Bloomington, it’s been real

The response I’ve received since I posted on Twitter that I’d be leaving Bloomington to cover Tennessee football for the Knoxville News-Sentinel has been overwhelming to the point of being surreal. There are about 100 or maybe 1,000 people to whom I owe sincere thank yous and its meant everything to know that there were that many people out there who were reading and enjoying what I was doing.

But since I started spreading the news, I have received the following question more than once. In each case, it was a sincere and logical one, and one I think deserves a public answer.

“Is that a step up?”

The short answer is yes, but not entirely.

Obviously, I wouldn’t be taking this if I didn’t think it was the right move professionally, and at no point since I was offered the job have I had any doubt that it is. It’s a bigger paper in a bigger market, but much more importantly, it puts me in a position in which I’ll be pushed in all the ways I’ve realized I need to be. At the end of the day, I want to end up on a major beat at a major publication further east and closer to home. Before I make it there, I believe I need to become a more aggressive reporter and show more capability than I have in enterprise stories and document-based watchdog journalism which — through no one’s fault but my own — I wasn’t as good as I should have been at the Herald-Times. Those are major points of emphasis at the News-Sentinel, and the combination of that and the sheer manpower they use to take care of all the day-to-day minutiae on the Tennessee beat will leave me no choice but to get better in those areas.

Still, I understand the premise of the question I’ve been asked. Is covering Tennessee football really a bigger deal than covering every major sport at Indiana? Having not stepped into Neyland Stadium yet I don’t have a definitive answer for that question — and I’d also like to not anger all the fans in Tennessee before I get there. Still, the last few weeks have really made it hit home for me how much of an honor it was to be in this position, to cover these programs, to serve this readership, to work for this publication and to work with the people I have worked with. So I guess my answer is that I’m not sure anything is necessarily a bigger deal than what this was.

Every journalist, no matter how much or how little vanity he has, wants to write about something that matters to the people he is writing for. I’m not sure there is anything in American college sports that matters more to the cultural identity of a people than Indiana basketball matters to Indiana. You all believe in it deeply, it’s an integral part of who you are and you have very high if occasionally irrational standards about not just how much success it should have but how it should operate.

That made being a beat writer covering Indiana a challenge, but again, an honor. I’ve never been under the impression that I could tell the fanbase anything about basketball that it didn’t already know. On any given February Wednesday night in Assembly Hall, I’d venture to say that at least 10,000 of the 17,000-something fans in attendance at games would’ve made a better basketball coach than I would. And on top of that, I was very much an outsider to Indiana basketball tradition, having not grown up anywhere near here and only having witnessed some of the glory days from a distance. All of that made me very humble about my real authority on the beat, but I appreciated that you all seemed willing to not hold any of that against me if I worked hard and covered IU honestly, objectively and fairly.  I hope I did well in that regard, and it’s meant everything in recent weeks to hear from so many readers who believe I did.

In return, I received more kindness from this fanbase than I could have ever asked for or possibly deserve. On so many occasions, I’ve come to learn that Hoosier Hospitality is very much a real thing, starting with the times when people opened their homes to me on Thanksgiving simply because they knew me through the live chats and knew that I couldn’t make it home to Pittsburgh in between games. Beyond those grand gestures, there were so many smaller ones I appreciated, and so many friends I’ve made through Twitter and live chats and the Scoop who I would have never known if I wasn’t working on this beat. I thank you all so much and I appreciate anyone who took the time out to read even one of my stories or blog post, watched even one ScoopTalk or followed me on Twitter. It’s all meant a lot and I’m going to miss being your beat writer.

As much as I’m going to miss it, it’s time to pass this beat on to somebody who has clearly earned it and deserves the opportunity to cover a major beat with such a rabid fan base. Michael Miller is one of the most talented young writers I’ve ever known. In his time as our high school and women’s basketball reporter, he’s already written stories here — most notably this one and this one — that are as good as anything I could ever dream of writing. His prose are smooth, he has an outstanding eye for detail, and he has a knack for catching emotion that I deeply envy. He deserves this stage and so much more, and he’s going to be outstanding in this position. I’ll be following him closely, and you should too.

Before I go there are so many people I have to thank and thank publicly, so if you’re not interested in shoutouts, stop reading now. First, of course, is Chris Korman, the most talented journalist I’ve ever known, for hiring me, for being my eternal journalistic moral compass and simply one of my best friends. Anything I have accomplished here has come by trying to reach the standards that he has already set and following the paradigm he and Doug Wilson and Hugh Kellenberger had already established. Thanks also to Hugh for continuing to help guide me after Korman left and even after he left, even in Oxford being always available to bounce ideas off of. Thanks to sports editor Pat Beane for giving me so much trust and freedom, for suffering me on the days when I was insufferable and for keeping our sports section together. Thanks to Andy Graham for his passion, and for his dedication to the idea of fairness that will always form a part of my conscience in this job. Thanks to Jeremy Price for his dedication, for the temerity of his columns, and for his unapologetic bad jokes. Thanks to Jim Gordillo for doing more than anyone realizes to keep this ship afloat. Thanks to Lynne Houser for his wisdom, Ryan Kartje for pushing me with his energy, Bill Thornbro and Seth Tackett for adding a spark to the sports section, Chris Howell for being the best road-trip partner imaginable, and thanks of course to Mike for so many nights spent talking about long-form journalism, baseball and punk rock in grungy dive bars.

