by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / email
Good morning sports media watchers, hopefuls, and insiders. I have been chasing this roundtable for a while and I am pleased that it finally came together.
This industry has always exploited young journalists – and older ones too. It works b/c editors/publishers know how much we love what we do. https://t.co/CBm2CcZ2rm
— John Lott (@JohnCLott1) January 27, 2017
The above tweet by the peerless John Lott has stuck with me since January. If the industry has “always” been exploitative then why has nothing been done to fix that problem? Most other trades have established pathways in to the craft that merge learning the basics, earning your credentials, with the opportunity to distinguish yourself through hard work and talent. People who want to be electricians or carpenters or massage therapists or illustrators know what they have to do to get certified and get hired. Yet journalism has “always”, according to at least one veteran writer, taken advantage of people’s desire to prove themselves by getting them to work for free.
Despite being pretty clear that I am not in media and have no career ambitions in media, I get plenty of mail from people who are interested in breaking into the industry. I also talk to people in the industry on a regular basis about the struggles facing those who manage to get a foot in the door. In order to shed some light on the reality on the ground, I reached out to several “younger” people (between 27-47) in the media whose work I respect to see if they would talk about their career trajectory so far and how the future looks. I targeted younger people since they have the best perspective on what media is like now and the effects of recent economic shifts. Even though the industry is changing rapidly, people at the top, most of whom are 50+ have not felt these effects.
I sent everyone this very long list of questions and gave them the option to answer as many or as few as they liked. As you will be able to tell, some people had a lot to say. Since I wanted people to give honest answers without fear of retaliation from their employers I decided to run this one anonymously. No one who participated knows who the other participants are. I have shuffled up the answers so there is no continuity between person 1 from Question 1 and person 1 from Question 2. The panel is reasonably diverse along several dimensions including gender, background in sports (vs news), technical vs “on-air”, and media type (radio, TV, web, and print).
My hope is that this roundtable will give those aspiring to careers in sports media a frank assessment of what lies ahead. I’m also hoping managers who read this will take some of the feedback to heart to improve work conditions. (More than likely this will lead to people’s phones being audited again.)
Q: When trying to break in to the industry how much free labour would you do for a company in a given week? In what capacities? Was this for school credit? How long did you intern before being offered a paid gig? In your opinion, how long should people intern for before moving on to something else?
1: I was very lucky to get a job right out of school. That was greatly helped by knowing some people in the industry. I have observed lots of interns at Sportsnet and TSN, and seen so many come and go. To be honest, almost none of them stick, even the very best ones. Most people get a 3-6 month stipend but lots are also working for free for up to a year beyond that. A lot of them work doing wire copy: editing stories from AP and CP. Some of them are doing quick viral stories. None of the work is out in the field, and it is lots of nights and weekends. There is basically no way to get your name out there with the work you’ll be doing.
2: I was fortunate enough to find freelance work and paid opportunities during my breaking-in stage, which isn’t the norm, but is how it went for me. I was paid a modest honorarium by my school paper, a small sum per article by the several websites I freelanced for, and a little above minimum wage in a part-time gig as a web editor. When I completed my undergrad, I began a well-paid internship which, combined with my freelancing and part-time web editing, provided enough money to get by. I worked 80+ hours a week between all those gigs for four months after graduation before landing a fulltime job. So, I never took an unpaid opportunity, but the majority of young people trying to break into the industry have to. How long an individual can stomach that varies case by case. I wouldn’t recommend doing it for too long. At a certain point, you’ve got to move on to something that lets you begin building a career, especially if you’re living in Toronto.
3: I first started out as an unpaid intern in the sports media field for school credit. I would work a three or four days per week for 6-8 hours at a time. I was then asked to come on in a “full time intern” capacity, so it became five days a week for the same number of hours a day. Once my semester was completed and I was no longer there for school credit, I asked to continue to work as an unpaid intern and was allowed to carry on in that capacity. Several months later I was offered freelance production opportunities. In my opinion, unpaid internships should not exist in media or any other industry. They are a barrier to entry for all of those who do not have the support to be able to take on a full-time unpaid position.
4: When I began in the industry 5 years ago, I commuted from my home north of Toronto all the way downtown 5 days a week, working an 8 hour shift. While I was still at school for most of my intern period, towards the end, I started coming in on my free time as I was able to take on different roles during different times of day. I was an intern for about 6 months before taking on a part-time paid role, and in my experience, that’s on the short end for interns in this industry. The intern role at my place of employment is far from glamourous. It can be a real grind, and the gig often includes fetching food and coffee for the on-air talent, and tedious research that often goes unused. That being said, I believe that being an intern is simply a rite of passage that allows you to learn the business from the bottom up. The experiences that I gained in my unpaid days undoubtedly helped me in my current role, but I find it difficult and ultimately disappointing that multi-billion dollar corporations are unable to find compensation for those who dedicate their time and effort.
