Tips on breaking into the sports journalism world from Fast Break event panellists
Fast Break event panellists, from left to right: Chris Jones, Akil Augustine, Julie Scott, Tas Melas
By Steph Rogers
No one said that breaking into the highly competitive sports media industry was easy.
If there’s anything that the panelists at Tuesday night’s Fast Break event could agree makes for successful careers, it’s being talented, getting lucky, and being a nice person.
Nadine Liverpool, a graduate of Centennial College’s Post Graduate Sports Journalism program, founded The Sports Group to assist other young professionals who want to work in the industry. Fast Break, the group’s first event put on in partnership with the Canadian Association of Journalists Toronto chapter and Centennial College, was held at the college’s Centre for Creative Communications, and featured four panelists who’ve reached the elusive ‘dream job’ status.
“I’m thrilled to be here. I always remember the people who helped me when I was younger, people I looked up to, and the people who were able to shepherd me through the business to help me get to where I am,” Julie Scott, Senior Sports Editor for the Canadian Press, said before facing the sold-out crowd.
“Any time you see a young person willing to not ask for a hand out, and actually invest in themselves out of their pocket, it shows that they’re that much more serious,” said Akil Augustine, digital producer and host for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
“It means that much more for you, knowing you really have to give them your best stuff because they paid their hard-earned dollars for it.”
Tas Melas, co-founder and co-host of The Basketball Jones for The Score Television Network, can remember the struggle well. From getting Don Cherry’s coffee as an intern, to producing his podcast for free year after year, Melas told the crowd that the biggest ‘don’t’ in the industry is to do nothing.
“It doesn’t feel that long ago that I was sitting in one of those seats,” Melas said. “It just takes a little push, seeing (the industry) in a different light. Having the opportunity to be someone who can provide that (to others) is fantastic.”
In 2011, The Basketball Jones was named one of Time Magazine’s Top 25 blogs.
Like Melas, Augustine has seen it all. A self-proclaimed renaissance man, Augustine argues that he is valuable to employers because he can be left on an island. He can cover the ground that four or five other employees can do, producing all digital content platforms for MLSE, along with being a host.
“Your likeability factor is a huge part of how far you’ll go,” he said to the group. Augustine used to take old scripts from shows he worked on as an intern, and practice in front of the mirror using a comb as his microphone.
“It’s because people like you. You’ve got to impress somebody. Get in front of someone and show them how good you are,” Augustine said.
Chris Jones has seen young journalists create unnecessary drama on the internet by being rude to editors, writers, and friends of his. The ESPN The Magazine columnist says that he wouldn’t hesitate to hold it against someone should they try to get a job.
“It’s a people business,” said Jones. “Say nice things if you believe them. Online, it’s there forever.”
Jones adds that for him, and for many others, getting really, really lucky has been a big part of his success. Unlike Augustine, who can do everyone’s job on the production line, Jones believes that young journalists need to focus on the point on the horizon they’re trying to reach
“If you want to write 3,000 word features, write 3,000 word features,” Jones said. “If you’re genuinely good at this, there’s a place. You can carve your own spot.”
Jones has been a contributor to Esquire, and is now the back-page columnist for ESPN The Magazine. He’s able to do it all while still raising his family in Port Hope, Ontario.
“I’ve got the best life I can imagine,” he said, before apologizing to the audience if he sounded cocky. “You’re not all going to make it. But if you really enjoy doing something, and you’re really good at it, some of you will. And it’ll be worth it.”
“You have to find your spot, and you’ll do great,” Scott said. “It’s a matter of finding your fit, sometimes it can be a hard and painful process.”
Scott mentions that sometimes the best thing to do is to stay open-minded about where experience can come from, even if it means going to a more remote location or small publication for a few years. When resumes land on her desk at the Canadian Press, she takes special note to those who have been able to work at smaller dailies for the range of experience it provides.
“I spent quite a bit of time smashing my face against that wall. I feel like it’s my little way to give back to help students try to get over that same wall and I hope they stick with it,” said Jones, before the event started.
“Journalism’s in a state of flux right now, and we’re all sick of hearing about it. I still think there are lots of great jobs out there and that it’s a great career,” he said. “Hopefully today is one of those days that gets these guys on their start.”