An Interview with Justin Rice
Justin Rice: Interviewed on June 14, 2011
Position: Freelance writer and founder of BPSsports.com, a website designed to cover rarely covered Boston Public School athletes and teams.
Born: 1980, Detroit, Mich.
Education: Michigan State University, 2003, Bachelor of Arts in Social Relations; Northeastern University, 2011, Master’s in Journalism
Career: April 2008 – Boston Globe, Boston, Mass. (cir. 219,214)
present Correspondent , Cover MBTA for Your Town websites. Have also contributed to sports page, Globe South and City Weekly; April 2011 – present: AOL Patch, Correspondent , Contribute stories to South End and West Roxbury Patch sites ; Feb. 2010 – present, TeamUSA.org, Correspondent, Nov. 2009 – present, BPSsports.com, Founder and publisher, Built and run website to highlight rarely covered inner-city athletes in Boston Public Schools; manage and edit correspondents; create multimedia content, including video and photos ; March 2010 – April 2010, Metro Boston, Staff reporter, Covered all aspects of Boston news, including the MBTA, MassChallenge and several startups; March 2010 – Dec 2010, ESPNBoston, Correspondent, Covered Boston Marathon and Boston College athletics ; May 2007 – April 2008, BostonNOW, Correspondent, Covered local sports, including Boston College, New England Patriots and Boston Celtics; Sept. 2007 – Feb. 2008, South End News, Staff writer, Covered city government and all aspects of Boston’s historic South End ; July 2006 – Aug. 2007, Bulletin Newspapers, Inc., Staff writer , Covered Boston’s Hyde Park and Roslindale neighborhoods; Sept. 2003- July 2004, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, Okla. , Staff writer and intern, Covered high school sports and led coverage of 2004 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon
Personal: Married with no kids and a West Highland terrier named Arlo
Favorite restaurants: La Verdad
, Boston, “It’s an authentic Mexican taqueria that is a stone’s throw from Fenway Park. It has a great bar but also a walkup counter. The tortas and tacos are amazing. Also, Lafayette Coney Island in Downtown Detroit. You have not had a chilidog until you’ve had a Detroit Coney!”
Q. The genesis and history of BPSsports?
A. For a long time before the Boston Globe’s seven-part series Failing Our Athletes
came out in 2009 I kicked around the idea to start a website to cover Boston Public School athletes. The series documented the sad state of BPS athletics, in which athletes share uniforms and change behind storage sheds. The district budgets much less money to athletics than abutting cities similarly sized cities.
I wrote my Master’s thesis about the basketball team at Boston English High, the nation’s first public high school, and knew far too well all the woes of BPS athletics. A J-School prof suggested that I just start the site and put up as much content as I could manage. I started it in the fall of 2009. I focused on football and by the time basketball season rolled around it was clear I was filling a small but important niche. One thing I often heard was that Boston athletes didn’t get recruited because college coaches couldn’t read about their exploits online.
Q. What gets covered by whom?
A. The idea of the site is to not only give the BPS teams the coverage they deserve but also have students cover the teams at their own schools. I got my start by working for my school newspaper and most BPS schools don’t have their own newspapers.
The Boston Globe and Boston Herald cover all of Eastern Mass high school sports and don’t have space or resources to give Boston’s inner-city schools a lot of coverage. When they do cover BPS they mostly cover the city championships and teams that make the state tournament. BPSsports focuses on the regular season games played with hardly any parents or students watching and would otherwise be played in a vacuum.
A few college students also write for me and two of my contributors are now contributing stories about BPS athletes to AOL Patch sites so they can make a few bucks. One writer had no journalism experience when he started writing for me at the start of the spring and is now contributing to Patch.
Q. Challenges in running the site and what is its future?
A. Cultivating and maintaining high school contributors is always a challenge. A lot of BPS students have poor writing skills and wrapping their heads around journalism is tough. One promising student who wrote for me just fell off the map one day. His football coach reached out to me to see if I could help get the student back on track but I couldn’t. That was tough to take. I invested a lot of time and energy into him.
Balancing my time is tough too. I don’t make money off the site, save the occasional story I write for Patch, so I have to make sure my time working on the site doesn’t come at the expense of paying gigs.
Also, BPS only has one AD for about 17 high schools. And his staff is small. Getting information from them can be a challenge.
Q. The story you are most proud of and why?
A. When I was getting ready to launch the site I knew I needed a strong feature story to kick things off and it couldn’t just be any story. When I met with the AD and told him I was looking for a story he told me about a female football player, Gaby Cruzado, playing strong safety on the South Boston JV team. Here’s the link
to the story.
She ended up getting pregnant and didn’t play varsity football. But I recently saw her at the city track championships, where she was competing in the javelin just weeks after having her baby. She gave me a big hug. That was pretty rewarding.
Q. Your career plan?
A. As far as BPSsports.com is concerned my goal is to put together a grant proposal and try to find some funding so I can pay contributors and invest in better multimedia equipment. Otherwise, I’m enjoying freelancing for now. I cover a wide range of topics from Olympic athletes for TeamUSA.org to the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority for the Boston Globe’s Your Town sites.
My goal is to score some magazine assignments.
Q. What sports media do you consume and why?
A. I like great stories that just happen to be about athletes. And my favorite sports stories are usually in non sporting mediums such as Esquire or the New Yorker. Reporters who don’t cover sports on a daily basis tend to write much more unpredictable and better reported stories. But I also subscribe to Sports Illustrated – I say subscribe and not read because it’s tough to keep up with on a weekly basis – and I try to DVR games so I don’t have to watch commercials.
I recently finished Laura Hillenbrand’s amazing book, Unbroken, about the man who would’ve broke the four-minute mile but ended up being tortured by the Japanese during World War II. Also Scoreboard Baby by Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry was a shocking account of the University of Washington football program. I really didn’t think I could be shocked by what goes on inside a college football program. Boy was I wrong.
Q. Who were and are your influences?
A. Growing up in Detroit my first exposure to sportswriting was Mitch Albom’s column in the Detroit Free Press. But as I started to study the craft I discovered and fell in love with literary journalism (or narrative or whatever you want to call it). David Remnick, Gay Talese, Roger Angell and A.J. Liebling’s sports writing is thrilling to read but even more daunting; I only dream of reporting and writing that well.
My favorite contemporary magazine writer – not that David Remnick is not contemporary – is Esquire’s Tom Junod. His story about trying to track down the man in the famous photograph of the man falling upside down from the World Trade Center is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever read. His profile of Mr. Rogers is pretty damn good too.
I’m trying to read more fiction too. I think too often journalists don’t have time for fiction or think it has nothing to offer us.
As for people I actually know, I still keep in touch with a former magazine writing prof at Michigan State who worked for Time Magazine back in the day. My wife and parents influence me everyday too.
(SMG thanks Justin Rice for his cooperation)