5: If you’re interning for more than 9 months, find something new. Life is too short to languish away at a place that doesn’t value you. Also, BE AGGRESSIVE. If you want to cover an event? If you want to shadow a producer or an on-air talent, ask. You can’t sit there and be subservient. You need to take advantage of the opportunity that you’re provided with your foot in the door as an intern. What you do with that chance is up to you.
6: I don’t think journalism students should get too hung up on whether formal internship programs at major papers, stations or website accept them. Many of the best journalists I know were never interns. I did no formal interning, but I pitched freelance work like crazy. What I recommend so highly is covering local, amateur or high school sports of some form to get your start. They don’t spoon – feed you stats or press notes and you have to do more digging to get background and sources and story ideas. Learning how to find, pitch and execute freelance stories in any medium can not only get you in the door and earn you invaluable contacts and experience, but learning to find, pitch and execute a story and tailor it to a particular news organization’s needs is a series of tasks you will do thousands of times in your career. The earlier you can start practising that sequence, the better.
7: The only free labour I ever provided was directly or indirectly related to school — either for a school newspaper, or through an internship provided by my university. I am in the minority, and I would never be so arrogant to say people should never write for free. Many of the industry’s young stars wrote for free for a while. However, make your choices carefully, only writing pieces for free for that you feel are going to advance your career, because of the subject matter, publication, byline or any other factor. (Unless you are dying to write the piece for the piece’s sake, in which case, write it regardless of any other factors.) There is no set time for how long you should intern. Make sure you are trending in the direction of getting paid. Being able to pay rent is nice.
Q: How much did interning contribute to your skill development in job-related areas? How important is interning to breaking in to the industry? What are the things that distinguish successful interns from unsuccessful ones?
1:The skill developed while interning were essential for technical aspects of the field, but did nothing towards learning anything about actual media production. Interning is absolutely necessary towards breaking into the field, unless you have a history in professional sports, whether as a player or in management. The most successful interns were those that were able to put in the hours and be at the studio on a consistent enough basis to be seen and heard by the people that matter. They were hardworking, were good at research, dictating, editing and had intense sports knowledge.
2: The best way to develop your skills as a journalist is to practice journalism. There’s no other way. If you have an internship that allows you to do that, great! If you don’t, then you have to get creative with your free time and find opportunities to report, write, talk, film, etc. elsewhere.
3: It is not a direct move for most from interning to “employment”. There is a period in between when you work freelance shifts in whatever capacity is asked of you for a lump sum per shift. Then once you freelance for what it usually several years, some are offered temporary contracts.
4: You’ve got to have a thick skin. The relationships between paid and unpaid staff are pretty good since everyone knows how bad the job market is. No one I saw treated the interns poorly. The strange thing for a regular employee though is that these guys would come and go so quickly that you’d not really get a chance to even learn their names. Don’t take that personally if you’re an intern.
Q: When you moved from interning to being an employee, how much were you paid? How many hours did you work on the clock versus off the clock?
1:My initial salary was a tad more than $40,000 per year, a full-time employee on a series of one-year contracts. What is this clock you speak of?
2: My entry-level job paid $40,000 a year. I’ve never counted my hours, but my job doesn’t work in shifts or any kind of traditional eight-hour workday structure. You work until the job’s done and then you get up tomorrow and do it again. If you don’t want to work nights and weekends, or don’t want to work more than 40 hours a week, this probably isn’t the industry for you.
3: My first paid job was “video archives”. It’s not really a full-time job … lots of the work goes to kids of guys in the industry. It’s basically just labeling clips for use in future Top 10 montages. I think it was like $12 an hour and it was really mindless work.
Q: What kind of training did you receive once you secured regular employment? Were these paid or unpaid hours?
1:There was a handful of times that I was given the opportunity to “shadow” a member of the production team before receiving paid shifts, but there was no formal training program in place, and these were unpaid times to shadow.
2: The best way for people to get skills now is to make your own niche with blogging or videos. 10 or 15 years ago the model was more traditional: you get in the door with an unpaid internship, you latch on by taking any assignment you’re given, and then people with talent would stick around long enough to get noticed and given more work. Now, younger guys – like Steve Dangle – are making a mark in some other way. It’s rare that someone gets noticed for his or her writing and an exec says “we’ve got to hire that person!”
