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Q & A With Chip Scoggins

October 11, 2010

This interview was conducted on Monday, October 4, 2010, before the rumors and eventual trade for wide receiver Randy Moss.

I had a chance to sit down and talk with Vikings writer Chip Scoggins of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He took an hour out of his hectic schedule last week to talk about journalism, fan blogs, the locker room, a new stadium and even the Packers. Chip was straightforward with his responses and extremely gracious with his time. You can follow Chip on Twitter, catch his posts on the Access Vikings blog, and read his articles in the Star Tribune.

What is a typical week look like for you?
This week’s different because of the Monday night game, but usually we have access to the players on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays during the day.

On Wednesdays, Brett Favre and Brad Childress have their press conferences, and then they open the locker room at the same time so you need two guys. Judd [Zulgad] typically does Favre and Childress, and I work the locker room. You typically get 45 minutes after practice.

On Thursday Adrian Peterson and the three coordinators go. I typically do that, while Judd works the locker room.

And on Friday, it’s more casual, typically it’s just newspaper guys; not many cameras come out for that. You get your 45 minutes after practice and the players are just relaxing and eating lunch. By then most of your work is done for the week, so that’s really the best time to just chat with guys off the record. It’s a lot more causal than the locker room after practice.

Why do Favre and Peterson have their own press conferences?
If you have guys like them, and you were able to go up to them at any time in the locker room, they would never be able to leave. Anybody else you can go up to any time, but imagine if we could talk to Favre in the locker room; he could never leave because guys would be coming in waves and waves and waves. This way you can just knock it all out. And it’s just an understanding here that with those guys that the press conference is their media availability and you don’t approach them in the locker room.

Who attracts the most reporters in the locker room?
Jared Allen will get stopped pretty much any time he comes in there. A lot of the media go to him; it’s kind of a pack mentality when he comes in.

Can you tell me a little bit about your background as a journalist?
I took a journalism class as a junior in high school and just loved it. I did sports in high school and always loved to write, so once I took that first class I knew I wanted do that for the rest of my life.

I worked at my high school paper in Tennessee and then went to the University of Tennessee and then transferred to the University of Missouri. My first job was at The Houston Post. I covered a tennis tournament and met my wife who did public relations for the WTA tour, so it’s a good thing I covered tennis.

From 1995-2000 I moved from six places in five years: Missouri, Tennessee, Connecticut, North Carolina, Chicago, and Minneapolis.

I got hired here [in Minnesota] in January 2000, and covered prep sports. I did it for two years and got to know Joe Mauer, Larry Fitzgerald, and Marion Barber pretty well. The prep level is different, and I still talk to Mauer when I see him; he remembers me from his days in high school.

I love college football, it’s a huge passion of mine, and I covered it for 5 years. A couple years ago, I started covering the Vikings. I missed college football some, but the Vikings are such an animal; they’re the show in town, and I can never write enough, which is cool. It’s a lot more consuming and hard on the family life, but you know it’s a fun beat to cover.

What’s your process for finding and covering news stories each week?
We’ll go in on Tuesdays and kind of map out the week, but everything changes so much because you may go in there and someone says something in the locker room and everything changes.

There’s never a dull day.

What are your thoughts on the future of sports journalism?
It’s hard to know. So much has changed, even from when I started here. There were no blogs, there was no tweeting and videos. Who knows what even two years from now will look like? It used to be you would write your story and that was it. It got published at midnight; it came out the next morning. Now you’re tweeting it first, then you blog it, then you do a video and it’s like, oh yeah, I need to write for the paper, too.

I’ve heard you can’t tweet from Winter Park.  Is that true?
Right. Basically all the writers are typing away on their phones to get it out as soon as we leave practice, and then you get back and blog it; you constantly want to keep fresh stuff on your blog. We try to update it 4-5 times a day on the heavy access days.

Is it possible to do the Vikings beat well with only one reporter?
It would be hard to do this beat with one. You can do it, but when Favre and Childress are talking, you don’t want to leave the locker room dark, you gotta have somebody in there, so then we’ll go back after practice and do our interviews and we do a video every day after practice and then our video people get that up. Then we come back and blog and tweet whatever came up during media access. Then you start working on that actual stuff — the newspaper stuff. I won’t say it takes a back seat, because you can give it more context than twitter and the blog. It’s hard to give the full context in 140 characters or even on the blog.

