IslesBlog’s Q&A with Newsday’s Arthur Staple (Part:1)

Kings Park, NY – If you have been following the team via social media sites the past few years, the name Arthur Staple should ring more than a few bells.

Arthur is the team’s beat writer, covering the team’s daily operations for Newsday.

Aside from his grand following on twitter, 14K to be exact, he maintains his own blog for the team, Isles Files, as well as his daily column within Newsday’s sports section.

We were fortunate enough to have Stapes answer a few personal questions, as well as the ones everyone has been dying to ask.

This two part series will help give you a look at Arthur Staple, the man, as well as his opinions on the team moving forward.

IslesBlog: Where and when did you find your passion for journalism?

Arthur Staple: I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve known since I was a teenager that I wanted to be covering sports, either on TV or as a writer. I worked for Stan Fischler while I was in high school in New York and I got to cover the Rangers for him, so that gave me an early taste of how hard I needed to work and how I needed to conduct myself to get ahead. I went to Boston University and had a great experience there, almost as much to do with the classes I took as the internships I did — I worked at the Boston Herald answering phones in the sports department and did some work for Stan at Bruins games. One of my favorite professors angered a few classmates when he told us that we couldn’t get an A without having an internship; I still feel that was the best career advice I ever got.

I interned at the Daily News when I graduated, worked at a few other local papers and then got to Newsday in 1998, covering high schools. That was a pretty good sports writing education as well, covering all of New York City with a very small staff. It’s certainly a different sports writing world now than even just a few years ago, with more opportunities to write but fewer real career-type jobs, so I feel lucky that I knew what I wanted to do early on and broke into the New York market early.

IB: How did you end up working for Newsday and covering the Islanders? 

AS: After 4 years of high schools, I started covering the Rangers in 2001. Having worked for Stan, hockey was always a favorite of mine, so I was pretty thrilled to have that be my first beat. After the 2004-05 lockout, I got moved to the Giants, which was fun as well, but a different sort of challenge, to cover a much more high-profile sport and team with so many fewer games and more limited access.

After the first of their recent Super Bowls, I began doing more hockey again, this time as a columnist writing about both Rangers and Islanders. When our Islanders writer left before the 2011-12 season, we didn’t have the luxury of having a hockey columnist anymore, so I was asked to do Islanders and decided to get back into the beat-writing world. My wife and son don’t love that I’m away so much, but working all season allows me some down time in the summer, which I do like.

IB: Growing up in the area, did you root for a local team more than the other?

AS: I was a Rangers fan as a kid. Blasphemy, I know! I grew up about 10 blocks from Madison Square Garden and my brother became a wild Rangers fan when he was 12 and I was 7; the Rangers made the finals (1979) the first year I was really paying attention, so I thought they’d be a top-level team year after year. Not quite.

Once I got to working for Stan and actually started going into locker rooms, I lost a lot of my fandom pretty quickly. Part of enjoying this job is approaching each assignment with an open mind; you have to be friendly and accommodating, because you’re in a foreign, sometimes hostile, environment and you have to walk a fine line at times. That attitude has prepared me well for bouncing between Rangers and Giants and Islanders, and whatever other assignments I’ve gotten. You can’t bring your rooting interests to work, because you never know where you’ll be working on a given night.

So I was happy the Rangers won in 1994, more for my brother the die-hard fan than for me. I covered a few of the playoff games that run for the Bergen Record and I ended up in the Devils room more than the Rangers. So it was already more about being professional than reveling in a Cup win by then for me.

IB: What’s your favorite city and arena you’ve covered a game in (outside of the beautiful, state of the art confines of Nassau Coliseum)? 

AS: Don’t knock the old barn — those three playoff games last spring were as intense and enjoyable as any rink I’ve been in over the years. I was at the Isles’ playoff games during the early 2000s and those were good too, but I felt there was something different last spring. More of a roar than back 10-12 years ago.

I’d put Air Canada Center up there, as well as the United Center in Chicago. Two buildings that are always full and usually pretty loud.