3: All of the training I initially received was informal, provided directly to me by my bosses and co-workers, who were all unfailingly patient, helpful and supportive. There was little to no formal training, save for when a new piece of technology entered our day-to-day work lives.
4: I didn’t receive any training other than casual advice from colleagues
Q: A common piece of advice given to young people is “don’t turn down any assignment.” In your experience (or from what you have observed), does following that advice tend to lead to reward?
1: I don’t have a good answer for this. However, you are a human, and your judgement is part of your skill set. When I was an intern, I was asked to do a follow-up on Alex Rodriguez being photographed with a “busty blonde” who was not his wife at the Four Seasons and then at the Brass Rail strip club. The request came from the News department, even though i was an intern in Sports. I did not think this was a story (it actually feels quaint today), and, if they deemed this a story, I do not know why they thought a timid intern instead of a society columnist was the right person to get the dirt. Anyway, the Four Seasons staff kicked me out of the hotel for loitering, while the kindly doorman at the Brass Rail said they did not make it a practice to comment on their clientele. I then spent the next few hours walking around the city with some friends, still shocked at the assignment, before making my way back to the office with nothing. Still, I was not nearly confident enough then to decline a higher-up, and I would not advise interns or young journalists to make a routine of doing so.
2: To be honest that has hurt me: I took the generic advice to be willing to do anything and everything and the problem is you get labeled as that guy who can fill in as a jack of all-trades or a utility man. Whereas people with a niche are able to do something specific and so they get ahead quicker. It’s a little bit backwards thinking since they can only do one thing.
3: I would agree. It does not always necessarily lead to reward, but you have to be willing to do whatever is asked.
5: There aren’t many rewards in this industry. But I do think it’s important to get as much experience as humanly possible when you’re a young person trying to break in. That means taking every opportunity you can get, no matter how dull of an assignment it is. Journalism’s not unlike anything else: you have to do it over and over and over again to get good at it.
6: NEVER turn down any assignment offered to you. Think about it. When you were growing up, your dream was most likely to work in the sports media. You have now been offered that opportunity, and you’re going to decline an assignment in that field? It’s all about making sacrifices, and if you’re able to secure a full-time role working in sports, all those sacrifices are undoubtedly worth it
Q: Is there a clear hierarchy in your branch of media? How many bosses do you have? Is it clear who your colleagues are?
1: The hierarchy is a fairly muddled. I have a litany of bosses, but I deal mostly with one direct manager who’s responsible for my day-to-day. I consider everyone employed by the company I work for as a colleague.
2: The problem right now in the industry is that there really is no hierarchy outside of print, and print almost never hires young people. I don’t think the Sun has hired anyone in sports since 2012. And The Star hired some people for the tablet project but they were the last ones in and first ones out when the axe dropped. Sportsnet TV has some hierarchy and so does the radio station but the website has none whatsoever. There’s a lot of random jobs and when you get into that world it’s hard to get out. The movement comes from guys going into management, or when someone leaves and it creates a domino effect through the network, where someone working hourly gets a full-time job, and someone interning gets bumped up to a paid gig. If nothing happens then no one gets promoted.
3: The hierarchy was unclear for the first few years, but eventually a senior member of production staff was put in place to provide increased clarity. There were several steps to the hierarchy, and it was not always clear what path the reporting structure should follow on a given matter.
4: The management structure at Sportsnet digital is better now but went through a really rough period when the website and the magazine merged on the editorial side but were still separate “publications”. You had managers whose primary focus was the magazine who had no real idea what their workers for the website were doing or even supposed to be doing. You’d have different people telling you different things and they often wouldn’t agree. And you also had some tension as the magazine was shutting down with people trying to give work to their own, even though the web had a much clearer identity. All of that that’s better now, sadly, since the magazine is done.
Q: Do you have a clear sense of what you need to do to move from your current job to the next level up?
1: Moving ahead in the sports media industry takes a strong work ethic, developing the trust of your colleagues and superiors, but most importantly, you must be able and willing to take chances. Often times, you need to above and beyond to differentiate yourself from those around you. There are so many people emerging from journalism and media programs these days, and the jobs in the industry seem to be dwindling more and more from year to year.
2: No, but that is OK — I’m not a careerist. You can have ambition within your job, not ambition to attain another job. Not all reporters should be columnists, and not all columnists should be organizers or managers. Rare is the person who has the muscles to be all three.
