Media Musings: Covering Bobsled From the Bull City


written by R.L. Bynum

Durham’s Childs shares his love of sliding sports with a worldwide audience

You know you’ve slid into a nice niche when only two other people in the world do what you do.

That’s the case for Durham’s Ken Childs, who reports on sliding sports — bobsled, skeleton and luge — on his website, Sliding on Ice, which draws traffic from around the world. 

A Russian man followed Childs’ lead and started a similar website but, of course, that site is in Russian. Tim Reynolds, a reporter for The Associated Press, covers sliding sports. Nobody else regularly reports on the sport in English, and that explains why he started the website. 

He looked for information on the sport he grew to love watching on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” as a kid had trouble finding it. Instead of just finding it for himself, he decided to share it with other fans.

I figured if I get some kind of easy-to-find information out there and can help to grow the sport a little bit, great. And that’s kind of how it started. And that’s kind of how I’m here now,” said Childs, whose main readers live in the United States, Canada, Latvia and Germany. I’m not trying to compete with anyone. No one involved in this sport, in any way, shape or form is making a lot of money, myself included.”

Childs said that he got a few hundred thousand unique visitors last year.

“A bobsled, skeleton and luge website in this country surprisingly does not elevate me to rock-star status like one would expect,” Childs said sarcastically. “But I get far more readers than I would expect. If I can get a few more eyes on the sport, that’s kind of what I’m trying to do. But the numbers last year were staggering for me.”

It’s a side gig and a labor of love for Childs, 41, who is an IT manager at Duke University. He grew up in western Massachusetts but has worked at Duke since graduating from North Carolina Wesleyan. BBC World News has interviewed him a couple of times and he’s appeared on various podcasts.

Since he launched the website in 2011, he was credentialed to cover seven World Cup events at Lake Placid, N.Y., and the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. He plans to be in Beijing for the 2022 Winter Games.

I didn’t put anything on social media about me going to the Olympics until my plane to go to Korea was in front of me at the airport because I didn’t want to jinx it. I just wanted to make sure it was actually going to happen,” Childs said.

He didn’t want to pursue journalism but was lured into it by his interest in speed sports.

Childs has also always been an auto racing fan, and his experience writing about that sport for a website gave him the experience to make his website a success. That auto racing website was discontinued, but he stays active in that sport as a photographer for the Martinsville Speedway  and the public-address announcer at the South Boston Speedway.

Taking photos of sliding sports is much more of a challenge.

“If I miss trying to get a picture of a particular race car, it’s coming by again and in about 25 seconds,” he said. “If I miss a picture of a sled coming down the track, that’s it, I’ve missed the shot. So It’s a little more pressure.”

Photo credit:  Molly Choma

The sports he loves came together when Steven Holcomb won a gold medal at Vancouver Games in 2010 on a bobsled backed by Geoff Bodine.

Childs covers the events as they happen on Twitter, then writes stories immediately afterward on his website. His busy season is upon him with news increasing next month. His most hectic months are from November to March.

With many races in Europe, he’s up as early as 3 a.m. to cover races by watching competitions on television. Most competitions he covers are from watching on TV other than when he is on-site for world championships or the Winter Olympics.

There’s a period of about eight weeks during the winter where I show up to work on a Friday morning and I’ve been up for five hours,” Childs said. “But the sport’s happening. I want to be watching it. And if I’m gonna go watch it, I might as well write about it.”

With his website only generating revenue from the sale of merchandise, travel expenses to cover events are all out of pocket, and trips aren’t cheap. He noted that flights to Seoul a month before and a month after the Winter Olympics were half what they were during the Games.

It’s not bad when you finance it month by month,” he said. “There’s a little savings account that goes for this stuff.”

There were plenty of long days in South Korea because the federations try to schedule races for certain times in Germany and the United States.

“There were late nights getting back to the hotel at 2 a.m., then I’d get up in the morning, have breakfast, take the bus to get back to the track and get back to work again for most of that time,” he said.

All didn’t go smoothly in South Korea. Despite his wife warning him not to eat too much beef or local vegetables, he immediately ate a Shake Shack burger when he got there because he was so hungry. That led to some food poisoning.

The language barrier contributed to him getting on the TC3 bus instead of the TM3 bus to the luge track when he was already feeling bad.

“So, I was on this bus, just feeling miserable,” he said. “This bus did not go to the bobsled track. It ended up stopping at a parking lot on the top of a mountain. I watched my bus driver get off, chain-smoke for 10 minutes, get back on the bus and we drove right back to where I started. That was the worst experience I’ve had at the Olympics.”