Beyond that, thanks to everyone else I’ve ever worked with at the H-T, especially Bob Zaltsberg and Mayer Maloney for their steady hands guiding the ship. Thanks to Zach Osterman and Lamond Pope for being a dear friends as well as colleagues and competitors and thanks to all the other people currently and formerly on the IU beat — Hutchens, Bozich, DiPrimio, McCarthy, Woods, Decker, Albers, Pegram, Rabjohns, Keefer, Kravitz, Morrison, Goff, Littman and everyone from IDS, IUSTV and IUSportComm who covered the program in the last five years — for making ours at least the most colorful press room in the Big Ten. Thanks to the IU Sports info staff, Fred Glass, Tom Crean, Tracy Smith, Kevin Wilson, Bill Lynch, Ron Helmer and the rest of the IU athletic department for putting up with me. Lastly, thanks to all the stalwarts on the Scoop (Tsao, Podunker, Punjab, Double Down, Geoff, Aruss Ben, Chet, Clarion and most definitely Harvard) as well as the reliables on the Live Chats (LTO, Megan M., Mike P., Cutter, PB and a thousand others but obviously Wilmont,) for reading and keeping me entertained.

Thanks for reading, thanks for watching, thanks for everything. I’ll miss you all dearly. Thank you Bloomington and Indiana for five amazing years.

 

16 comments

  1. Dustin,

    I will miss you along with everyone else around here. Thanks for so many great years of your work, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it!

    Thanks,
    Honeybadger

  2. Offended I’m not mentioned among your live chat regulars in the thank you’s after the nice things I wrote about you last week and my dedication. Just kidding.

    I’ll miss reading you and your thoughtful answers Dustin. Good luck in the future

  3. Dustin – best of luck to you! It was a pleasure to share the sidelines and the press room with you, and since I left the IU beat, it’s been a pleasure reading your stuff on a daily basis. No one has done it better. Congrats!!

  4. best of luck, dusty. can i call you dusty? anyway, dusty, guess i’ll look forward to your inevitable return to the trib. the big one this time. that is the dream job, right?

  5. Dustin,

    Congratulations on the new gig. Thanks for all the great work over the past five years. I have enjoyed it and I will miss you.

    Best wishes for a prosperous and happy life!

  6. Well said and a tenure well done, Dustin. I’m always super excited to see people that I have a lot of respect for take on new challenges. You’ve surely got your work cut out for you, but that is exactly what makes this the right move. In an era where people are looking for excuses not to do things, it is refreshing to see you running into the fire. Keep that fire and I have no doubt we’ll be seeing you again nationally one of these days.

    PS – This may be crossing the line of objective journalistic standards, but if you snap a picture wearing this shirt in your first blog post at the News Sentinal, you’ll hold the hearts of every soul in Tennessee for eternity.

  7. Thank you for your dedication, excellent coverage and class. Best of luck in SEC country, you will be missed!

  8. Dustin I will miss you too even though you left me out of the notables on the chat list. You have kept me one of the ones with unrealistic expectations on an even but shaky keel.

    Best of luck in Knoxville.

    One last time this is OSD signing off and saying a fond farewell to you as you ride off into the sunset.

  9. DD – if you think IU b-ball fans are rabid just wait til you experience the intensity of the UT football fan base. Every word of every sentence of every article at any time of the year that you pen about Vols f-ball will be analyzed and scrutinized by not 10’s – but 100’s of thousands of fans. 60,000 + for their spring football scrimmage for goodness sakes !

    You are going to be a first row witness – and a recorder – of the resurrection of one of the countries most storied programs; still a year or two away but it’s coming. And wait til you see Neyland Stadium as well as their new practice facility – WOW.

    There is actually a tie between IU and UT football. The last active coach from Coach Mal ‘s staff is the Associate Head Coach in charge of the DL for the Vols – Steve Stripling. Great coach and a great guy. I have let him know that you’re coming – tell him DaddioJoe said hey and I’ll see him in October.

    Young man you are about to embark on a great adventure in the world you have chosen to dwell.

    Good Luck and Hang On !

  10. Congrats DD. I hope you make it back east eventually and enjoy the stops on the way. It was a pleasure to follow you the past few years. Good luck

  11. I’m happy and excited for you, Dustin. Given the passion people in Tennessee have for UT football, you’re going from one end of the college football spectrum to the other, and it’s a great opportunity. I’ve witnessed UT fans’ passion for football firsthand. My brother-in-law is a former All American from UT. A native of the state, he played in the 70’s before a career in the NFL. We’ve been on golf courses all over the country when total strangers approached and said, “hey aren’t you so-and-so that played for Tennessee a while back?” They shake his hand, ask for an autograph, ask me to take a photo, and then relate their favorite stories of watching him play. The first time I witnessed this I thought it was just a one-time-event. But it’s happened numerous times and in locations no where near Tennessee. My brother-in-law, just one of numerous great players to come out of UT, has not played for UT since the mid-70’s, but he’s still worshipped by young and old alike for his gridiron achievements from 40 years ago. You’ll discover the intensity of that passion very soon, and I’m sure you’ll make the most of it. Good luck.

  12. Congrats my friend. I plan on making the Smokey Mountains a yearly or bi-yearly motorcycle trip and Knoxville isn’t far from where we usually stay. I’ll definitely hit you up when we are going to be in the area.

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