By Kelsey Nelson
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Sports media veterans shared their stories during a Saturday session at AWSM’s convention, “Breaking into the big leagues.”
Beth Mechum, who works at Maryland’s Povich Center for Sports Journalism, moderated a discussion featuring: Mary Byrne, managing editor at USA Today Sports, Jim Jenks, VP/executive producer of MLB advanced Media, Kathy Kudravi, sports editorial director at CNN, Diane Lamb, vice president of communications at ESPN and Trisha Blackmar, a senior editor at Sports Illustrated.
The panel began with each panelist sharing their background and how they go into the business. They all had different career starting points, but the same end goal; to break into the world of sports media. They all got to where they are by relentlessly working hard at their first jobs and internships. Kudravi used to have to cover play by play for the press box at Kent State with an IBM typewriter. She would call into the sports line with a score update. Lamb began working for the Minnesota North Stars while at Brown University. She then received a job as a communications librarian for ESPN and worked her way up to VP of Communications. Blackmar was a political science and Japanese major and got into journalism after graduating and becoming a fact checker at SI. All the panelists now are in the position of hiring, and they offered their best advice and tips to those ready to break into the vast wide world of sports media.
Byrne quickly made her point to the crowd in the ballroom of the Montelucia Resort and Spa. Byrne said “Be aggressive, approach people and network. It’s an incestuous business.” Lamb added to Byrne’s insights. “For potential hires they want experience, people who have networked globally, and people who are willing to do a lot of things as well as good writers,” Lamb said.
The conversation transitioned to the importance of the cover letter. The panel shared how it is critical to have no grammar mistakes in the cover letter and make sure to spell the name right of the person you are emailing. The panel made sure to point out to not rely on spell check.
Kudravi shared how someone called her and tried to apply for a job and she told them to mail their cover letter and resume. After spelling out her name three times to them on the phone they still spelled her name wrong on the cover letter. Jenks tried to make the conversation on a lighter note. “It’s OK if you misspell a name but you should call and make fun of yourself,” he said.
The panel also shared that it is okay for people to apply to journalism jobs who are not journalism or communications majors. Lamb said, “We want people who are smart and people who can think.” They really want experience so they encouraged everyone to get as much experience from different jobs and different internships as possible.
Byrne added how finding a mentor is great. She even offered herself as a possible mentor. Byrne said, “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.” In addition to this, Byrne echoed to reach out to local TV and radio stations and athletic departments. Byrne added, “There are all sorts of written and unwritten rules.”
Jenks added words of wisdom to the conversation. Jenks said, “When you get the job do the job. You can’t start watching the clock where it’s monthly, daytime or yearly. Everyone comes in at lower levels and you’re going to rise to the top.” Blackmar added to rise, it’s important to give your input to your organization. Blackmar said, “Ideas are currency in journalism.” Blackmar discussed how everyone should think about how they want to submit ideas, how to pitch a story and to follow through on assignments.
To the younger generation, the panelists make clear to say that even though they are known as a generation of entitlement that they are not entitled to anything. Byrne said, “You have to prove yourself every single day. It’s a what have you done for me lately world. It never gets easy.” Byrne also added its good to work as a crime reporter to get a job in the sports industry.
Lamb added to have passion which will convey itself while you’re on your job. Lamb made clear that to get into the big leagues of journalism you should be aware of things on TV, radio and campaigns and to be forward looking. Jenks added learn to shoot and edit video and know and understand social media. The panelists also added don’t be offended if you’re shot down in a job interview. Still send a thank you note to that organization.
The panel ended on a positive note. The panel conveyed to apply for all jobs even if you don’t think you’re qualified. If you don’t get the job it does not mean the relationship ends. You will still be thought about and considered for other positions.
Jenks said, “We are only as good as all of you.”