I met up with James Raia, a fellow blaster here at Blasting News. James has deep experience covering live events for multiple outlets. He is also a good person and good friend.

Online specialist, Bill Belew, talks with Print Master, James Raia

BN: How did you get into journalism? How long have you been at it?

JR:As a marginal high school athlete, I used to follow the San Francisco Giants and Golden State Warriors and read about them in San Francisco Chronicle, often in bylined articles by Art Spander. (He’s still a journalist in his late 70s). When I realized I wasn’t much of an athlete but knew sports well, I had an idea for the high school newspaper.

It was called The Unsung Hero. I wrote about friends who didn’t get write-ups in the Contra Costa Times, the daily newspaper in Walnut Creek, Calif. I wrote about the center on the football team and other guys on the baseball and basketball teams. Even then I looked for an angle, a player on the team who rarely played or an athlete who was a foreign exchange student. I’ve just stuck with it... It’s the only thing I’ve really ever wanted to do. I’ve been on staff for three daily newspapers. I’ve been fired from one. And I’ve now been a full-time freelancer since 1987. This is my 40th years as a reporter.

BN: What are some of the highlights of your career as a journalist?

JR: I’ve always liked endurance sports.

After covering the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii for many years, lots of marathons and a few dozen bike races around the country, I had the opportunity to go to the Tour de France for the first time in 1999. I attended it from start to finish 13 times. Reporting on a three-week bike race is everything a sportswriter could ask for .

. . there’s a never-ending supply of stories. But covering the Tour de France for me was more about the people, the driving, the beauty of the mountains, the friends I met and traveled with, the “danger.” Added all up and it was “the spirit the adventure” that was the most compelling. I’ve covered more than 100 cycling races in more than a dozen countries.

Through the years, I’ve reported on many well-known sports and leagues, the NBA, NFL, NCAA. etc., and famous athletes, Julius Irving to Lance Armstrong, Jack Nicklaus to Lasse Viren. But the best stories for me have always been about unheralded athletes, ultra-marathon runners to cross country skiers to age-group athletes who do things solely for the enjoyment. In recent years, I’ve also written travel, business, commentaries and human-interest articles for many newspapers, magazines and news services. I’ve written about golf for more than 30 years. I've written about automobiles since 2004. I’ve been a sports “stringer” for Associated Press since 1986.

BN: Is writing for print publications different than writing for digital?

How so?

JR: Writing for digital in general means shorter articles, but with more leeway for opinion.

BN: What caused you to make the leap, at least partially, to writing online as well?

JR: I was an early adapter to online writing with contributions to Outside Magazine online in my early years of Tour de France coverage and to cycling websites like VeloNews and CyclingNews and others now defunct. Cycling and other endurance sports weren’t often of interest to mainstream sports section editors, so when AOL and others started it presented new opportunities. In recent weeks, I’ve contributed six travel and human-interest articles to Runner’s World online.

Having worked in the online space for many years, I think I might be able to write and hit the publish button more quickly than James.

But I can never write as well as he can. James has me by leaps and bounds in experience. Nothing beats being there.

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