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Popular sportswriter remembers Chronicle years

Upon entering Duke, John Feinstein did not have high aspirations. Like many college-age males, he simply wanted to drink and meet girls.  

Yet, the native New Yorker also had a keen love for sports—from a passion for his hometown Knicks and Mets to a swimming ability that almost sent him into the pool for the Blue Devils.

After a broken ankle ended a potential collegiate swimming career, Feinstein was left with a lot of free time and nothing to do until a hallmate told him that The Chronicle was a “great place to meet girls,” Feinstein said.

That fall, Feinstein started as a Chronicle sports writer, and 31 years later, the now best-selling author has not stopped writing.

Feinstein has written several best-selling sports books from March to Madness, which chronicled the ACC 1996-97 basketball season, to his latest, Caddy for Life, which profiles Bruce Edwards, a caddy who recently died of Lou Gehrig's disease.

He notes that his career has taken him full circle. When he began at The Chronicle, he was writing about fencing—a non-revenue sport about which he knew nothing—but wanted to cover basketball and football. Now, Feinstein finds less well-known subjects to be of interest.

“I have covered all the glamorous events,” Feinstein said. “I am looking to get away from glamour and glitz.  I want to write about athletes not in the spotlight.”

Feinstein’s Chronicle experience led to an internship with The Washington Post upon graduation.  He served as a police reporter, relying on journalism skills acquired as a three-year associate managing editor at Duke.

Although Feinstein made his name as a sports writer, he noted that his four years of college news writing experience was invaluable.  

“I really majored in The Chronicle. That was basically what I did,” Feinstein said. “Part of being a reporter is learning about new things.”

In his last two years as an undergraduate, Feinstein served as Chronicle sports editor, a position that taught the future best-selling author and journalist about the production and business of newspapers.

The process, which is now run by computers, was entirely done by hand. Reporters wrote stories on typewriters. Editors would take stories and place them on the makeup board. If a story was too long, an editor would cut it with a razor. The pages, which are now sent electronically to the printer, were hand-delivered in the late 1970s and photographed.

Feinstein remembers driving down I-85 with the daily pages, sometimes in the early morning hours.  It was through this process that Feinstein learned how to write headlines, pick out and arrange photos and layout all the newspaper pages. “I was far more experienced than most 21-year-old kids when I got to The [Washington] Post,” Feinstein said.

With such a long journalistic career, Feinstein has seen changes not only in newspaper production but also in the role of print media.  He notes that with the abundance of electronic media, print media has sometimes become an “afterthought.”  

“Years ago it was routine to go into the locker room after a game,” Feinstein said. “Now most places try to shepherd you into an interview room…. [There is] a lack of access.”

Despite changes in newspaper production and influence, the lessons Feinstein learned through his four-year experience at The Chronicle still stick with him today.  

“The Chronicle shaped me as a journalist,” Feinstein said. “My first mentors in the business were older editors at the paper.”

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