He hopes that his next Olympics experience doesn’t include such adventures. In the meantime, it will be a lot of early mornings in front of the television. Luckily for fans of sliding sports who don’t want to get up that early, they can read all about it on Childs’ website.


Lee Enterprises cuts big names at Triad newspapers

It was Black Wednesday last week at the News & Record of Greensboro and the Winston-Salem Journal

Lee Enterprises, which owns both papers, laid off five from the two newspapers’ consolidated sports department, plus a photographer: four-time National Sports Media Association N.C. sports writer of the year Ed Hardin and Jeff Mills at the N&R as well as Wake Forest beat writer Conor O’Neill, preps writer Patrick Ferlise, photographer Allison Isley and sports editorial assistant Trish Moore at the Journal

There were three others laid off at the N&R: Editor Cindy Loman, graphic artist Tim Rickard and reporter Carl Wilson. In addition, news reporter Taft Wireback is retiring earlier than planned. 

Also laid off at the Journal were graphic artist Cassandra Sherill, features writer Tim Clodfelter, and arts and entertainment writer Lynn Felder.

The Triad newspapers are among many to endure cuts since Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. sold its 31 newspapers to Lee in January. Last week, Lee laid off people at four Virginia newspapers (The News & Advance of Lynchburg, The Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg, the Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Daily Progress of Charlottesville) in addition at the Casper (Wyoming) Star Tribune and the Omaha World-Herald. On Monday, Lee laid off 10 at the Tulsa World, and it laid off 14 at the Southern Illinoisan on Tuesday.

While there are good writers who remain at the two Triad newspapers, cutting out that much talent clearly shows that Lee is more concerned with the bottom line than the product.

Hardin and Mills both won Associated Press Sports Editors top 10 awards for column writing in 2018 and 2019 for C division, and had a combined 52 years of experience. 

Asked whether he would retire or pursue other writing jobs, Hardin said via text that he’s “going fishing.” 

He may have not seen this coming, but Hardin knew in the spring that prospects for an already-flailing industry weren’t good considering the financial strains of the pandemic.

“If we survive this as a profession, there aren’t going to be many of us left,” Hardin said in the late-May Media Musings. “At some point, they’re going to start lopping staff. And it’s probably going to be right around the new fiscal year, which means there will be a lot of nervous people. We’re already nervous.”  

Hardin, who served N&R readers for 31 years, was named N.C. sports writer of the year the last two years. He’s earned countless North Carolina Press Association and APSE awards in his career.

John Forslund and David Glenn, who shared NSMA sportscaster of the year honors in 2019, also lost gigs. Forslund (who also won the award in 2018) lost his Carolina Hurricanes play-by-play job and Glenn (who also shared the award in 2013) lost his syndicated statewide radio show.) 

Hardin’s departure leaves the state of North Carolina with only two full-time newspaper sports columnists: Luke DeCock of The News & Observer and Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer. The Journal’s last sports columnist, Scott Hamilton, was laid off in April 2017. Newspaper readers in the state used to be able to read many sports columnists, including Caulton Tudor, Lenox Rawlings, Ron Green Sr., Ned Barnett, Tom Sorensen and Frank Dascenzo. 

Mills had been with the N&R for 21 years: eight on the copy desk, one as a news general assignment reporter and 12 as a sports writer. He covered the ACC for more than three years and, since 2012, covered Greensboro sports other than high schools, including UNCG, North Carolina A&T, minor-league baseball and the PGA. Mills won seven APSE awards and eight NCPA awards.

O’Neill, a 2011 Elon journalism graduate, joined the Journal in September 2017 after more than 5½ years at the Times-News of Burlington.

Ferlise, who joined the Journal in November 2017, won a second-place NCPA award last year for sports feature writing.

Isley frequently shot sports and won an NCPA award for sports feature photography earlier this year. She was NCPA’s photographer of the year in 2017 and had the 2019 NCPA photo of the year.

After the cuts, the consolidated sports department consists of Winston-Salem State beat writer John Dell (the N.C. sports writer of the year in 2005 and 2008), Appalachian State beat writer Ethan Joyce, News & Record preps writer Joe Sirera and Sports Editor Eddie Wooten.

The News & Record never hired another ACC writer after Brant Wilkerson-New left in summer 2019.

