The Collegian
Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Looking for my dream job

Last weekend I was watching "My Best Friend's Wedding" while I was working out, and Julia Roberts' character said that Dermot Mulroney's character, a sports reporter, didn't have a job for a grown man.

It's a sentiment I've heard before because my grandfather cut his career at The Baltimore Sun short to get a "real job" that would allow him to support his family. As skeptical as people are about the rigors of talking or writing about sports, the path to success in sports journalism is not always easy.

When I was a senior in high school, I went to a communications clinic at the Baltimore Ravens training facility and got advice from some of the people who cover the team. I paid particular attention to the woman speaking on behalf of television reporters because it had always been my hope to pursue a career in broadcast sports journalism.

She picked up a dry-erase-board marker and started drawing what she called "the funnel" of how people rise to the top in television. At the top - or the bottom, depending on how you think about it - were the 40,000 journalism majors graduating from college each year, along with others who weren't majors but wanted jobs in the field.

Many, she said, wouldn't be good enough to get a job out of college, couldn't handle the time commitment and would quit or wouldn't be able do the job well enough and would be fired. Some would look for more lucrative jobs - or no job at all - once they married and started families.

After that initial filter, she said, we might be able to get a job in a small town, getting up at 5 a.m. to cover stories that were nothing like what we'd be covering in an ideal world. Then, after a year or two, we might be able to move up to a small city, and after a year or two of that, we could work in a larger city.

After cities, there were the top 25 markets in the country, a level she said many of us would never reach. It had taken her seven years to get a job in Baltimore, usually considered a top 25 market, and she considered herself lucky to have her job.

Since then, she has moved from an affiliate station to a regional network, bringing her closer to the next goal, working in one of the top five markets in the country. Those markets now include New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas-Ft. Worth.

The final stage is to be successful enough in one of those top five markets to become one of the most recognized names in television, but she was implying that none of us would ever make it to that level. It wasn't exactly the kind of encouragement I wanted as I was getting ready to come to Richmond and major in journalism.

I knew when I came to the University of Richmond that I couldn't work for a television station, which is why I've spent my summers working at affiliates in Baltimore, but I applied to The Collegian, and I've found that I love print journalism, too.

On May 14, during my daily perusal of the New York Times, I read some fabulous news - "SportsCenter" was going live during the mornings. I was elated, not only because it meant more jobs for sports journalists, but because my morning shifts working at Freshens would be significantly less monotonous.

I used to see the same highlights three times during one shift, hear what to watch for "tomorrow night" that was actually happening that night and find that a new show had taken over by the end of my shift.

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Now, there are three airings of three different versions of "SportsCenter," one from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., one from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and one from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. The "SportsCenter Right Now" segment is actually what's happening right now, and I can be sure that I'm actually hearing the latest news in sports.

Unfortunately, when I returned to school to take a sports journalism class during May term, I learned that other areas of sports journalism were cutting back instead of branching out. One of our assignments for the class was to read the sports section of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and I noticed that Associated Press writers were writing many of the front-page stories.

One of the Times-Dispatch reporters came to talk to our class, and he confirmed that there wasn't as much funding as there used to be to send staff members to national sporting events, which was why so many stories came from the AP. He has had a job covering Richmond high school sports for 30 years, and he said working with local sports was the key to job security.

But then I went home after May term and found out that the weekday sports anchor at Baltimore's ABC affiliate, where I'd worked the summer before, had lost that position after 28 years of working there. He can cover only 35 events a year for the station, but it wasn't because his employers had found a replacement - they were just having trouble affording the sports department.

That day in high school, I was worried about whether I could become successful enough to get the job I wanted before I reached retirement age. But now, I'm equally as worried about the longevity of the places where I want to work.

Part of the problem, I think, is that journalistic training is valued much more highly for jobs in print journalism than broadcasting journalism. During May term, our professor showed us the pictures of the original ESPN employees and asked us why we thought they were no longer working there.

The answer, he said, was simple: they weren't attractive enough. The new ESPN employees may not know as much about journalism or even about sports, but at least they look good.

Another group of people rising to the top of broadcast journalism is retired athletes and coaches. There is no question that they know the sports they cover, but there are so many other people studying broadcast journalism who want those jobs and deserve them just as much, if not more.

Another significant change in the world of broadcast sports journalism last summer was the death of Jim McKay. I read the numerous tributes to him in the Baltimore papers, each of which mentioned his start in Baltimore as James McManus before he became Jim McKay, hosting "The Real McKay" and ABC's "Wide World of Sports."

His death made me feel that a certain type of sports journalist is dying as well, the kind that breaks through each filter of that funnel because of hard work and a love for journalism, not worrying about appearances, playing or coaching experience. I aspire to be that first kind of journalist, and I hope I can break into broadcast journalism without ever losing sight of that goal.

Contact Collegian staff writer Barrett Neale at

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