Ohio Journalist

Walking the Line

By Lindsay Friedman

(December 1, 2015) — A combination of ambition, intelligence and raw determination are what landed Garrett Downing an incredible job that led to the experience of a lifetime.

“I was just amazed at how quickly and easily he adapted to everything much more than the norm,” said Tom Hodson, director and general manager of the WOUB Center for Public Media. “He was probably one of the early adapters to molding multimedia journalism. He really saw that as the wave of the future.”

Downing’s eye for the future might have been what landed him on the field at Super Bowl XLVII, ending the 2012–13 National Football season with purple and gold confetti, cheering fans and the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

“It was a surreal experience. Sitting there with the trophy in your lap is not something I ever expected,” he said. “It’s a cool job and an awesome organization. I’m in a fortunate situation and I think OU and Scripps played a big part in laying the foundation for that.”

But that’s not why Downing, a digital media staff writer for the Baltimore Ravens, considers the city’s celebration parade to be one of his more cherished memories.

“I think there’s a sense of pride that comes with it, and it’s not just winning the Super Bowl. It’s the day-to-day experience,” he said. “Things don’t just end after winning the Super Bowl. You come to work on Monday and you do the same thing that you did before. It’s easy to say winning a Super Bowl makes it worth it, but had we not won the Super Bowl, it’d still be worth it.”

But life as the Ravens’ team blogger hasn’t been without its challenges. When star runningback, Ray Rice, was caught on video beating his girlfriend, the entire country turned its attention to how the Ravens and the NFL would handle the situation.

“This was unchartered territory for so many people involved, and it was such a difficult landscape to navigate,” Downing said. “For us on the digital side of the organization, our coverage of the news had potential to become news itself.”

To prepare for a career that’s included both a Super Bowl high as well as the Ray Rice crisis, Downing as a student had on and off campus experience working at news organizations including WOUB, The Washington Post, The Las Vegas Sun, WEWS, NFLRush.com and The Columbus Dispatch.

His passion for sports journalism started at an early age, enjoying “the idea of covering games, writing about sports and telling stories.”

After first visiting Ohio University, the 2011 graduate’s desire to pursue a journalistic career became even stronger.

“People actually get sick of me talking about OU and Scripps,” Downing said. “I just remember leaving OU after orientation and saying this is a place I could see myself … I can’t imagine having a better college experience from a professional or personal standpoint. I’m indebted to OU and it’s something I’ll always cherish and value.”

Despite Downing’s multiple internships, his work with “Gridiron Glory“ and experience as an anchor for WOUB, he still faced the vast unknown — the real world — while preparing for graduation. Though he thought his first job wasn’t ideal at the time, Downing “took off the blinders and looked at the big picture” as he went to work as an online content producer for WEWS in Cleveland before being offered the Ravens position at midseason.

“There’s not a magic path or anything like that. It’s a matter of doing hard work and being willing to take chances,” he said.

Now, Downing has traded in traditional journalism for a new type of position as he continues to master “the beast,” that is, the NFL. “Journalism is a changing business right now, and I think that’s fine,” he said. “It’s much different than it was years ago, and there are opportunities that didn’t exist then, whether it’s with a newspaper, television program or a pro sports team.”

And though Downing is working with a franchise rather than a newspaper or news show, he would never consider his work to be “PR.”

“We have to think about how it will affect the people in the building; looking through that lens forces you to be more objective,” he said. “There’s a fine line to watch because we treat our website as a place where we want to give our fans everything they want from the Ravens, and they don’t just want everything positive.”

He said the team walks that line with the help of strong relationships and a commitment to cover every aspect of the franchise objectively.

“You have to let people (e.g. players) know they can trust you … that you’re not out to get them,” Downing said. “It’s all about how you approach the issues, building trust and doing things fairly.”

Hodson said this change represents a shift in people’s dependency on media compared to years past. “Sports teams, professional or not, had to rely on the media to convey their message,” he said. “Now, people like Garrett develop an audience and develop a connection without depending on media. It’s rewriting a major facet in journalism. But Garrett wouldn’t say he is a critical journalist. He is part of the media machine for the Baltimore Ravens, and he does it very well.”

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