By: Mandy Mitchell
I’ve been struggling the past 24 hours with how to put my feelings into words about what has happened at ESPN. I know a few people who have lost their jobs. I also know people at the network who are lucky enough to still have a job. I feel a deep sense of loss for both groups of people.
The people who lost a job are now in a saturated market with very few opportunities and a whole heck load of talent. The other group is left wondering when the call will come and left feeling a dreadful insecurity. Not to mention, guilt, I am certain.
I think we all feel sympathy and have thought “man…THAT sucks.”
But this news didn’t just leaving me feeling that way. This news really hurts me deep to the core.
I’ve said this before on this blog, I shifted my goals and dreams long ago. I’ve learned ,through time in the business, that my strengths and passions are in storytelling and reporting. Because of that, my daydreaming about sitting on the Sportcenter set ended. It just really wasn’t a fit for me.
But I don’t think there’s a single person who has gotten into the sports journalism profession in the past two decades who didn’t have a goal of working at ESPN “someday.” This is the “World Wide Leader” after all.
And ESPN seemed to be doing things right. They developed an enormous digital staff because online was “the place to be…the place it was ALL going to be some day soon.” They got into podcasting, and a lot of the talent was involved in all platforms from anchoring to radio to writing for the web.
THIS was what I would tell young people who asked me how to get there one day. “You have to do it all,” I would say. “Look at a guy like Andy Katz. He started online and is now a fantastic on-air presence.” Andy Katz is among the many now looking for work. And I am not too sure who is going to cover sports…any sports…for ESPN in the future.
I am certain they will hire people again at some point. Sports content is still something people want. ESPN just has to figure out how to make money in the changing marketplace.
So back to my real point here, the reason this hurts is because it feels like a dream is now gone. Breaking into sports journalism is really damn hard these days. We all know what’s been happening with newspapers and local TV stations have been trimming sports departments for years (because of ESPN of course, but that’s another blog post.)
When you are lucky enough to get one of the 4-6 jobs in any given market, you are signing up to bust your tail. Because there is only one of you, or two if you are super fortunate, you get to work 60 plus hours a week running around, shooting high school football on Friday nights, anchoring the 30-minute show, waking early on Saturday to drive 3 hours to the college game you are covering only to then shoot the game for four hours, shoot your own live shot after the game and then drive home.
People do this, myself included, because they think there is a payoff. I spent many a Friday night sweating through my third high school football game saying to myself “this will all be worth it someday.”
The ugly truth is local TV stations are in a changing landscape too and they aren’t going to go back to hiring big sports staffs. The whole “regional network” thing I heard so much about a decade ago isn’t going to happen because cable TV is failing, not expanding. So people who do have jobs will stay put, leaving very little mobility and very little chance for career advancement for anyone else. Remember, a whole bunch of people who reached the top are now being pushed back down.
So what should young sports journalists do? What is the best path?
I’ve thought a lot about this and I think the answer will involve some soul-searching for you.
If you enjoy storytelling, you should focus on that and get good at that. Stop worrying about telling SPORTS stories and tell GOOD stories. Become more of a “television reporter” and less of “the sports guy.” Find investigative stories you can do and get your work into other parts of the newscast. You may have to consider switching to news. I know, for some of you, that was like I punched you in the gut. I want you to have options and there are growing options for people who can tell great stories that are good for TV, the website, and are shared on social media.
If you got into the business, or are thinking about getting into the business, because of your love for sports and not your love for journalism, I suggest sticking to sports. Professional and college teams are now hiring their own reporting staffs. I’ve known a few young people who have taken that path and have been successful. I am not going to get into the ethics of working FOR a team, I am just laying out options here.
If you want to continue working towards a sports network I think you need to have opinions about sports and you need to be willing to share those opinions on many platforms. It will be much more about analysis and much less about facts in the future. “Hot takes” are here to stay. If you have some of those, you could be in luck. Start a podcast, a blog, your own Youtube channel. Do whatever it takes to form opinions and learn how to communicate those opinions.
Overall this should be a wakeup call for anyone who was still practicing “catch phrases” in the mirror and thinking you would one day be able to sit on a set and call highlights. Your new goal is to figure out what you are TRULY passionate about and why you got into the business in the first place.
Don’t stop working your butt off just because this is all really disappointing. Take a few days to think, and adjust your dreams.