3: There is no clear room for promotion on the production side. It is not at all clear how one would move up to a move senior technical position.
4: The idea of a merit based promotion basically doesn’t exist. You just want to position yourself so that you’ve got a shot if and when someone else leaves. That’s what scares me. You can stay in the same place for a really long time regardless of the quality of your work.
5: Other than right before and right after a radio show you don’t get any feedback. You only get feedback if you screw up. It’s hard to know how well you are doing under those conditions or what to do to earn a promotion.
Q: What kind of mentorship have you received from those in the jobs to which you aspire?
1: Zero. There is next to no formal or informal mentoring of any sort in this industry.
2: Honestly none, and I think that’s a big problem with the way the industry is going. People are so insecure with their own jobs and trying to stay relevant that they don’t take the time to develop younger people and teach them new skills. And if you look at TSN and Sportsnet’s websites there’s not a lot of guys who are coming up. It’s the same names over and over again. Look at radio: at night you have Jim Tatti and Roger Lajoie. Those guys are obviously experienced but those are slots that could be going to young guys.
3: Very little. I’ve sought advice once or twice from people ahead of me in the game, and those individuals have been more than happy to share their insight. But no one’s ever sought to take me under their wing or help groom my career. I think that’s a romantic notion that occurs a lot more often in movies than it does in real life.
Q: In your experience what determines who gets promoted? Are promotion decisions explained to the rest of the workforce? Are terminations explained or do people just disappear?
1: I think that hard-working, talented people move ahead in this industry. Maybe I’m just telling myself that. Surely there are exceptions, and I’ve never been involved in a hiring process. But I feel like the people I’ve seen receive opportunities during my short time in this business have deserved them more often than not. Of course, there are so few opportunities, and such a wealth of deserving people competing for them, that you’d expect that to happen. If you’re in the position to hire for a good job in this industry, you won’t be left wanting for options. In my experience, promotions and terminations are always explained.
2: It depends, and we can never really know the real reason for promotions. In most scenarios, I’ve thought that the reason most people were promoted was because they were a good fit for the job in question, but there are exceptions. I don’t necessarily mean that in a nefarious way, but managers very often do what is easy for them to keep the operation running smoothly and what takes the least work to implement instead of identifying the best fit for the intermediate- or long-term future. Short-term headaches are avoided at almost any cost. Terminations are actually explained more frequently and with more clarity than promotions, and I suspect that is because the explanations are simpler and less likely to be the source of personal jealousy.
3: At Sportsnet most promotions have been the result of departures. I can’t think of any examples of people being promoted based on merit. The biggest promotions were on the management side, when someone would leave and someone who was working as a writer or editor would shift over to management. At the magazine there was a clearer hierarchy so it was more obvious when someone was promoted from say, editor to senior editor. But there was rarely an explanation. The scariest times are when someone is promoted but there was never a job posting. When someone is just handed a job based on interest and no one is given the opportunity to interview, that really bothers people. It’s really hard to stay motivated when that happens. Terminations are pretty well explained and are usually accompanied with an invitation to come and discuss any questions or concerns you have with the boss. There is usually a meeting as well. Again here since most of the time this is based on numbers, the question of merit doesn’t really come up.
4: It is never clear what exactly leads to promotions. They are never openly discussed. Terminations are never mentioned, and people would simply not be on the schedule anymore.
Q: A common stereotype about younger generations is that they don’t want to “pay their dues.” Do you think that is accurate based on your own experiences and observations?
1: I think there is merit to that, and it mirrors society in that people tend to want a lot more a lot sooner or quicker. At the same time there’s not a lot of examples of young guys “paying their dues” and getting a lot of success. Take a guy for example like Arden Zwelling who is probably one the most talented writers in the city. He deserves all the success he has earned at a young age. But what happens is a lot of people in the building see that and want the same thing, naturally. So as a young guy you’re going to want a comfortable job pretty quickly because you think you’re at that level. I guess Ben Ennis is also a guy who was just rewarded after years in the trenches and long hours. But if you ask people who came up in the 70s and 80s, then paying your dues tended to lead to success so that’s their point of comparison. Even with a recent startup like The Athletic, most of the people there are established guys who were hired based on past work rather than future promise. That’s just where the business is now … young people have so little room to grow.
2: I think that stereotype is largely untrue. When it is true, it is because they have seen in too many instances that “paying dues” leads nowhere.
3: This is the opposite of the truth. The younger generations are the ones who have been burdened by massive debt by private colleges shilling sports media acumen. They are then required to work months unpaid, and then are eventually lucky enough to get a low paid freelance work with no benefits in high stress environments.
