1. Welcome to SportsJournalists.com, a friendly forum for discussing all things sports and journalism.

    Your voice is missing! You will need to register for a free account to get access to the following site features:
    • Reply to discussions and create your own threads.
    • Access to private conversations with other members.
    • Fewer ads.

    We hope to see you as a part of our community soon!

Newbie Podunk writer looking for advice

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by wicket_the_ewok, Feb 15, 2007.

  1. wicket_the_ewok

    wicket_the_ewok New Member

    Hey everyone, long-time lurker, first-time poster.

    I've been reading the boards for the past couple months, reading about how the rest of the sports journalism world is. I work at Podunk newspaper and we're pretty much an island as our town has never been mentioned on these boards – ever.

    I never intended to get into journalism. I grew up in Podunk town, went to state college, majored in business, interned at state college athletic department, interned at out of state baseball team in community relations (couldn't get one with in-state baseball team), was hired part-time at another out of state baseball team, worked for a year there, couldn't get full-time work, and came back home to work at Podunk newspaper as a page designer.

    I was hired because basically no one else applied.

    Now two years have now gone by. So I don't have a journalism background, but I'm learning and I'm interested in trying to make the big leagues again, this time in journalism instead of baseball.

    While I do page design, my passion is writing. Once a week I do athlete profiles, half the time on people from the area who now are in college athletics (we produce a fair share ironically) and with state-level athletes (college and pro). I also do the occasional commentary on state/national sports like college football and the NFL.

    I have developed solid relationships with the PR staffs of all the major pro sports with my athlete profiles and make the 250 mile trip twice a month to the “big city” to do interviews on my own expense (company won't pay for it).

    Two questions –

    We have two writers, one is leaving. He does the Podunk community college sports beat. If I want to take the next step in writing, should I go after this position or am I better off just writing twice a week and sticking with design to keep my options open?

    As was the case in my sports business experience, internal candidates are nearly impossible to beat in sports journalism. It’s hard being the outsider. It seems people want familiarity in the jobs I've been turned down so far. Can the strength of your clippings alone be enough or is there some form of networking to try?

    Any advice would be appreciated.
  2. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member


    1) "Keeping your options open" sounds like a good concept, but as you move up in this biz I think you have to pick a track. It's tough to grow in both of those areas. To "take the next step in writing" you have to jump in with both feet. Go after that beat job.

    2) Internal candidates can be beat. Happens all the time. But I think a combination of networking and clips is crucial. You need good clips, but if you don't have an "in" at a paper they may never get out of the pile. If you have a destination paper in mind, open the lines of communication now. Then hopefully you'll have that edge when a job opens.
  3. fishwrapper

    fishwrapper Active Member

    Also, FWIW...
    There are a lot of "Accidental Journalists" out there.
    I got to the fork in the road, and took it.
    You must ask youself a question. Do I want to write or work the desk? If you continue to work the desk, you will have many more options. Not sure if those options appeal to you. The last thing I want, is a disgruntled/aspiring writer working the desk.
  4. Crimson Tide

    Crimson Tide Member

    If I had your job, I wouldn't give the paper stories I wrote on my own dime. I'd freelance and sell them to a place that might actually give a shit.

    Then again, I wouldn't have your job because I would have tried to stay in baseball.

    Anyway, I was there six months ago. I chose to write, and I'm only getting better. I know that my only realistic options to advance are to stay here for another year or two of high school sports (mostly covering the city high school), then advance to the JUCO beat. However, I still design all my own feature fronts and special sections (mostly because the SE/designer isn't half as good as I am, and I'm not that great). I could still get a desk job. I guess I remain at the fork in the road in some ways.

    Aw, shit. Beats the hell outta me. Do what you want.
  5. wicket_the_ewok

    wicket_the_ewok New Member

    I would've stayed in baseball but after nearly two years in with only a part-time job to show for it, I had to start paying the bills.

    Since I live in Podunkville, hours from the "big city," there are no freelance opportunities.

    The bigger questions for me are:

    1) How do you open lines of communication for places that don't have job openings?

    2) Is having a community college beat going to help me any if I'm already doing columns on state level athletes?
  6. dawgpounddiehard

    dawgpounddiehard Active Member

    Ask yourself this... why do you want to write? Do you really have a passion for it? What I mean, is do you want to lead down the sportswriter road instead of page designer because "you want to go to games for free and you're a sports fan" or do you truly have a passion for writing?
  7. wicket_the_ewok

    wicket_the_ewok New Member

    I have a passion for writing, not page design. But I was hired to do page design and was able to start writing since that's what I like to do. My responsibility though is quality design first, writing second. Also 95% of my writing is enterprise.

    Since I previously worked in baseball, I know how this is a business, not for fans.
  8. Crimson Tide

    Crimson Tide Member

    Writing a few columns is not the same as covering a beat. My biggest gripe about sports writing stems from Podunk writers hacking out columns on national sports despite the fact that they don't have a clue what's really going on. They're just speculating at best.

