How Montana’s top sports reporter developed and maintains a professionally curious mindset
Colter Nuanez | 4 min read
Intellectual curiosity is one of the most important traits a professional can develop. It helps you consistently grow and develop skills. You might notice connections between seemingly disparate challenges, leading to new and innovative strategies or solutions.
To learn more about what intellectual curiosity looks like in practice, we turned to Colter Nuanez — someone who left the newspaper industry to launch a successful digital media company, navigated another career change, and developed one of the Mountain West’s largest sports podcast networks. Colter’s formal title is account executive and promotions director for ESPN Missoula. In addition, he’s co-host of Tootell and Nuanez, which broadcasts live on ESPN Radio and SWX television, and is Montana’s top sports show.
Learning and the essential need to learn never ceases in the professional world, and that truism is particularly true for journalists.
As a radio broadcaster hosting a daily live sports talk show, the need and vital importance of consistent and constant learning is essential — especially because of the performance and entertainment elements required by content communication.
For instance, when putting a piece together, I have to conduct research well before the interview, so I can learn the most interesting and relevant aspects of the person. During the interview, it’s key to speak with them in an engaging way and employ ever-evolving conversational techniques. Afterward, I digest the interview in order to communicate the most pertinent, relevant portions to the audience.
If I’m not curious or interested, not only will the person I’m interviewing pick up on it, but so will the audience. That’s true regardless of medium, whether it be print, radio, or television.
Skyline Sports, the independent multimedia company I founded in 2014, wouldn’t be the disruptor it is in journalism industry of the Rocky Mountain West if it wasn’t driven by that same intellectual curiosity.
Skyline competes mainly with corporate-backed newspapers and succeeds because of a constantly evolving process of content production, scheduling, and distribution. That steady creative drive helped Skyline spearhead the creation of Montana’s longest-running sports podcast, and it keeps the company ahead of competitors with its continued development of podcast production and frequent additions of new distribution methods — new technologies, email lists, social media, or in traditional outlets like magazines, television, and radio.
At ESPN Missoula, the necessity of learning shows itself often. The need to continue growing and improving as a conversationalist is an endless pursuit that spans a range of technologies and personal abilities.
For instance, you have to fine-tune your voice as an instrument. And the more proficient you are at operating the various radio technologies — Adobe Audition, NextGen, Axia, among others — the more efficient audio production is and the more ubiquitous your content becomes.
The business and creative demands of ESPN Missoula and Skyline make intellectual curiosity a professional imperative. In essence, journalism is the quenching of that persistent curiosity, a limitless pursuit of constant and consistent learning.
Figuring it out on the fly, in full public view
Much of the value of intellectual curiosity comes from the ways in which it frees you to just figure problems out on your own.
As a journalist who worked in newspapers from 2006 until 2012 (when the precursor to Skyline Sports launched) the way I’ve put sources and interview subjects “on the record” has been progressive and never the same.
When I first began, for example, I took notes longhand. Soon I created a loose shorthand to improve and expedite those notes. But it wasn’t long before a new challenge came along.
When I started covering Montana State University football for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the job called for me to efficiently produce 15 to 20 print stories each week. Taking notes shorthand wasn’t going to cut it, so I began recording interviews. The need to cultivate sources and produce a full content schedule demanded it.
I had to consistently and accurately transcribe each and every interview. To improve this skill, I taught myself how to type in rhythm with the interview, hitting the play/pause button on my MacBook Pro as needed.
When I took a job at ESPN in Missoula, the way I collected, recorded, edited, produced, uploaded, and aired audio shifted again. I researched audio recorders that provide pristine quality. The operation of this technology, from XLR cables to dual microphones so press conference questions can be heard as clearly as the subject’s responses, audio collection, and production have been in constant flux during my 14 years working as a reporter.
The other challenge of live radio and the necessity of crisp, clean audio produced and uploaded in an efficient, timely manner comes during live broadcasts. ESPN Missoula broadcasts a live show 90 minutes before and 90 minutes immediately after every University of Montana football game.
Because the post-game press conference happens within 30 minutes of the completion of the game, I go to the press conferences to rapidly ask questions while my radio co-host gets on air live, by himself. Immediately after the press conference, I have to edit the audio files to include pertinent content that is both the proper length and of interest to our listeners.
Consume and intuit
I believe you have to voraciously consume vast amounts of content and information from many sources to be an elite, high-level journalist. Maintaining an intellectual curiosity is critical because it’s not enough to simply scan through the material. You have to be able to intuit and pick up on the connections between otherwise unconnected facts or events.
To train the brain for constant learning, I do not watch anything on television that isn’t either sports-related or educational. This helps the mind stay sharp and able to consume, dissect, and recall information at the drop of a hat.
But there are only so many hours in a day, and one can consume only so much information. So the constant need to know how to efficiently know what to read, what to research, and which rabbit holes to chase down (or ignore) are also crucial aspects of a journalist.
In order to conduct compelling radio interviews, active listening is essential. I have to listen intently while running an array of technology in order to keep the interview sharp and engaging for both the interviewee and the audience.
Listen & Learn
At its core, earning a journalism degree is like training to be a dispassionate communicator and researcher. You need to have a willingness to change your mind and follow where the research takes you. Eliminating pre-conceived notions from your mind is crucial. That willingness to listen and change is a honed, ever-developing skill.
Keeping the fire of your curiosity stoked and vibrant is integral to the workaday tasks of journalism. Some people are naturally curious, but the techniques and habits I’ve developed are just that — techniques and habits. Anyone can pick them up, and they’re applicable to just about every profession.
All it takes is indulging your curiosity every day, at least once a day.
BY COLTER NUANEZ
Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate (’09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference.