What it’s like to be a reporter
Sports are a way for fans to escape the world around them.
That can also be true for reporters. Even though we’re working hard and are under the pressure of deadlines, we still can take some time to enjoy what is taking place in front of us. For a matter of hours, the stresses of your everyday life can drift away.
That’s usually the case for me. Last week, I watched high school football players from around the U.P. battle in the Superior Dome, some of them for the last time in their careers. The game has a relaxed atmosphere and the afternoon kickoff makes things almost stress-free.
It was, for the most part. However, despite my best efforts, there was something lingering in the back of my mind and I’m guessing there were some other writers feeling the same way across the country.
Why? Because just two days before that, somebody shot up a newsroom in Maryland.
That’s something I thought I wouldn’t have to be concerned with anymore. When I used to teach kids, we’d all have to learn about what to do if death came marching into the classroom. That was terrible enough, but now I have to wonder if it would happen at my newspaper. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling, then or now.
It’s not any easy time to be a reporter, not that it was ever easy in the first place, and a lot of people don’t quite understand what the profession is like.
So, when I was thinking of topics for this week’s column, I thought maybe I should describe what it’s like to be a sportswriter, or any form of newspaper writer. I don’t know if you’ll find it interesting or not, but I feel like if I can help people understand the job, there might not be as much anger directed toward us in the future.
To start off, we love what we do. You have to wake up in the morning wanting to cover a game that night, or to tell somebody’s personal story, or have the motivation to attend that school board meeting when you know that the agenda is going to be mind-numbingly boring; because somebody, somewhere is going to want to know what happened and they’re entrusting you to do it well. There are days where you’ve already written a couple stories, conducted some interviews, done some extensive research and then have to go cover a basketball game or a hockey game or whatever sporting event is going on. It can be grueling, especially when you don’t have any support, so you need to remind yourself what got you into the business in the first place and find that passion, because regardless of how the game goes, whether it’s a 40-point blowout or an overtime thriller, you have to make it interesting and worthwhile to read. You can’t do that effectively if you don’t enjoy your job.
Also, the pay can be terrible, and in some places, it’s flat-out atrocious where you could make more money per hour being a cashier at Target than at a seven-days-a-week paper. In other places, you don’t get overtime, so a lot of times, we end up doing stories for free. We’re covering games for free, doing interviews for free and doing research for free. It can be frustrating at times, having extra hours put in to a story for free to make sure people keep subscribing, but we keep doing it.
In addition, most papers are also woefully understaffed, which means a lot of times, reporters and editors are doing the work of two, sometimes three people at a time. When you’re covering a game or an event these days, you’re oftentimes expected to write a story, sometimes two or three, take photos or video and keep people updated on Twitter or Facebook. So, multitasking is essential if you want to be successful or to survive. Newspapers aren’t exactly the most stable profession to be in right now either. There’s pay-cuts, buyouts and layoffs going on across the country and it can be distressing. I’ve watched writers that I respect and others who taught me in college lose their jobs despite earning numerous awards and helping to build the profile of the publication.
Of the largest newspapers in the country, there are only a few that are truly financially stable and even then, it’s not a place where you know that you’re guaranteed to have a job 20 years from now, or even 10 years.
So basically, nobody in my generation of writers is currently planning for retirement.
If that isn’t enough, we’re in a profession that people don’t necessarily respect. We get accused of favoring other schools, teams or towns more than others. If we write something critical, that must mean we hate your team. We’re told we don’t work hard enough or that anything we write is “fake.” None of that could be further from the truth. Sometimes it can make you wonder if it’s worth it, to be disliked for just doing your job. But we keep pushing on because like I said, we enjoy the job and the grand majority of us give it our all each day and we do it well.
As much as people tend to generalize the media and dislike us for just being a part of it, we know that there are people who care about what we do. The compliments that we receive, whether by email or phone or direct messages on social media, mean a lot to us. The other day I got two nice emails, two weeks ago, a friendly voicemail and a month ago, a nice handwritten letter. When you’re under the grind of a deadline, it can be nice to know that you’re appreciated, and trust me, the compliments get remembered.
The same day as the shooting, the Capital Gazette still put out a newspaper. On the Fourth of July, staff members marched in the city parade and papers all over the country held a moment of silence in honor of the five victims on Thursday because newsrooms are a family place.
News departments love to mock sports reporters, calling us the “toy department” because we get to cover the fun stuff. When election time comes around and the news reporters are overwhelmed, sports writers chuckle because that’s a typical Friday night for us. Yet, there’s a mutual respect there because we’re all on the same team.
Teams are important and that’s probably the most emphasized part of sports. How players and coaches need to come together to be effective and to find success on the court, the field or the ice. That’s what happened in the U.P. All-Star Game. Two groups of graduated seniors came together and built strong bonds in a matter of days and had a fun time on the gridiron one last time. After that game, walking around the field, I interviewed some of the kids and learned how much the game meant to them. I didn’t realize it until later that night, but it meant a lot to me too.
It was a distraction. A place to get away and it was just another daily reminder of why I got into the business in the first place, to write about games, connect with people and tell their stories. Even though it can be exhausting, I still enjoy it and I know other reporters do as well. That’s what keeps us going and that’s what helps us get through the low pay, lack of resources, the instability and the everyday criticism we receive.
Every day, we go into the office, or out into the field, to inform people what they need to know and we’re going to keep doing it as long as we can.
Why? Because that’s what we love to do, even if we need an escape sometimes.
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.