1. Don't Be A Fan - If you began a fan, you can't continue as one. Don't mistake what that means. In your heart, you can be a fan, and if you aren't something's wrong! Loving the sport you cover, and the stories that unfold, isn't a requirement, but I can't imagine not feeling that way and doing this with my life. And you can be a rabid, foaming fan in your living room or attending a game as a spectator. What I mean by don't be a fan comes down to ethics. You're a professional now, or, if you don't get paid, you've got a responsibility if you've been granted access. Minor league teams tend to be more open to non-accredited blogs, even ones that lean toward fandom. Don't take advantage of that. Conduct yourself as every reporter does in the press box. You don't cheer and you don't seek autographs when you enter the locker room. Even if you have a day job, this is a profession. Respect it.
2. Build Connections- You are your own advocate as a reporter. We chase our contacts, establish trust, and find ways of getting exclusive information. In the minor leagues, this works the same, but if you're an independent blogger, the development of those relationships is even more important. Twitter and Facebook can open those channels even more, but also just increase visibility and familiarity. If a player sees you at the park, covering the game, then you retweet something he's said or tweet/post his numbers from that night, attach his handle. They want to know who they're dealing with. And if they happen to like dealing with you, then they're going to be more open in interviews. If they follow you, you can privately contact them via DM to ask to set up an interview. This helps especially during the off-season. You're creating exclusivity by doing that. And in the digital age, that's gotten tougher to have. A bit of advice: going back to that 'don't be a fan' thing, don't over-socialize with them on Twitter or say something overly-gushy. I avoid birthday wishes, for example. If I know them, maybe I'll send a DM. If not, it doesn't occur to me to do that. If you're tweeting directly to them, keep it fairly cool. No law against fun or friendliness, so don't over-think this one. Just be mindful.
3. Keep Lists - If you're covering the minor leagues, you become aware of how many players are on Twitter. And new players are joining the social media giant everyday. Plus, after the MLB Draft college players quickly change their bio to identify themselves with the team that drafted them. So their presence is always changing and growing. I began a MiLB list a couple of years ago and it grew to 700 accounts, so I added a second which grew to 300. I have a third, which includes around 500 accounts, each one includes players (mostly), teams official accounts, independent team blogs, PR, and beat writers. This is far easier for me to keep track of interesting information, breaking news, and familiarizing with players. This also helps with my annual 'MiLB Twitter Twenty', so if you do any sort of end-of-season awards or best-of list, consider organizing lists centered on that subject.
4. Pay Attention To High School/College Players- Preps are your preparation. Being aware of high school, and college, players on the radar can only enhance your work. When the Draft comes around, if you have a good grasp of a player's progression before he goes professional, that allows you to talk shop with authority. Bonus if you can get to showcases, something I've not managed to do in my career. With so much information available, reading as many reports as you can is a huge asset. Also, connecting with players in high school and college on Twitter can create professional trust, as they begin their careers. I've had almost entirely great experiences with that. The 2013 Draft was a lesson for me, though. Two players that drafted in the first ten rounds had been friendly and open when I covered them throughout their high school/college days. I interviewed them and they were great to me. I consistently mentioned them on 'Follow Friday.' After being drafted, the script changed. One began calling me 'Ms. Quiroli' the week before the draft...he'd never called me that before. He became distinctly cold. He unfollowed me pretty fast. The other was great in giving me a post-draft interview, but quickly unfollowed me thereafter. The guy who called me 'Ms. Quiroli' basked in the national media spotlight and clearly had his course of action set: I was no longer useful. While this wasn't a fun realization, it's only a small part of my experience. Most of the time that early connecting is meaningful; most players don't lose that appreciation and humility from their early days, and generally respect everyone in the media. Try not take too much personally. There's plenty of stories to tell and your focus on high school/college players is important to your ability to tell that story later, if and when they go pro. Also, make sure to follow some college and high school accounts and reporters. If you're focusing on a specific region, know who the college and high school sports writers are. Read their information, and seek your own.
5. Develop Your Niche- In a market increasingly saturated with blogs and opinions, you need to find what you do and know best. If you're just trying to gain experience, covering any minor league team in your area is a great way to develop your skills, professionalism, and collect clips you can present to editors. Having a blog dedicated to one team (Mike Ashmore's 'Thunder Thoughts' is an excellent example), whether you work for a newspaper or publication, or you have an independent blog, fans of the team's parent club are going to read your thoughts. If you have access, even better. Access is key. While the saturation is mostly a good thing for the minor leagues, players are increasingly easier to 'get to' via social media. Having access has always been important to reporters and is far more important today, when they're are a lot of fans creating pathways to players. Reach out to the PR person of a team and see what their thoughts are, and what they expect of you. If they say they're willing to grant you access for a few games, take it. Send a thank you note (e-mail, obviously, not by a man on a horse known as the mail). When you're first in the locker room, follow the lead of the vets. When I first began covering the Thunder, I appreciated the helping hand. Around the third season, a young writer came in hotshotting. I was asked to keep an eye on him and another writer, and offer any guidance I could. But this guy gave me evil eye every time I offered help or asked him how he was faring. He wanted to be a vet before he'd put the time in. Don't do this. Be humble and respect the process, as well as anyone offering to help you, because not everyone will. Understand that valuing the other writers and employees around you creates a positive atmosphere, and in turn, a positive relationship with the team. If the PR person asked me about that writer, I wouldn't have had anything positive to say and that doesn't help someone who, in that case, wasn't working for a newspaper the team relied on, but a website. Bad move on his part. So respect EVERYONE. And respect the team's responsibility to the parent club. Minor league affiliates want to generate more publicity for their team, especially positive attention, but you're also showcasing your worth. Be professional and respectful. Ask questions. Figure some things out on your own. Focusing on one team or league allows you to be an authority on one subject and you want a unique voice in a crowd of thousands of writers, reporters, and bloggers.
Whatever your focus, have one. And do the work to the best of your ability. That's all you have control over. Hopefully these tips help you.