Because WSSU, A&T and high schools aren’t playing football in 2020, the coverage challenges won’t intensify until basketball season. Dell will cover Wake Forest and Joyce will continue to cover the Mountaineers.

Laid off sports writers create deep freelance pool

The number of layoffs during the pandemic has made finding good stringers much easier for media outlets. O’Neill, Bob Sutton and Pat James are just three examples.

Within one week, O’Neill went from covering Wake Forest’s home loss to Clemson on Saturday, Sept. 12, for the Journal to being laid off the following Wednesday to covering Wake Forest’s road loss at N.C. State for The N&O

He is covering the Deacons for the Raleigh newspaper and, by extension, fellow McClatchy newspapers The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun of Durham, on an interim basis as McClatchy gauges reader interest in Wake Forest coverage.

“We’re going to give it a try and see how the numbers do,” Todd Adams, the sports editor of The N&O, said via text. “A couple of stories a week for a few weeks, [and we’ll] go from there.” 

O’Neill joined another layoff victim and his former Times-News of Burlington boss, Sutton, in doing freelance work for the state’s McClatchy papers.

“Pretty darned impressive stringer market right now,” Adams said. “For all the wrong reasons, obviously.”

Sutton, who Gannett laid off in May after nearly 25 years as Times-News sports editor, is also doing some stringing for The Associated Press, which laid off sports writer Joedy McCreary late last year. McCreary is a data journalist for WNCN.

James, who UNC laid off this summer, is writing longform stories for Inside Carolina and covered the Boston College at Duke game for The AP. He will soon start a part-time job at Durham Academy as a social media strategist/content producer in its communications office, with his first day expected to be Oct. 5.

Also stringing sports for The N&O are two recent UNC graduates: Chapel Fowler, who also writes for the Chatham News + Record, and Madeline Coleman, who is a communications associate for Jeff Jackson for N.C. Senate.

Panthers’ Spanish-language broadcaster loses job

Luis Moreno Jr. told The Charlotte Observer that he lost his job as a Spanish-language radio broadcaster of Carolina Panthers games because of his open support of President Donald Trump. He was a contract employee and part of a broadcast team that gained quite a following during the Panthers’ run to the 2015 Super Bowl.

Vince Carter joins ESPN

After a 22-year NBA career that ended earlier this year, former North Carolina star Vince Carter has joined ESPN as an NBA and college basketball analyst. He had been a guest analyst for ESPN before his playing career ended. He is expected to appear on various ESPN shows, including NBA shows “NBA Countdown” and “The Jump” as well as making some appearances on “College GameDay.” He will also be a game analyst on NBA and ACC game broadcasts.

Summers starts “ACC Stars” podcast

Erin Summers, a sports reporter and host on college and high school telecasts, started the “ACC Stars” podcast last week. The podcast, which comes out every Tuesday, features a  conversation with a former ACC star each week.

Her first guest was former UNC forward Jawad Williams, and she talked to former N.C. State forward Simon Harris for this week’s episode. Next week’s guest will be former Duke forward Lee Melchionni. She plans to branch out to other ACC schools and sports for future episodes. 


North Carolina-related sports stories of note
For Inside Carolina, James wrote about the journey from Ireland of UNC punter Ben Kiernan, who aspired to be like an Irish rugby great but found his calling in football.

The day before Hardin was laid off, he wrote in the News & Record about the passing of his friend Curt Wadsley — a golfer, fisherman and basketball coach.

Days before Mills was laid off, he wrote in the N&R about what it was like around Boone during a strange football game day with no fans allowed into Kidd Brewer Stadium.

In The Undefeated, Martenzie Johnson and Neil Paine contend that there is no performance-based reason why former Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid doesn’t have an NFL job.

In the North State Journal, Brett Friedlander wrote about a little known Duke-UNC rivalry: one waged on the polo field in Efland.

Before the season started, Jonathan Alexander wrote in The Charlotte Observer that the Carolina Panthers quarterback is through with being someone he’s not.

In Men’s Health, J.A. Adande wrote about the limitless potential of former Duke star Zion Williamson.

Ryan Wilcox of The Daily Tar Heel did a Q&A with UNC coach Roy Williams and came up with some interesting and rarely asked questions for the Hall of Fame coach.

In The Washington Post, Gene Wang wrote about Kara Lawson’s many detours on her road to being named Duke’s women’s basketball coach.

ESPN’s David Hale wrote an interesting profile of UNC quarterback Sam Howell.