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Seen & Heard – Media Roundtable Topic: Career Paths For Young People
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by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail

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.

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, and then the ability 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 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 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 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 and “on-air”, and media type with participants from 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.


Seen & Heard – Media Roundtable

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