«

»

Sep
19
2012

Auto Repair: A New Reality for Sportswriters

Tom Schreier says that the unpaid route to the top is going to be commonplace in the Internet era.

Matt Foley: Young man what do you wanna do with your life?
Son in Matt Foley sketch: Well actually, Matt, I kinda wanna be a writer.
Matt Foley: Well la-de-freakin’-dah! We got ourselves a writer here! Hey, Dad, I can’t see too good. [moves glasses up and down]
Matt Foley: Is that Bill Shakespeare over there?

Chris Farley Saturday Night Live motivational speaker sketch

***

I arrive at work at 8:00 am. I will enter the Minnesota Twins press box at 2:00 pm for a 7:00 pm game—if I’m lucky.

That is assuming that I can get off work early and that traffic is reasonable and that I can get from a free parking lot, which is probably four or five blocks away from Target Field, to the park in a timely manner.

After interviews I’ll get home at midnight—if I’m lucky.

That is assuming that the game is well-pitched and that Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau get out of the showers on time and that I can get my interviews transcribed, story written and uploaded to Bleacher Report in a timely manner.

One day I will arrive at work at 2:00 pm—if I’m lucky.

That is assuming that I stand out among the thousands of people that want the same job I want and that I get recognized by somebody that can offer me a job and that the journalism industry remains profitable.

This is the reality of the aspiring sports journalist today.

***

Like Chris Farley in Tommy Boy (not the SNL sketch) I work at an auto parts store.

No, I don’t work for my dad, I work for my friend’s brother in law, and no I have not shipped something to Columbus, Ohio that was meant to go to Columbus, Ga., but I have smacked my head against a couple things.

Is that for me, dad?

I chose to work at Lund’s Auto instead of, say, Chipotle, because I can’t leave a job at Chipotle unexpectedly to do freelance work at a junior hockey tournament in Sioux Falls, Iowa or get off at lunch when I’m scheduled to work until 5:00 pm because I want to interview Trevor Plouffe or Brian Duensing in the clubhouse before a game.

And, most pertinently, I’m learning a skill.

I can identify a starter motor, an alternator and an AC compressor. I’ve figured out how to do shipping through eBay and have found that it is economical to send things less than three pounds through USPS and heavier items through UPS. And I know that the 1999 Pontiac Grand Am is the greatest car ever made (at least that’s what I’m supposed to say).

This setup is not ideal.

I’d love to work with an experienced editor every day and sit in a newsroom full of people that know everything about the local music scene or crime investigation or politics or market trends or whatever.

I’d love to have a little more time to dedicate to reading and writing.

And I’d love to receive a paycheck for what I write.

But, in many ways I’m blessed.

I have a loving family that supports my career choice and allows me to live at home until I find a stable job (or until I do something really stupid).

I write for Bleacher Report, the United States’ third-largest platform, and here at FanMan with a cast of dedicated writers that put out some of the greatest sports content on the web.

And the Twins, my favorite baseball team, have offered me press credentials.

Not only that, but they want me there. They have set me up with interviews with people like batting coach Joe Vavra or allowed me to sit in the peanut-free section for a game to write about a progressive endeavor the organization has undertaken.

Additionally, the local beat writers, guys I look up to like Joe Christensen and La Velle E. Neal III from the Star Tribune and John Shipley from the St. Paul Pioneer Press  d are always willing to have a conversation about their approach to journalism and offer career advice.

For right now, I’m in a good place. I get to work with outstanding people in the morning and watch the team I love at night. Because I have a strong portfolio here and at B/R I’ve been offered freelance work by sites like HockeysFuture.com and StadiumJourney.com, meaning that I get paid to cover junior and college hockey and have an opportunity to meet even more contacts in the world of sports journalism.

But I realize that the clock is ticking.

After all, I can’t be a pseudo-mechanic/unpaid writer forever. When I told my aunt that I was going to work at an auto parts store she laughed. “You have that big expensive degree from Santa Clara,” she said in jest, “and you’re going to end up being a mechanic.”

Sadly, that’s not out of the question…

***

My grandfather lived in a different time period.

WordPress circa 1945.

An accountant, he would rise early in the morning and read two papers: USA Today and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

To be the sports columnist at the Star Tribunemeant you had one of the largest platforms in sports. You didn’t have to compete with bloggers and web-based journalists from throughout the country and knew that you’d get a steady paycheck.

A young journalist would get their beginning at a small-town newspaper like the Faribault Daily News, St. Peter Herald or Owatonna People’s Press. From there you’d be recognized and offered a job at the Star Tribune probably as a stringer or maybe even answering phones and eventually move on to a beat writer or, later, a columnist.

It was worth the journey.

You knew the Daily News was a steady job for a young person and that in the end you would have your voice heard all throughout the metropolitan area later in life and could hold that position until you moved on or passed away.

I’ve talked to a person that has recently taken that route. Where the barrier to entry at a small-town paper used to be relatively low, this person told me they applied for 60-75 jobs and the only paper that took them was 40 miles outside of Ames, Iowa.

This person told me that after three years at this little paper, they had become a beat writer for a Big 12 basketball team (presumably Iowa State). They told me how difficult life was working at a small-town paper, but that this is the way things are done.

Kind of: “Close your eyes and think of Royce White.”