4: I think that lazy people exist, yes. But I think they exist in every generation, not only mine. It’s heartening that the people who get ahead in this industry generally work very hard. You certainly won’t get anywhere if you refuse to put in the time.
5: To sit idly by and wait for people to offer you opportunities is folly. You need to ask for more work, ask for more responsibility, and take initiatives that those above you deem valuable. Otherwise, you won’t progress.
Q: Are the career paths that existed for those who are currently in the top jobs still available?
1: Nope. But there isn’t really a tried and true career path in this industry. Or at least not anymore. I’d bet you could survey the entire crop of sports media folks in Toronto and have a hard time finding two people with similar paths. Everyone comes into it a little bit differently. And everyone who gets ahead has been in the right place at the right time at some point.
2: Less so than 15 years ago, for sure. Even some of the top columnists and editors working at mainstream outlets now travelled unique paths that you could not duplicate if you tried. We all create our own paths. This is not an industry for five-year plans.
3: Things aren’t going to get better from here on out. The real test case for me is The Athletic. If it’s going to get better it’s because someone tries something new. But for big media companies, sports is such a small part of what they do that I can’t see them all of a sudden prioritizing hiring young people and developing them. If you look at Sportsnet, almost everyone with a high profile job has come from outside. Shi, Friedman, Blair … all outside folks. They want guys with names because that’s what sells. If that’s your priority then you’re not going take the time to develop people. Look at the industry: there’s guys who are in the 55-65 group, guys in the 45-55, but what about 35-45? Who is going to fill all those jobs if no one who is 30 is getting proper chances?
Q: How does it affect you/your colleagues when someone from outside the organization is brought in to fill a job ? (e.g. athletes, someone from another market, someone from another department, someone from another medium, like a tv person getting a radio job.)
1: I haven’t seen too many jobs filled during my time in this industry. Rather, I’ve seen a whole lot of jobs eliminated. So, I really haven’t run into this issue.
2: The state of the industry in the past 5 years has definitely taken a toll on the morale of employees at my workplace. It’s an obvious correlation, but when your friends and colleagues lose their jobs, it takes a toll mentally. That being said, we all love what we do, and that collective ideal really helps the workplace culture.
3: It leaves those who are putting in the long hours with a sense of hopelessness. The hours of training and hard work that go into developing on-air careers are quickly overlooked once an athlete is looking for a side gig.
4: You have to be realistic. The people doing the hiring are obviously going to be attracted to the names the audience will know versus someone they haven’t heard of. But it comes down to whether someone can do the job. What really irks you is when an athlete is brought in and doesn’t try and doesn’t learn the craft. That’s when the “paying your dues” thing is total nonsense, since clearly that doesn’t matter if you have name recognition. Another thing is whether someone is a team player. When an athlete is lazy then there’s lots of bitterness and jealousy. But that happens with non-athletes too. Whenever someone is just handed a job and takes it for granted, it’s going to hurt morale.
Q: How has the state of the industry affected the culture of your workplace? How would you describe the your work environment?
1: Continued layoffs and cost-cutting create a culture of looking over your shoulder. The language used in corporate memos makes it seem like the work we do is increasingly valueless. Without a group of people who love working together, which I’ve been fortunate to have for most of my career, it would be inescapably bleak.
2: The real effect is that people feel like they have no leverage, for lack of a better word, and they are made to feel like they are lucky to be there. That makes the whole idea of career growth or promotions a pipe dream. That’s a scary way to approach your job every day. When layoffs happen then people are more on edge, and people act a little more nervous around each other. The biggest impact is psychological: you look around and wonder “where am I going here?” or “is this where I’ll be forever?” And that’s another difference with young guys and older ones. The older guys start thinking about buyouts, but the younger guys are thinking about who needs to leave in order for them to get a decent job. That’s reality when there’s so many people competing for so few jobs.
3: No job is safe. The turn over has been immense at Bell in just the past few years. Everyone walks around on pins and needles.
4: I work in the field and don’t spend enough time in the office to truly assess the state of the workplace culture. But I would imagine it’s not great amongst those in the industry who have more menial jobs. If you put together a group of poorly-paid, over-worked employees who get little recognition for their work and have scarce opportunity for advancement, morale isn’t going to be through the roof.
Q: What is the relationship like with management in your field? Are job expectations clearly laid out? Is proper credit given for the work you do?