IB: How important is the move to Brooklyn for the team acquiring talent and for someone in the media such as yourself?

AS: I think the move is one piece of what needs to happen with the Islanders. I don’t think just moving makes all the difference in budgets or appeal to free agents; a winning team helps most, but since the Isles don’t have that right now, I’d say the move is one part; revenue-sharing and shedding the Coliseum lease is another part; and the salary cap going up is another. The Islanders have to spend money this offseason, and not just on their own guys. So changes will be made as they head into Brooklyn year after next.

For me, it’s not much different. Selfishly, the press box in the Coliseum is the best vantage point I have in any arena; it won’t be as good in Brooklyn, I’m sure. I guess I’ll have better dinner options in the neighborhood, but I don’t really live close to Nassau or Brooklyn, so it doesn’t change much for me.

IB: If you could acquire any player (realistically) in the offseason with money not being an issue, who would you go for?

AS: At this point, I’d say Ryan Callahan. More blasphemy, I know! He’s asking for a ton, but that shouldn’t matter to the Islanders anymore. He’s a captain in good standing, he knows the division and the rivalries and he’s the sort of full-effort guy who would not only thrive on a young team, he’d get them playing harder. We know what Tavares and Okposo can do, and it’d be great if they had a wing like Vanek to propel them to great heights in the stat race. But what the Islanders really need is a leader who can also score a few goals, the sort who could help balance the forward lines and make the whole team better.

Capuano and the players like to say they need all 20 guys going to win. Callahan would help that.

IB: If you have one bit of advice for aspiring sports writers, what would that be?

I’d say take as many reporting gigs as you can while you can afford to do them for free. Writing 5-600 words in half an hour is a skill; you need to practice it. Same goes for interviewing athletes and coaches and being able to see things and pick up on things that people don’t want to tell you, or tell you in confidence. I see a lot of young writers who view the writing part as the only part they need to master; couldn’t be farther from the truth. My job is about developing relationships and being able to find out information others don’t have. Writing? That’s a distant second, or even third.

So work on it. Go write for your high school or college paper, go cover games and develop that skill of reporting and writing on deadline, of finding out information and making sure it’s correct before you post it. We live in a world where everyone wants to break news, whether it’s to your facebook friends, on twitter, on a message board. Everyone wants the scoop; well, the reason I still get to do what I do, why my bosses like what I do, is that I’ve been working on that skill for 20 years.

The other thing I would say to young writers is engage with your audience, but don’t debate them. It’s very condescending to say this, but my usual response to some of the Twitter jagoffs is, “I don’t take requests.” I report my information and it’s out there for all the fans to mull over, to fight over, whatever they want to do with it. Once you get into opinions and debating, you’re just another guy or gal out there with an opinion about what the Islanders should do. Frankly, I don’t really care what the Islanders should do; my job is to find out what they will do and tell you. I leave the rest to everyone else.

I also see a few reporters, colleagues of mine at other papers whom I regard well in real life, post snarky stuff on Twitter or elsewhere about the Islanders. What a perfect way to ruin your professional integrity! I’ll let everyone in on a little secret: Once you make a public record of cheap shots against a team or a player, they will see it. One hundred percent, for sure. Maybe their parents, or their siblings, or their spouses will see it, but someone will tell them. I try to conduct myself as if the people I cover see everything I post or report. That doesn’t mean you can’t be critical. It does mean that cheap shots or snarky asides serve only to hurt you, the reporter, and your standing with the team you cover. And to think you did it just to get a couple LOLs from people makes it even sadder.

Sorry for that long rant. But this is a subject I have loads of time to think over during my long road trips, when I’m the only reporter out there and I’m getting it from the fans because the team isn’t doing well and the players who are upset I pointed out they’re losing.

Make sure to check back later in the week for Part 2 of the interview with Newsday’s Arthur Staple!

You can find Arthur’s work at Newsday.com and follow him on twitter @StapeNewsday

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