Illustration by Luciano Lozano/Getty Images
I am a college journalism teacher, and I hate hearing these words: “I want to turn my love of sports into a career.”
My students are immersed in sports talk, opinion and mega-hype. In this sports wonderland, ESPN reigns, with Fox Sports, SB Nation and so many more networks, blogs and personalities on Twitter feeds and TVs all day and all night.
Talented students can find jobs in the sports kingdom, but success stories are rare, even for those who know the difference between real reporting and cheap talk. Nate Lisko graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2009 with a broadcast journalism major and play-by-play and internship experience. He’s applied for more than 50 media jobs, but he’s still looking, and working at an insurance agency in the meantime.
“It’s easy to watch ESPN’s opinion shows or listen to ’TMJ before a Brewers game and say, ‘I can do that,’” Lisko says. “It’s not the same as going out there and doing the work and being a journalist.”
Kaitlin Sharkey, a 2013 UWM grad, landed a sports reporting job at WSAW-TV in Wausau, but she was a top student with a national journalism award for multimedia storytelling on her resume.
Local TV news managers suppress eye rolls when would-be interns solemnly profess their love for the Packers. WTMJ-TV’s sports department has three on-air people, down from five in the late ’90s, when sports anchor Lance Allan joined the station. He says some interns don’t understand that covering sports with a small staff means long hours reporting, interviewing, writing and editing.
“We’ve had students who get caught in the glamor and the glitz, and they’re surprised that they have to work weekends,” says Allan, who was a weatherman while waiting for a sports job.
Good Karma Brands, founded in Beaver Dam, operates ESPN-affiliated talk-radio stations in Milwaukee and around the country. ESPN Milwaukee hires as many as 13 interns each semester.
“A lot of people do come in the doors and say, ‘My dream is to be Erin Andrews,’” says Lisa Urdiales, who runs the internship program. “We can definitely get them some experience in that area, but we also want to expose them to other things.”
ESPN Milwaukee shows interns the faint line between sports and marketing. Students may get a Bucks press pass and do interviews, but they also write press releases and create marketing campaigns. No firewall between news and sales here.
When former Marquette student Sarah Barshop interned at ESPN Milwaukee, she liked learning the marketing side, but meeting NFL writer Jason Wilde was a game-changer. With his encouragement, she changed her focus from broadcast reporting to writing, and earned a fellowship at Sports Illustrated covering breaking news for SI Wire. It’s a golden ticket to the sports kingdom.
“A lot of people think covering sports is an easy way to go to a game and get paid,” she says. “When you’re younger, you think, ‘How great is that?’ But when you start doing it, you quickly realize it’s a lot of work.”
Hard work, talent and a desire to do real journalism, and not just hang out in the press box. ■