Today's Gekko Chat is with Christian Caple of the Tacoma News Tribune. If his name sounds familiar to the casual Seattle sports fan, it is hopefully due to the fact that they've been paying close attention to the excellent work that Christian has done over the past four years with the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, the Seattle P-I, the Spokane Spokesman-Review and, now, with TNT or it is due to the fact that Currently, he is the Huskies beat writer for the Tacoma News Tribune. If not, it may be due to the fact that Christian's uncle, Jim Caple, is a former writer for the Seattle P-I and now a columnist for ESPN.com.
Christian grew up in Longview, WA and went to high school at Mark Morris. He got sports-writing bug while still in high school after given the opportunity to write a few pieces for the local Longview newspaper. Like his Uncle Jim, Christian attended the University of Washington where he wrote and edited for the UW Daily, covering sports such as football, softball, women's soccer and men's basketball. In his free time, he enjoys quiet walks on the beach, collecting rare Pound Puppy dolls and listening to Nicki Minaj. Or not:
More music today at UW practice than any day before it. Well, more Nicki Minaj, anyway. I'm sure they'll have music soon.
— Christian Caple (@ChristianCaple) August 7, 2014
Please welcome Christian Caple to the Dawg Pound.
Christian Caple: Not trying to sound morbid or anything, but covering Washington's 0-12 season in 2008 as a student reporter for the UW Daily was really a great learning experience. It's not easy covering a team that loses every week. Nobody is in a good mood. Everyone is sick of getting asked the same questions, because they obviously don't have the answers. It was interesting to watch firsthand, as a student, how the professionals on the beat went about covering such a disaster of a season -- coaching change and all -- while also trying to come up with unique story angles and features for the student paper, trying to find my way as a reporter.
Everything about working at the Spokesman-Review was a learning experience, almost all of it positive. I already knew Pullman well enough, but had to adapt to a new work environment, a new coaching staff, more restrictive player access, and I had to adjust to the higher standards that came with being a full-travel beat writer (writing every day, being at every practice, typing out a story on an airplane like a Tyrannosaurus because the numskull in front of you decides to recline his seat half-an-inch). Plus, Vince Grippi had been a workhorse on that beat, and was (is) extremely well-respected, so there was some added pressure there just to not screw up what he had built. I hope I didn't.
Christian Caple: The only difficult part about it was leaving all my friends and family on the west side of the state and in Seattle. But as far as the job at the S-R, it was a no-brainer. I was really, really fortunate to have the opportunity to work there. Great place to work, great job, plenty going on with all the changes and transitions at WSU. Mike Leach had just been hired when I took the job, the Pac-12 TV contract money was just beginning to roll in, and construction had just started on the new press box and premium seating structure, with the now-completed football operations building next on the docket. It was an exciting, interesting time to be covering WSU.
The fact that it was WSU and I went to UW, etc., was literally not even close to being a consideration. Reporters just don't think in those terms. Plus, I had covered WSU right out of college for four months for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, so there was a pre-existing relationship with a lot of the athletic-department staff. There were a few people on Twitter and such who were a lot more upset about it than you would expect most grown folks to be -- but hey, that's the game. More than anything, it made for some great laughs. As far as the actual Pullman community, I had a great experience there, and never had any concern that I wouldn't. I met a lot of people in Pullman and Spokane who I'll stay in touch with forever.
|You must have had some great moments in covering Mike Leach. He's a marvel in front of the microphone and a natural showman. Can you share with us one of your favorite Mike Leach anecdotes?
Christian Caple: One of the most interesting conversations I can remember involving Leach was after practice one day with Dale Grummert, a hell of a writer who has covered WSU for the Lewiston Tribune for more than 20 years. A few of us were talking with Leach about the usual post-practice fare, and Grummert asks him if he had been up to see a Jackson Pollock painting that was apparently on display somewhere at WSU. Leach's face lights up, and he spends the next 15 minutes or so talking about his fascination with Pollock (who is from Leach's hometown of Cody, Wyoming), abstract expressionism, and an anecdote about how he used to make his own Pollock-ish creations in his two-bedroom apartment when he was coaching at Valdosta State, and he would even teach some of the neighbor kids how to make their own, too.
Typing all this out made me realize I never actually read Grummert's resulting story (until now, and as usual, it's great), so here it is if anyone is interested.
A late-night discussion last August about haunted hotels probably makes this list, too. Leach was rarely boring.
Christian Caple: To be extremely cliche: the policies are what they are. If schools don't want you talking to certain players on certain days, well, there's not a lot you can do about that. But you don't have to let access limit your reporting. You learn to rely on mothers and fathers and high-school coaches and the like, though that's obviously a lot more viable for a feature story than it is for other forms of reporting.
It takes time to get in tune with all the different personalities you have to work with, and it's not like I've got it all figured out. Petersen is the third head coach I've covered since September. But the strategy should be the same regardless of who you're covering. What I try to do is take a genuine interest in what I'm writing about, and ask enough questions of enough people (and the right people) to report the details of that story to the best of my ability
Christian Caple: I've been dead inside for long enough now that I don't really even think about all of that. Covering the team for three years for the school paper definitely helped. When it's your livelihood and you really care about the quality of the journalism and the quality of the stories you're telling, the whole fandom thing just isn't an issue. Some people don't believe that, which I get. But it's true. The more pressing matters as a reporter are: "What's the story? What's my lead going to be? Who do I need to talk to afterward? How long before deadline? Is the soda machine still on?"
Christian Caple: I suppose there's always hope, in the same way there's always hope traffic won't be at a standstill at 5 p.m. on I-5 in Seattle. No, just kidding. The Huskies probably have a little more hope than that, though I think things are still too unsettled at the quarterback position to predict that UW is going to roll into Autzen Stadium and beat what a lot of people think is a national-title contender. That said, plenty can change between now and Oct. 18. If the Huskies are as stout defensively as they should be, and they find a quarterback capable of moving the chains, I guess anything can happen. And there's the Petersen factor, with him being 2-0 against Oregon as a head coach. Maybe he knows something nobody else does. Anyway, I think Oregon's team speed and offensive efficiency are still too much for the Huskies. Seems like you could say that about every Pac-12 team except Stanford (and, yes, Arizona last season, too).
Thanks to Christian Caple for taking time away from his paying job to do this Q&A for the 'Pound. Be sure to check out the excellent work that Christian is doing as the Huskies Insider for the Tacoma News Tribune and definitely give him a follow on Twitter @ChristianCaple.