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Filed under Features, News, Showcase

Gabe Brooks moves to ETSN.fm

Gabe Brooks moves to ETSN.fm

Gabe Brooks served as the Pony Express sports editor when he was a Panola College student.

Gabe Brooks, former sports editor for the Panola College Pony Express, now works for the first-ever Internet sports network covering East Texas high schools.

The East Texas Sports Network, found online at ETSN.fm, was launched last summer by Townsquare Media, a national media corporation based in radio (hence the “.fm”) that owns almost 10 radio stations in East Texas, including four based in Tyler – Hot 107.3, Mix 93.1, 96X 96.1 and KNUE 101.5. The web-only high school sports network, which is based from the same building as the Tyler radio stations, covers a large geographic area, including many schools that were not being served by traditional local media.

“ETSN.fm covers from the state line to the east, Newton, Jasper and Crockett to the south, around Cayuga to the west and I-30 to the north,” Brooks said. “We’re a four-person staff, with two full-time writers covering 100-plus schools.”

In addition to the full-time staff, ETSN.fm employs freelance writers to help cover games, especially during football season. With 100-plus schools in its coverage, ETSN.fm developed an online submission form for coaches to use to provide game results for events staffers and freelancers cannot attend. Brooks also said ETSN.fm relies on an extensive social media presence in addition to the ETSN.fm site.

“We did a huge organic marketing push when we first launched,” he said. “We called all the coaches we could and had them bring their top football talent in for photo shoots.”

That initial effort helped ETSN.fm gain an audience even before its Aug. 1 launch date.

Townsquare Media printed business cards with the Facebook address for ETSN.fm, and within a couple of weeks, the page had more than 1,000 “likes.” ETSN.fm also established a Twitter account and has helped staffers such as Brooks expand their Twitter presence. Brooks had more than 600 followers when he left the Longview News-Journal in June 2012, but his Twitter following has almost doubled in nine months with ETSN.fm.

Brooks, son of Jeff and Teresa Brooks, both of whom are Panola College professors, grew up loving sports. A 2002 graduate of Carthage High School, Gabe worked on the high school newspaper his junior year, but devoted his senior year to academics.

Having earned 24 semester hours of dual credit while still in high school, Brooks attended Panola College for one year, earning an associate’s degree in May 2003. He also started writing sports stories as a stringer for The Shreveport Times during football season his freshman year of college.

He moved on to the University of North Texas because of its outstanding reputation as a journalism school. He interviewed with the staff of the North Texas Daily, UNT’s student newspaper, and was hired as a paid staff writer covering football and men’s basketball.

“North Texas had a good football team then,” he said, adding that the team won their third and fourth consecutive Sun Belt Conference championships while he was there.

During the two years he wrote for the school paper, he won awards for his writing and also served as the sports editor.

“We revolutionized game previews,” he said. “We broke it down position-by-position and provided in-depth analysis.”

In his senior year at UNT, Brooks said the school hosted the Sun Belt Conference men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, which is one of the most memorable weeks of his career, amateur or professional.

“The entire conference came to Denton,” he said. “That was at the beginning when ESPNU was getting off the ground. It was a great experience at that age being part of something that significant in college sports.”

Brooks graduated from UNT about the time that journalism was starting to change from print to digital. Brooks said multiple journalism professors warned students that things were changing. After graduation, Brooks was hired to work in the sports department at the Longview News-Journal. During his almost seven years with the paper, ownership changed three times.

Brooks embraced the trend toward digital, utilizing Twitter to update play-by-play at games and also running a football-only blog during the 2009 season.

When professional colleagues invited him to join the newly formed ETSN.fm network, he jumped at the chance.

“They are very forward thinking and digitally-minded,” he said.

In addition to providing up-to-date game coverage, the ETSN.fm teams with Hot 107.3, which is No. 1 in the latest ratings in East Texas, to broadcast Friday night football games. Last year, they broadcasted Chapel Hill games, and this year it will be Whitehouse.

Dairy Queen is the primary sponsor for ETSN.fm, with posters all over Texas listing the ETSN.fm link. Townsquare Media’s radio stations run ETSN.fm house ads, and the website links back to the radio stations for effective cross-marketing.

Brooks said ETSN.fm is working hard to promote East Texas athletes.

“A lot of kids in East Texas slip through the cracks when it comes to recruiting,” he said. “We are hosting the first-ever ETSN.fm Football Recruiting Combine on May 19 in Tyler. It’s an invitation-only event that will be run by APEC, a facility that trains a lot of college and pro athletes. It will be an NFL-style combine and we are planning to have about 100 athletes from across the area there to show their skills.”

Brooks says his favorite sports are football and basketball, and while he appreciates the feature stories about athletes, he prefers writing about what happens on the field.

“My whole focus with football is the Xs and the Os. Strategy and analysis are what I thrive on. I love writing game previews, game stories and articles about recruiting,” he said.

After writing about sports for more than 10 years, Gabe offers this advice: “Learn to write short. Edit your story. You’re taught your entire life in school meet a certain word or page count. The vast majority of the time, journalism writing is the opposite. Brevity matters,” he said, adding that he follows beat writers: people who cover specific teams or sports in an objective way, highlighting statistics, strategy, analysis, and other “nuts and bolts” aspects.

“I rarely read columnists,” he said. “They are opinion guys. I have my own opinion.”

As a writer, Brooks has made a successful transition from print to digital.

“I seriously doubt I will ever return to the newspaper industry,” he said. “I feel fortunate to get out and land somewhere as fun as ETSN.fm, so it would have to be an extremely tempting offer from a much bigger newspaper to lure me back.”

Writing remains his career focus, whether his work is published in print, online or broadcast media.

“I could see myself being a football-only, recruiting-heavy writer for one of the major recruiting networks, such as Rivals.com, 247Sports.com, Scout.com, or ESPN.com. Those are the four big boys of recruiting, which has become not only a year-round job for college coaches, but for writers who work for those outlets.”

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