Sports Journalism Institute

Helping women and minorities get into newsrooms since 1993

From reporter to columnist: Rankin reflects on his journey since being in the inaugural SJI class

The Sports Journalism Institute is celebrating its 25th class this summer. Over the next few months we will feature the stories of some of the programs’ alums, as told in the words of other SJI students in articles written for The SJI Bulletin as well as our website. Here we offer a look at 1993 alum Duane Rankin.

By Wilton Jackson, II
Class of 2015

Duane Rankin remembers running track and playing basketball at Huntington High School, thinking he was going to be the next best post player.

While playing sports, the Huntington, W.Va., native also had a passion for reading the late Ralph Wiley’s writing, the former African American senior sports writer for Sports Illustrated and one of the original Page 2 columnist for ESPN covering sports and race in America.

Duane Rankin left, covers Auburn coach Bruce Pearl's first game back at his old school, Tennessee.

“I liked everything that he said,” said Rankin. “He wrote about my favorite athletes. He was black too. I thought it was cool.”

When Rankin realized that playing collegiate or professional sports would not be his career, columnists such as Wiley garnered his interest for sports reporting. Instead of saying goodbye to sports as a whole, Rankin took up the idea of telling sports stories.

Today, Rankin can be spotted on the sidelines of a football field wearing a blue, grey or black Kangol hat, incorporating his personality to talk with athletes for stories published in the Montgomery Advertiser.

Rankin, who joined the Alabama-based newspaper on National Signing Day in 2013, works as a columnist, covering football for two of the biggest Southeastern Athletic Conference (SEC) schools and state rivals in the University of Alabama and the University of Auburn.

In addition to covering the Crimson Tide and the Tigers, Rankin covers Alabama State of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and writes other non-sports related columns.

Before becoming a columnist, Rankin weaved his way through the industry, building his confidence in reporting for different print media outlets and learning valuable lessons along the way that he still uses today.

Of those tough yet valuable lessons, Rankin credited his participation in the Sports Journalism institute (SJI) in giving him a real dose of what it meant to be a reporter and how to navigate the media industry.

“The SJI gave me that edge,” Rankin said. “After going through SJI, I knew that I could do this reporting thing for a living. I knew this could be my career.”

After completing an internship with Hampton University Graduate School in the summer of 1992, Rankin was selected for the first SJI class in 1993.

Eager and excited to be apart of such a highly-competitive opportunity, Rankin recalled his SJI experience as the first real challenge for what he wanted to do in the industry.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Rankin said. “Leon’s sports checks, I dreaded those. We had two weeks’ worth of boot camp and attended the Associated Press Sports Editors conference (APSE). Then, one day, we had to write five paragraphs on a baseball game on deadline. My classmates and I were like WHAT but it ended up being a good day for me.”

“Looking back now, the boot camp was not that bad. However, I thought to myself like why are we having to do this?”

As the boot camp continued, Rankin said things got better and one piece of advice from Leon helped him to put things into perspective.

“This boot camp separates the men from the boys,” Rankin said.

Beyond sports checks and deadline writing, Rankin also said the caliber of guests that the SJI program introduced to him and his classmates left an impression of a lifetime.

“Robin Roberts, Bill Rhoden, who I’ve really gotten to know over the years of being in the business and Roy Johnson, these were the heavy hitters right here,” Rankin said.

Rankin recalled seeing Johnson at the APSE regional conference as an SJI student when Johnson asked him and his classmates a very interesting and valuable question.

‘How many of you all are sports journalists,’ Johnson said.

“We all raised our hands of course,” Rankin said.

However, Johnson responded to Rankin and his classmates with an unusual response, one they were not really prepared for.

“ ‘I am not a sports journalist but a journalist who happens to write about sports,’ “ Johnson said. “This was very eye opening for us,” Rankin said.

With a plethora of new experiences and completion of the boot camp, Rankin received a sports internship with the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey.

Boston Globe sports editor Joe Sullivan, who was then the sports editor, Rankin got the opportunity to cover former Duke point guard Bobby Hurley, former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor coming back from injury and former New York Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams.

Rankin said this internship prepared him for what a sports reporting job would be like.

“It was a series of trial and error,” Rankin said. “I learned a lot. I learned how to get a story and how to manage my time.”

After finishing the internship and enduring some humbling moments along the way, Rankin went back to Marshall University on a new level in the fall. He applied and became the sports editor of the university newspaper, The Parthenon.

“I credit Sandy and Leon for helping me to become an editor,” Rankin said.

From his writing and editing experiences, Rankin landed an internship with the Charlotte Observer in 1994 before getting his first sports reporting job at the Marietta Daily Journal in Marietta, Georgia covering high school and small college sports later on that same year.

Rankin managed to land a job in Marietta before graduating from Marshall. While working at the Marietta Daily Journal, he took two independent study classes at the University of Kentucky to graduate from Marshall in the summer of 1995.

Getting his degree and earning his first job, Rankin’s career took off and he never looked back.

Rankin worked in Marietta from 1994-96 before moving to Jackson, Tennessee to cover high school sports, small colleges, University of Tennessee football, SEC championship games and SEC road games for The Jackson Sun from 1996-99.

From 1999-2002, Rankin worked at the Dominion Post in Morgantown, West Virginia, working as the West Virginia men’s basketball beat writer and helping out with football. After a four-year stint in his home state, Rankin went back south to work for The Greenville News in South Carolina, covering Clemson football and baseball as a beat reporter from 2002-05.

From South Carolina, Rankin went to Erie, Pennsylvania to work at the Erie Times-News from 2005-13, covering Penn State football, University of Pittsburgh football, the Cleveland Cavaliers during the regular season and exclusively in the playoffs, the NBA D-League Erie Bayhawks and writings blogs and columns.

Then, from Erie, Rankin took a job with the Montgomery Advertiser.

With over 20 years of sports reporting experience, Rankin said the advice, the relationships and the mentors he has established over the years has truly impacted his career.

“You need someone you can trust to fire off your thoughts,” Rankin said. Justice Hill was one of the first who gave me a job interview early in my career. Sandy Rosenbush, while she still sees me as a student, looked out for me.”

“Bill Rhoden, great conversation. He’s on Mt. Rushmore for sports journalists. Michael Wilbon and David Aldridge, I gained something from their experiences. They made me better.”

While he has learned from many over the years, Rankin did not always embrace the knack for networking but encourages young sports journalists to do so.

“I was so stubborn,” Rankin said. “If I would have taken heed to that, I could have been in a different place in my career. You got to be able to make those connections.”

Part of building your network allows one to learn different tips and tricks to enhance your skills in the business, something that has helped Rankin to adapt to today’s media environment.

“Take advantage of numerous ways to tell a story,” Rankin said. “Find out what you enjoy the most and develop it.”

“A story now is not the same story it was 20 years ago. Athletes are saying stuff on social media. Use social media to your advantage.”

The road to Rankin becoming a successful African American sports reporter and columnist has not been an easy one.

However, living by his motto “learn from your mistakes and be better than yesterday” Rankin appreciates his journey, and will forever credit SJI for preparing him to earn his respect in the business.

“SJI lit the fire for me to be great,” Rankin said. “I learned how to handle what people gave me. “I remained open to critiques and I believed in what I was doing, despite what people said. More than anything, people may not have liked me but they respected me because I was accurate and did my job well.”