***

I write at FanMan because I love the writing on the site, I get freedom to write what I want and I’m not writing for the number on the upper right hand side of the screen. I’m writing for you, my reader. I could care less if there are three or 3000 of you guys that are reading my articles.

I write for Bleacher Report because I believe that type of website has replaced the small-town paper on the journey to the top of the sports world. You get a lot of viewership, a place to write every day and a lot of people to help you out—my editors: Trent Reinsmith (NHL), Stephen Meyer (MLB) and Adam Hirschfield (Deputy) and the “credential guy,” Aron Glatzer.

It was my first internship—they offered opportunity when many people closed their doors on me.

And, let’s be honest, it’s a pathway to a large platform. If I could get on that front page, damn I’d get a lot of readership.

Many people I respect have advised me to “create my own job” and I know what I want to do. I want to be the “Minnesota Sports Guy.” I want to be the person that people go to when they want to know about Minnesota sports or see a national issue through the lens of a fan in a small city. I want a national column, a local column and a podcast.

FanMan is the place where I hone my column: learning how to come up with material every week* and deciding how to diversify content (humor, cause, first-person, et cetera). I enjoy the work done on the site and feel the support of other writers I’ve reached out to. It’s a great project and something I’d like to see grow in the future.

*By the way, I’ll try to get back to covering normal sports stuff next week and stop writing about “my path.” It’s just a little slow with the NHL lockout and my Twins and Vikings struggling.

Bleacher Report is the place where I brand myself.

A weekly column on the front page would garner significant readership for both the site and myself because I’ve been spending all this time writing. I’d like to have a spot where I can write a local, Minnesota-based column. They also have a podcast.

I’m a ways away from the front page. You need 8000 “points” to become a Featured Columnist III, meaning you get an interview for a staff job (read: money) and I’m at just under 3000 despite having written for the site since my junior year of college—over three years ago.

Still, I’m young yet, 22, and most of my friends are in a similar place as I am—toiling away at a time-filler job while living at home or in a place that their parents paid for. The difference between them and me is that I get to attend sporting events at night.

***

Yes, I know that B/R sold to Turner Broadcasting for $175 million and those guys that I worked with that summer between my sophomore and junior year became millionaires over night while I didn’t see a pretty penny.

I also know that’ it’s been called a content farm and considered a bane on journalism. Certainly you can ask around and people will tell you stories of why they joined another site and some have perfectly good reasons for leaving.

Credit Brian McFadden, BigFatWhale.com.

This is why I’ve stuck it out at B/R:

It’s fair.

The person with the highest viewership gets their slice of the pie.

They’ll help you get that viewership—they’ll get you credentialed, they’ll put you in the newsletter, they’ll promote your stuff through partnerships, et cetera. But, in the end, it’s up to you to put up the numbers.

It also can’t be ignored.

Its monthly viewership rivals that of Sports Illustrated, a place where, down the road, I’d eventually like to write. After all, they could use an attention-grabbing, but credible, columnist to boost their numbers.

And, finally, it’s how things will be done in the future.

In many ways, Joe Posnanski grew up the old school way, through the newspapers, and ended up with his own site, Sports On Earth. That road is slowly withering away. Bill Simmons laid the blueprint for my path, and really for Bleacher Report as a whole, with his $50-an-article AOL columns and eventually climbed the ladder to ESPN Page 2 and now has his own site, Grantland.

In many ways, us Bleacher Creatures are now carving our own path the way that it will be done in the future—one unpaid article at a time. We’ll take a job, write at night, probably start our own blog or join forces on a site like this and eventually, like with the small-town paper route, the large media properties will hand pick who they want from the smaller media properties and leave the rest to find employment elsewhere.

Some will rush to the top, knowing that sensationalistic journalism draws readership, generates ad revenue and eventually moves you up the latter.

Others will find a niche and exploit it. Think B/R’s Matt Miller. He had expertise in something really specific, NFL talent evaluation, and became the company’s answer to Mel Kiper. He was featured in the latest Madden video game.

For me, I’m going to go about journalism how I want to—focused on one geographical area, using first-hand accounts to generate human interest stories and trying to write as cleanly and concisely as possible while adding a sprinkling of humor to the recipe.

Is it just me or could Malcolm Gladwell pass for a more sophisticated looking Carrot Top?

In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell introduced the “10,000-Hour Rule,” which posits that the key to success in any field is practicing a specific task for a total of 10,000 hours.

I’ve put in my time.

Now it’s a matter of working my way up the latter at Bleacher and generating interest here at FanMan. My hope is that like Posnanski and Simmons before me, I carve a path for young writers that come after me. I hope that my path promotes good journalism and encourages others to follow their passion.

As I wrote earlier, Sports Illustrated hasn’t been the same since Rick Reilly left.

They could use a columnist that knows how to generate an audience without sacrificing journalistic integrity.

If you’re looking, SI, you know where to find me.

I work at Lund’s in the morning.

And cover the world’s greatest baseball team in the evening.

Tom Schreier writes for TheFanManifesto. He can followed on Twitter at @tschreier3. Email him at tschreier3@gmail.com.

The entire FanMan team can be followed on Twitter at @TheFanManifesto, or liked on Facebook by clicking here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>