How do you decide what goes up on the blog and what goes in the paper?
I don’t know if it’s the same audience reading the blog that is reading the paper. I’m sure there are a lot of people that read both, but you don’t want to have the exact verbatim what’s on the blog and in the paper.

Right now, you’re just kind of feeding different things constantly. It will be interesting to see how we’re doing it two years from now. Who knows what the technology will be?

In two years from now, maybe they’ll let you tweet from practice?
Yeah, that’s right. We faced a tough thing the day Percy Harvin collapsed. It’s their policy, you can’t do it, but there’s an ambulance on the field, but that’s their policy and you can’t do it.

What do you think of fan blogs? Do you ever read any?
Not a lot. I know there’s one guy who sends me an email every day of his site, and I’ll look at it some. I look every now and again, not a whole lot, and I think it’s great. It’s a different way than posting [comments] at the bottom of stories. I think the more the merrier. It’s another way for people to have dialogue on the team. There are probably hundreds of them that I’m not aware of, but we do get Google alerts anytime something Vikings is published, so I do see some of them on that.

Fan blogs give another perspective. Sometimes you’re in here [Winter Park] so much, you wonder what everyone else is thinking. You’re in such cocoon from day-to-day-to-day, it’s nice to see what other people are saying or writing

Does a good headline catch your attention?
Sure, I’ll see what it’s from and then decide. A lot of the time the Google alerts are good because guys go to their hometowns and their hometown papers do stories on them that you wouldn’t know about and it pops up and you see it.

What do the newspapers think of blogs? Do sports editors worry that it’s cutting into readership?
I don’t think so. Particularly with the Vikings, our traffic is good. I think Vikings fans go to a lot of different stuff, whether it’s Pioneer Press, Pro Football Talk, ESPN, and Seifert’s blog, or other fan sites. I don’t know that it’s necessarily cutting into ours. I know for the more mainstream blogs – Seifert’s on ESPN – we wondered how’s that going to affect our blog, but I think more than anything, I think the more there is, the better…If there are more options for people they are going to go to all of them.

The more good coverage, the better?
Sure. When came out with their bloggers for each division, how many people went out and said, I’m just gonna go to that one, and not look at what Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press is writing? I think you’re gonna go look at multiple sources. Judd and I have taken the approach to constantly keep feeding the blog. You gotta give people a reason to constantly keep coming. It’s like last week during the bye, players were gone, you don’t have access, but even if it’s just once a day, keeping something fresh, because you don’t wanna go one or two days with the same post. It’s not easy with vacations, sometimes you’re just digging stuff out, but you wanna keep it fresh.

Do you have a favorite player to interview?
Favre’s great. You don’t get the one-on-one access, but you come out of his press conference and you have more than enough to write about; he’s fascinating. He’s awesome in that regard. He can fill up a notebook. I think he drives them [the coaching staff] crazy because he provides injury updates. But he’s great as far as perspective.

As far as guys we deal with on a day-to-day basis? Ben Leber, is really, really good. He’s always gonna give good perspective on things. He’s not always gonna give the company line.

Does the team limit access to players like that for that reason?
No, not at all. It’s pretty much the player can say no comment, or I’m not talking today.  [Visanthe] Shiancoe is always the guy people go to. Jared [Allen] was great today. When he’s on, he’ll fill up your notebook, too.

He’s not necessarily a big quotable guy as far as people run to him, but I think Kevin Williams gives pretty good answers. And he’s always accessible. I went down to his house this summer and did a big feature on him. He never says no, and always gives you pretty good perspective, too.

Antoine Winfield is great. He’s a veteran who’s not gonna BS you, he’s gonna shoot straight, too. I will say this: for the most part it’s a pretty good locker room. I’m sure you have other locker rooms, where guys would prefer not to deal with you, but for the most part, we don’t have that. It’s a pretty good locker room.

Pat Willliams is fun. When he’s on a roll, he can be good, funny.

Have you ever accidentally offended a player?
Oh yeah. Guys are gonna get mad at you, it’s part of the job. I’m not gonna sit here and say it happens every day, but guys are gonna get annoyed with you if they’re tired or don’t like the question, or think you’re overly critical. It’s not gonna always be pleasant, but it’s just part of the deal. You’re gonna have to ask questions that they don’t like sometimes, and they can say no comment, too.