1: My relationships with my direct bosses have always been great. My relationship with senior management has largely been non-existent. I don’t seek it out, so part of that is on me. To an extent, I enjoy working on a small island populated by three or four people. Journalists who get bylines and get paid are given all the credit they need. I’m not sure upper management of large organizations know how anything gets done behind the scenes, nor do I think they much care, so long as it gets done. There is a fine line in a workplace between management knowing how their newsroom operates and rewarding the people who facilitate that and overstepping, and it is a tough one to balance. In my experience, they often avoid having to strike that balance by burying their heads in the sand completely. Too often, behind-the-scenes figures, the glue in any organization, are not properly appreciated, especially if they are shy.
2: In my experience, yes. I’ve had good relationships with management. But I’ve heard of many employees past and present who were and are not happy with their experiences.
3: Managers understand the stress as much as anyone. They get it and are pretty good about listening to you. But there’s no real solution. I was directly told they think highly of me but that for me to get the next job I would have to wait for a layoff or for someone to leave. And if you look at the industry, people don’t leave. The Sun had three 70 year old baseball writers pretty recently. But when they finally retired, there were no new hires.
4: The only time you hear from management is when something goes wrong. There is no clear job description, and people often go far and above with no commendation, while others skate by on the minimum.
Q: Have you ever been put in an adversarial relationship with co-workers by management? Does management create a collaborative environment? How much has mismanagement affected your career?
1: Management creates a hostile work environment where collaborations is not encouraged, blame is the name of the game and everyone looks out for only themselves.
2: I would say that mismanagement has hurt me. The bosses are under the same pressures. They don’t want to get heat from their bosses so they are focused on things like increasing traffic or ratings. What that means is that they will ask workers to pursue meaningless stories or try out things that fail. And when you have too many bosses with too many different opinions then you’re not sure who you should listen to. That leads to confused employees. That’s lack of direction and lack of vision by management. Another problem is that a boss will tell you “hey that story/segment did really well!” but if you hear that over and over but don’t see any reward then it’s hard to care. There’s no carrot at the end of the line. It’s just about chasing numbers for someone else.
3: I’ve never been put in that position. Journalism, or at least my role in it, is a fairly independent job. But when I have to collaborate it’s generally a smooth process. I don’t feel mismanaged at all.
Q: What is the most stressful part of your job? How could management help reduce that stress? Are there wellness resources (mental, physical, benefits) within your workplace?
1: I’m a fairly relaxed individual by nature, so I never feel overwhelmed or especially stressed out in my job. I’m extremely critical of the work I produce, which probably leads to the most mental strife I experience. But, for the most part, I’m confident in my ability to juggle multiple tasks, meet strict deadlines, and produce quality work. And, yes, we do have a great deal of wellness resources available to us. Although journalism and wellness don’t generally go hand in hand.
2: The most stressful part of my job is trying to produce excellent work consistently, and the hours it occasionally takes to do so. Management could help by hiring more people in my area, but then I’d probably complain about being too crowded and not having enough freedom within my area of expertise. There are currently no wellness resources at my job aside from human ones. My bosses at all levels have been extremely understanding any time I’ve had a physical or mental-health issue, and have never put pressure on me to resume working before I was ready.
3: The constant expectations and demands of working on a show everyday, while managing on-air personalities and expectations of management. “Wellness” in the workplace is overlooked completely, despite the apparent corporate mandate.
Q: Have your job duties or hours expanded during the time you have held this position? Have you received additional compensation for expanded responsibilities? Do you receive scheduled raises? Are there performance bonuses?
1: Performance bonuses are never discussed, and can be withheld by management without previously explaining or notifying you. Hours are constant, as you are expected to be contactable any time of the day.
2: The only raises are annual cost of living, which are under 2%. This is not something we talk a lot about internally but I know it’s something people think about a lot. The only raises I saw were when new management would come in and change job titles. Young guys don’t get raises. Period. Your job title determines your rate and once you hit it, you’re done unless you move shows or networks. Some of that changes when you work in a unionized environment, but that’s not the case at Rogers.
3: No such thing as a performance bonus as far as I can tell, and this is something co-workers will talk with each other about because we hear the same thing from our bosses. Look at Sportsnet’s website. It has grown hugely over the last 5-7 years. And this is something they have hard data on … people’s personal webpages get way more hits now. And at the same time the responsibility has gone way up. People are expected to produce more content and it’s a much more structured job now. But no one has seen a financial benefit as a result, as far as I know. The pay for those jobs is the same as when the website sucked.
