In fact, one of his roles at the Courant is covering things that are sports related, but are also pertinent beyond sports, such as stadium finances or the political debate of sports betting.
“I kind of pride myself a little on being able to do more than just gamers and previews and stuff,” Putterman said. “I have tried to become good at a range of things because, frankly, I have a lot of interests beyond sports … I actually enjoy writing about non sports things sometimes, and I’ve been happy to be able to report on something that’s so important.”
Even still, Putterman said that it has been challenging to cover something so intense, and it has put a lot more pressure on him to get things right.
“It’s draining emotionally,” Putterman said. “I kind of feel the stakes of it a little higher. With sports, I certainly never want to make any sort of mistake, but it does feel like, okay, if you get the running back’s yardage wrong or something, like that’s bad and you want to avoid it. But it’s not really an issue of life and death. Whereas with this stuff, there’s this certain extra responsibility to make sure everything’s right because you’re trying to inform people on this really serious issue. It’s tough.”
Putterman said the feedback he gets in emails from readers means more with a subject like the coronavirus compared to UConn football.
Putterman said he misses sports a lot. An avid baseball fan, he is very disappointed that he hasn’t been able to have baseball games on TV every day and play fantasy baseball. But even more so, he misses his job of covering sports.
UConn announces it has canceled all spring sports
— Alex Putterman (@AlexPutterman) March 16, 2020
“There’s just a certain energy to covering sports,” Putterman said. “In terms of being in the building, the crowd. There’s a certain adrenaline writing on deadline. It’s fun, and it sucks that we don’t have that.”
With all his work focused on the coronavirus, Putterman hasn’t kept sports in his life as much as some people. He still listens to some baseball podcasts and reads an occasional fun sports story, but his hunger for competition has been satisfied by an unlikely source: the TV show “Survivor.”
“I’ve been watching old seasons and stuff, and I couldn’t really figure out why all of a sudden it had really captured me and why I was getting so into it,” Putterman said. “Then I realized that it’s kind of like a stand-in for sports for me because it’s people competing, winners and losers and stuff. I think the same part of my brain that likes sports is now using [Survivor] to fill that void.”
Putterman has been doing excellent work in his new role as a COVID-19 reporter, but sports will hopefully come back sooner rather than later and allow him and all sports writers to get back to doing what they love.