AP's John Affleck named Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- John Affleck, a journalist and leader at The Associated Press who has served most recently as sports enterprise editor/interim deputy sports editor for the news organization that produces content seen by half the world’s population on a given day, has been named the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society at Penn State.

Affleck has served as a reporter, editor and national manager at the AP, working regularly with all of the organization’s major editorial departments during his 22-year career.

In his most recent role, he helped manage day-to-day operations for the roughly 70-member domestic sports team. He directed coverage of the Lance Armstrong saga, coordinated efforts with the news department as the Jerry Sandusky case unfolded and guided the U.S. sports report last summer when the AP’s sports team was split between Olympic and non-Olympic coverage.

Affleck has directed coverage of college football and the last five Bowl Championship Series national title games. He also oversaw the wire service’s 2013 Final Four coverage and was a key editor at the World Cup in South Africa. He also represented the AP at the 2012 Associated Press Sports Editors convention and at APSE’s sessions this year with commissioners from major pro sports leagues.

Reporters and projects under Affleck’s direct supervision have been honored in dozens of regional and national contests, and have earned awards from a wide array of groups, including the nation’s education writers, religion reporters, and the lesbian and gay journalists association. Work under his guidance has captured the AP’s top internal prizes for news enterprise, sports enterprise and sports features.

As the Knight Chair, Affleck will serve as director of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism, housed in the College of Communications at Penn State. The Curley Center, a first-of-its-kind academic endeavor in U.S. higher education when founded in 2003, explores issues and trends in sports journalism through instruction, programming and research. The center is celebrating its 10th anniversary during the 2013-14 academic year.

“We are pleased to have John Affleck join our faculty as the Knight Chair,” said Dean Doug Anderson of the College of Communications. “He’s a leader who has a great depth of knowledge about sports writing, who is adept at guiding journalists in a 24/7 multimedia newsroom, and who has a long history of reporting on topics that transcend the games and take on bigger issues."

As Affleck transitions to higher education, he brings a lifelong passion for education and sports journalism to the position. He worked for the AP in Albany, N.Y., Buffalo, N.Y., and Cleveland before moving to the organization’s main office in New York. He earned his bachelor’s degree in American studies, with honors, from the University of Notre Dame. He also completed a postgraduate diploma in 20th century English literature at the University of Dundee in Scotland and added a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

“John’s experience working with reporters covering sports around the globe will transfer beautifully into his work with our students in the classroom and in the field,” said Marie Hardin, associate dean in the College of Communications and associate director for research in the Curley Center. “He knows how to coach writers and to help them do their best work. Our students will benefit immensely.”

Along with his leadership and mentoring young reporters, Affleck also has earned writing awards himself. He brings an appreciation of journalism fundamentals and an understanding of the need for innovation in the changing multimedia journalism environment to the position.

“My global philosophy on what sports journalism education should accomplish is that, regardless of form -- be it text, audio, graphics or video -- it should help students think critically and express ideas well. If students can harness those skills as a foundation, they will be well on their way to success in a highly competitive market,” Affleck said. “My aim will be to impart the skills to succeed in contemporary journalism -- from producing on deadline to interviewing and developing sources -- by giving students real-life opportunities and individual feedback.

“Students need to learn about critical areas that affect sports off the field -- contract law, criminal law, marketing, medicine and race relations, for example -- and students in the Curley Center will be pushed to explore the deeper enterprise stories in sports, the long-lasting ones that examine our societal values and tap into our passion for athletic competition.”

As director of the center, Affleck will: teach several courses, including sports writing; serve as a voice about sports journalism issues and trends; and coordinate the center’s programming, which includes a variety of partnerships at Penn State and off campus for guest lectures and special events. Guests for Center programming have included Christine Brennan, Bob Costas, John Feinstein, Brent Musburger and Bob Ryan.

The center’s undergraduate curricular emphasis includes courses in sports writing, sports broadcasting, sports information, sports, media and society, and sports and public policy, which is cross-listed with the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. The center’s approach includes an emphasis on co-curricular activities and internships, both on and off campus. The quality of students as well as the reputation of the program have produced numerous experiences for students at top-level media- and sports-related companies.

In recent years, students in the center have covered the London Olympics, the Final Four and the Bowl Championship Series game. Students have also completed hundreds of sports-related internships, many of which have led to jobs in the industry. Penn State alumni work at almost every major news and sports organization, in roles as varied as journalists and team management.

Affleck grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., and has been a competitive runner for most of his life, once finishing in the top 500 at the Boston Marathon. He was ranked nationally as a master’s competitor by USA Track and Field in four events (800 meters, 1,500 meters, 3,000 meters and the mile) as recently as 2005.

He is married to Jessica Ancker, an assistant professor at the Center for Healthcare Informatics and Policy at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.

In September 2005, the College of Communications was awarded a $1.5 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to establish the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society. The Knight Foundation has established two dozen endowed chairs in journalism at top universities nationwide. The chairs are leading journalists who take positions as professors within academia. They practice journalism, teach innovative classes, and create experimental projects and new programs that help lead journalism excellence in the digital age. The Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. Its Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics fights the growing commercialization of college sports.

“The digital age is turning journalism upside down and inside out,” said Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, “and sports journalism is no exception. In a world in which live sports events dominate the news stream, the challenge is to do journalism that doesn’t just repeat what everyone just saw but adds meaning and insight. That requires the kind of knowledge that Affleck brings to the chair.”

The Curley Center is named for John Curley, the former chairman and CEO of Gannett Co. Inc., who was the first editor of USA Today. Anderson and Curley were the founding co-directors of the Center.

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Last Updated July 11, 2014