4: Sure, my job duties have expanded since I started. I have never received a scheduled raise or performance bonus. Again, if you cannot treat this job and this work as a reward in and of itself, the field is not for you.
5: There’s an annual “airing of the grievances” meeting and I know this issues has come up every year: why are there no bonuses to go around for people whose work generates more reaction? That’s a big problem internally on both the web and the radio. People don’t know what to do to get rewarded. I know a guy who was at Rogers 15 years and other than the cost of living increases, didn’t get any raises. He told me he was afraid that of he asked for more money they would “red flag” him and he would be at risk of losing his job. It’s terrible to think that your employer would rather replace you than reward you for good work.
6: Yes, my responsibilities have increased massively. But that’s been a result of me constantly pushing for more responsibility. I would never complain about it. I’d like to work more than I do now, to be honest. I have received additional compensation, but it hasn’t coincided with me receiving more responsibilities. It’s coincided with me asking for it. We don’t receive substantial scheduled raises. We do receive a cost of living raise each year, but it’s extremely minor. There are no performance bonuses. Or at least not that I’m aware of.
Q: Are technical/production/copy editors/behind the scenes workers compensated appropriately for their work? What is the relationship like between on air/“named” talent and the technical/editing sides?
1: The relationship between the behind the scenes talent and the on air talent is generally very good. Both understand that they need each other not only to survive, but also to thrive. The average viewer has no idea how important the producers behind the camera and behind the glass really are. The producers form many of the ideas and content that the on air talent have to bring alive. That being said, and it’s been this way forever, if you want to make real money in this business, do everything you can to become indispensable and versatile in a variety of roles.
2: No they are not appropriately compensated, but the relationship between production and on-air is much better than any relationship involving management.
3: There’s a big gap between what the on-air people make and the technical folks. It’s less on the web/magazine side. In terms of relationships, it really varies based on personality. As a general rule, radio people tend to be very tight with their producers … at least the younger radio hosts. On TV, producers do a ton of work and hosts tend to know how hard they work and how critical they are. On web people in the field are appreciative of the editing work that gets done back at HQ. Anyone who grew up around newspapers has a real appreciation for all the technical work that goes into publishing a story. But the compensation is not even close.
4: I can’t speak to compensation, but the relationship between bylined reporters and behind-the-scenes editors has generally been harmonious at my workplaces. It must be my delightful personality that keeps everything copacetic.
5: I honestly don’t know what people make in those jobs, so it’s hard to say. I don’t even know what those who have very similar jobs to mine make. There’s a lot of mystery around wages in this industry. I’ve always had a good relationship with just about everybody in this industry, whether it’s talent or people in behind-the-scenes roles. I’m pretty easy to get along with, though. There are definitely some people in this industry who seem very difficult to work with. But I don’t know if that’s exceptional to journalism.
Q: How much do nepotism and personal relationships affect promotions and hiring?
1: They are the guiding factor in many promotions. Media is not a meritocracy.
2: A whole dang bunch, and it is hurting pushes for diverse workplaces.
3: I’ve never been involved in a hiring process so can’t say. But relationships are important in any industry, I’m sure. That can make things a bit more challenging for those of us who skew introverted. My hope has always been that my work ethic and the quality of my work will make up for the fact I don’t do networking coffees or blow smoke up backsides. But the person with the best shot at getting ahead is definitely the one who does strong work and also builds relationships. I haven’t witnessed any nepotism, but I’m sure it happens.
Q: Can you offer any suggestions for those just entering the business? Are there things you wish someone had told you?
1: The number one thing I always tell people looking to get into the industry is to try and develop different types of skills. Start a podcast, ask around and meet people whose job you find interesting, volunteer with Rogers TV. The importance of have a diverse skillset is more important than it’s ever been.
2: Have a positive attitude and a willingness to do anything that’s asked of you. You’re being given the opportunity to work at a national sports corporation, make the most of it! Don’t just sit there and do exactly what’s told of you. Try to differentiate yourself and take chances. Do more than you’re asked. Stay late to help out with other producers and on air talent that you don’t know well or haven’t worked with. You never know who could positively influence your career.
3: Don’t. If you ignore that advice, then work your tail off Monday through Sunday, and do everything in your power to ensure there isn’t anyone else at your stage of the game who is working harder. Be very honest with yourself about your skills and abilities. Make sure you’re good enough to get ahead in this industry. Consume as much journalism as possible across all mediums. Examine it critically, consider the choices made, think about how you would do it better. Read non-fiction every single day, from a variety of writers on a variety of topics. Work or volunteer with your school paper, campus radio station, athletic department video production, whatever. Gobble up as much hands-on experience as possible as soon as possible.