    Show me an editor who wants to hire an unproven beat writer for a college- or pro-level beat and I'll show you some shoddy coverage. Just being a good writer isn't enough. You have to put time into being a good reporter. That doesn't mean one athlete profile per week, but really learn to cover a beat. That's what I'm doing now so maybe I can move on in a few years.
  9. sartrean

    sartrean Member

    While Crimson Tide is kind of brutal in his first sentence, he's right on the mark.

    I'm don't know you, Wicket, obviously, but are you sure you want a beat? Hidden in your original post it sounds like you don't really know what it's like covering a beat. It's fucking grueling, chaotic, dizzying, frantic, life-sucking. And the rigors of the beat inevitably destroys your writing, and you want to move on.

    I'd suggest doing what you're doing, look for a big beat you may want elsewhere (forget the high schools, they're a bunch of overworked dicks, too. They don't want be bothered by the "newspaper guy."), if the opportunity comes, go for it.

    At my last shop, page designers always seemed to have free office time on their hands, probably waiting for copy or whatever. But they had enough time to organized all those bullshit office parties that everybody has to be at, despite the fact you work until midnight, 1 a.m. and they're out the door by 5:30 everyday. So you'd have to go in early just for Martha Anne's 48th birthday, office celebration, and a 10 hour day just became a 12 hour day.

    And there was the page designer, it seems at every stop of mine, who has no clue what it's like covering a beat, and she knows not one thing about athletics. I mean not one thing.

    On my budget would be Tourney Championship Promo, but this bitch would call the morning of the semis and ask where the copy is...."I need to have it now," she said.

    Uhh, deadline's not for like 9 more hours, and how can I have a promo on a tournament championship when the semifinals are three hours from tipoff?

    "You mean you can't get me that story now?"

    It's a tournament. Do you know the concept behind a tournament.

    "Well, what do you have that will go in it's place?"

    Uhhh, this tourney story has got to go. It's the big sports story.

    Page designers, gotta love 'em.
  10. Also a long-time lurker, first time poster.

    I am also a journalist by accident. I worked for seven years in another field before doing a little freelance work. After moving to another part of the country and finding out that I would have to take a big pay cut to do the same work I had been doing, I decided to try and make a switch to journalism. Almost immediately, I landed a job at a weekly newspaper in the middle of nowhere. Still, with no experience and limited skills (my writing from that time makes me cringe today) I packed my car up and drove 3,500 miles to Fumbuck, Saskatchewan (I'm Canadian. Sorry). Worked there for a year covering everything. My better-half was living on he other side of the country, so I moved back after a year in Sask. Now out of work, I took a crap job to pay the bills an started a website (not a blog, an actual website) that provided national coverage of a sport that sometimes gets overlooked in the MS Canadian sports media. I built that to the point that I was getting attention from a lot of people outside of the sport (I made several appearances on sports radio during a promotion I ran for the site and still make a regular round-table appearance on a station on the west coast. Additionally, the website was referenced in several newspaper articles and it even got a little bit of TV exposure). I didn't make a dime off of it, but it was a great networking tool.

    Then, I went back to school. Although I had a BA, it wasn't in journalism. I felt that without the j-school diploma, I was getting passed over. Also, going back to college gave me access to the school's internship program. I completed both my internships in sports at good-sized daily papers and I've worked in the field ever since.

    I'm not where I want to be yet, but I am moving in the right direction. I guess what I'm saying is that, it seems to me, you have two choices. Either you stay where you are and collect a paycheque--perhaps at the expense of your happiness/sanity. Or, you make the jump and work your tail off to get where you want to be. But, make sure you really want the latter before you do it because you really will have to work your tail off. The money will suck. And you will likely have to move somewhere that you don't really want to.

    I don't regret a thing. But, I knew I wanted it.
  11. shotglass

    shotglass Guest

    Yes, folks, for one day only, it's ... DYEPACK REDUX!

    1) I have little doubt that this is a wildly exaggerated scenario for the sake of a good story.

    2) If a page designer acts like this, he/she is not a journalist.

    3) If ... if ... this is accurate, did you ever give any thought to educating this poor soul? She might need it. Or was it better to tuck it away as a cute story to tell at parties?

    4) A big problem I have is when writers treat non-deadline material as deadline material. You are NOT supposed to have a preview in the hands of the desk an hour before floor time. As much as you think everything can be thrown in there in the final 60 minutes, some of the stuff has to be done earlier in the work shift.

    Inasmuch as you have chosen to speak like our dear departed friend, sartrean, it is my ardent hope that you can address this better than he ever was able to.
  12. awriter

    awriter Active Member

    1. Bombard them. Send clips and a resume every few months.

    2. The experience you gain covering Podunk C.C. could be invaluable and lead to bigger things. You think Bill Plaschke's first job out of college was writing columns for the L.A. Times? Most columnists or takeout writers I know had to work their way up the chain.
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page