What’s the feeling in the locker room this year?
It’s better now. The first two weeks, it was a lot of frustration. Obviously, they’re not completely happy or satisfied, but getting a win was better than going into that bye 0-3, but it’s such a veteran locker room, I don’t think there’s a lot of panic. They know they have a lot of talent, but they also know their passing game has to get going.

Who are the leaders in the locker room?
Favre, obviously, definitely Steve Hutchinson, Kevin Williams, E.J. Henderson. When E.J. and Kevin Williams speak up, people take notice, and people obviously look to Hutch as a guy to listen to. That’s the thing, they got some pretty strong personalities. If you think about it, it’s a locker room with 10 pro bowl players and a Hall of Famer in Favre, probably a Hall of Famer in Hutchinson, maybe the best defensive tackle in Kevin Williams. I would add [Antoine] Winfield, too. People definitely look up to Winfield.

You don’t hear a lot of quotes in the paper from the guys you just mentioned. Why is that?
E.J. is really quiet. He’s another guy, who you’re not necessarily going to run to, because he’s not the most quotable, but he always seems like he has time and he’s pretty thoughtful. Those guys just definitely have a lot of credibility and clout.

When I did that story on Kevin Williams, Karl Dunbar, the defensive line coach, said that Kevin is like E.F. Hutton, when he talks, people listen. It’s true. When those guys say something people stand up and listen.

Does that have something to do with the fact that those guys just don’t say that much?
Could be. They’re not rah-rah guys, they’re not gonna rant and rave and throw chairs and all that. Plus, guys look at them and see really good players. They kind of set the bar as far as how they play.

Do you think the Vikings are going to get a new stadium?
I do. I think it’s like any process; there has to be threats. It’s like any stage, the rhetoric has to keep getting progressively more pointed – if that’s the right word. I think at the end of the day, the Vikings are too valuable here to leave. I don’t know how it will work as far as the funding, or how much they have to chip in, and how much the state will chip in, but I think at the end of the day, it will get done.

Do you think a new stadium is tied to team’s success on the field?
Yes, to some degree. I’ve heard the whole, “they need Favre back for the stadium,” but obviously if your team is winning there is gonna be more popularity, more buzz out there, but I don’t think it was one of those deals where you have to go to the Super Bowl or you’re not gonna get one. I don’t think it’s to that level.

You just look at the TV ratings each week. It’s astronomical how many people watch the games every Sunday and it’s you wonder how would they not get a stadium?  How would they not get this done? I think it will happen, but how it’s gonna look is anyone’s guess.

As a beat reporter, are you allowed to have an NFL team you root for?
No. The only team I root for in any sport is the [Tennessee] Vols.

In every sport?
Not really. I watch the men’s basketball some but…Seriously, as a beat reporter, you just root for good stories. That’s it, you know. And fast games at night, for deadline purposes. That’s it. My only bias is that I want good stories.

But all beat writers will say the same thing: You just root for good stories. That’s what you do.

There’s nothing worse than covering a dull team, and you’re trying to create something that’s not there.

Does it ruin your love for the sport having to cover it?
Not at all. I love football and I’ll watch whoever, it doesn’t dampen it. I think you just get conditioned to it the more you do it.

What are your thoughts on Favre Bowl III and IV?
I don’t think they’ll sweep the Packers this year. But Judd and I were talking about it on our videos, you look at the top three teams in the NFC North this year and they all have major flaws.

Aaron Rodgers is awesome, he’s wonderful, he’s an elite quarterback but you wonder how far they’ll go without a running game. Especially when the weather turns bad, I don’t know what they’re gonna do.

The Vikings gotta figure out their passing game until Sidney gets back.

And the Bears, obviously, their line situation is a mess and I just don’t know how good they really are.

I don’t think the Vikings will sweep, but I could see each holding serve at home.

It’ll be interesting to see what the Packers do because I don’t think Brandon Jackson is the long-term answer.

You can get to the Super Bowl without a running game, but I think that’s more the exception than the rule. It’s going to be hard for them, especially when the weather turns bad and you’re not going to be able to throw it as effectively. Maybe they will…they have some offensive firepower in the passing game. Rodgers – he’s terrific.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview has been edited and condensed.

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