4: Don’t go to journalism school unless you have no other option. Trust your instincts and be confident. Try to do things differently. Don’t follow the pack. Produce both in terms of quantity and quality. Tweet scarcely. Don’t feel the need to have a strong opinion on everything. Side with reason and sense over takes. The goal isn’t to be first or loudest, it’s to be right. And to tell human stories.
5: Have enough ambition to not be depressing to others, but not too much that you depress yourself. Love the work you do, not the job you have. Be independently wealthy, or at least be good looking and charming enough to marry well. Work on your empathy skills — they will never stop serving you.
6: Self-branding is really important. At a company like Rogers it’s really important how you are perceived. That applies to the work you do but also the way you tweet or post on instagram. You’ve always got to be telling your bosses who you are and what you do because with so many bosses it’s hard to be on anyone’s radar in a significant way. If you’ve ever called Rogers on the phone for customer service that will give you a pretty good indication of how things work in-house.
7: Know that covering sports will kill the sports fan in you — you need to be okay with that. Looking behind the curtain of a sports team is not as glamorous as many students might imagine. Don’t let athletes intimidate you with blank looks or awkward silences. If you don’t have a good or useful or interesting question to ask in a press conference, shut up and listen. You don’t have to ask a question at every press conference just so you can asert yourself among the other journalists. Don’t dress like a slob or a high school kid. Don’t try to dazzle athletes with your own knowledge in the course of asking your long-winded question — just keep it brief and let the source do the talking. It’s not about you. Put some effort into getting unique sources: your viewers/readers get tired of hearing from the same voices. Ask yourself if being on Twitter or Instagram so much is having a group-think effect on the journalism you’re creating?
First, thanks to everyone for participating, especially those who gave thorough and honest answers rather than the generic stuff you can hear in every j-school classroom.
Second, it was interesting to track the range of responses from people when I told then about this project. Many were eager to participate, while others were definitely not. I have some theories about this that I’ll discuss in a future post.
Third, I don’t want this place to turn into an industry blog, primarily for the people in sports media to grouse about their workplaces. That said, as the industry has collapsed and we have seen people’s lives turned upside-down, I have become increasingly motivated to use the platform we have at TSM to have discussions that are important but are not taking place. We won’t do this all the time … back to drafting ideal sports radio line-ups next week … but if you have ideas for future industry topics, please be in touch.
Over to you: If you have experiences or observations of your own please share them below. I’m especially interested to hear from people whose experiences have been very different from those reported above.
When people tell me they want to be sports reporters/writers/commentators, I weep for them.
— Dirk Hayhurst (@TheGarfoose) June 17, 2017
Bonus Sunday Content: Meet The Press
In this new series where I aggregate the work of others and add some nonsense, I will be doing brief profiles of hard-working media members with whom you may not yet be familiar. Up first is Mr. Dan Kingerski
Don’t let the lack of a Verified checkmark fool you, Dan is as professional as it comes. He dropped onto my radar thanks to this tweet:
Tough seeing good hockey writers struggle.
Can't stress enough–you MUST support journalism/professionals.
Or basement bloggers will rule
— Dan Kingerski (@TheDanKingerski) June 16, 2017
This led to a flurry of responses, many from deep below ground, including these:
And yet when you supported basement bloggers in 2008, two of them were hired to run the best hockey blog on the web for 9 years. Weird! https://t.co/y5UkA94ziE
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) June 16, 2017
What these naysayers didn’t know is that professional journalist Kingerski doesn’t suffer fools lightly:
Oh goody the bloggers rush to the defense of blogs killing professional journalism.
Ima go take a nap while they miss the point and rant
— Dan Kingerski (@TheDanKingerski) June 16, 2017
That’s not to say all the response was critical. Some professionals came to defend him from the arrows of the fat & the wristless:
Kingerski valiantly tried to explain his meaning to the obtuse mob who couldn’t get their head around the simple point he was making:
Despite all the twisting of his words by the twitter mob, eventually Dan was “actually” sorry that so many people were offended by him speaking truth, and delivered an updated pronouncement on who is deserving of respect:
I'm actually sorry about pissing off many good writers, today.
If you write original content, you're a writer. Period.
— Dan Kingerski (@TheDanKingerski) June 16, 2017
Now you know Dan Kingerski. If you want to support professionals, you MUST give him a follow.
thanks for reading,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston, but definitely in the basement)
photo credit: http://www.estatephotoart.com