My CMU degree allowed me to get paid to watch sports.
Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.
My work days consist of studying teams’ records and stats, making note of key players and storylines to follow. Then, I watch them play for a few hours, taking notes and photos. Once the game ends, chat with a few of them, (pray I pressed record on my phone beforehand), and put together a story.
There’s some stress, too. Things happen fast and the deadline is always looming. But, at the end of the day, I get paid to watch sports and share my thoughts on them. It’s usually as sweet as it sounds.
The journey from CMU to this was a short one.
I spent a 12-week term with the Winkler Times and Morden Times, part of a group of weekly newspapers in southern Manitoba. CMU director of practicum Werner Kliewer set me up with that, and it was a fantastic starting point.
From there, the Brandon Sun reached out and asked me to apply for a job in its sports department. That’s it.
The years leading up to grad were the interesting part.
I went through three years of pre-medicine courses at CMU before it hit me. I thought about my passions and how they aligned with my path in school.
My conclusion? They didn’t.
So, what are those passions? I love watching sports and talking about them. Simple, but how do you make a career out of that?
It turns out there’s an answer within these walls: communications and media. With the starting point of communications and media courses, here are three steps that helped me land a full-time sports reporter job with one of the biggest newspapers in the province.
Step One: Take Journalism. CMU is offering it this winter.
Surprisingly, I hated writing when I started university, or thought I did. English was my least favourite high school subject. I dreaded those 3,000-word papers, drudging through old books in the library, and searching through various academic journals to find scraps of information by scholars I could attribute my pre-meditated arguments to.
It turns out I loved to write, but had no interest in academic writing. Journalism is the opposite.
Big words are discouraged. You’re supposed to write for the masses, so that anyone can enjoy your work.
Those long, drawn out sentences you write when you’re out of thoughts but need to reach an arbitrary word count? Gone.
Reaching a word count is no longer a concern. The challenge becomes trying to fit all your thoughts in. That’s a fun problem to have.
I’ve never heard a student describe essay writing as ‘fun.’ Taking journalism showed me how enjoyable writing can be.
Step Two: Stop asking for extensions
Those deadlines, the ones that you found out about on syllabus day? They are the easiest deadlines you’ll ever have to meet.
In the real world, especially that of a daily newspaper, the timeline is radically different.
Right now, you likely have a 600-word paper due in a few weeks, maybe even tomorrow morning. In this business, a 600-word story is due the day it’s assigned, sometimes less than an hour after the game ends. Being late isn’t an option here, either. Instead of losing a couple per cent on a grade, I can lose my job.
Make a habit out of hitting every due date and prepare for the unexpected. Learn how to meet deadlines, not make excuses.
Step Three: Start a blog/join a website
A Winnipeg Free Press journalist gave me this advice during my first year of communications courses. I started a free blog—friesentundra.wordpress.com—and wrote about anything and everything I felt like sharing. Every time I published a post, I shared it on Facebook and Twitter.
Your work changes when you know everyone in your network and their grandmother can see it. The feedback you will receive, and simply the process of expressing your thoughts, will make you better every day.
After a few months of blogging, I applied to be a staff writer for LombardiAve.com, a site that covers the Green Bay Packers. I still write for it today.
While I’ve never received a cent for my work, it has been a valuable experience. I work with an experienced team of writers and two editors who provide terrific feedback and teach me through the stylistic changes they make to my stories.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a long way to go in this business. I make mistakes every day. But, investing in my craft through unpaid platforms was a vital step that helped me get to the point where someone felt my words are worth paying for.
Fair warning, the hours are long, and in sports they are late. And newspapers aren’t trending in a positive direction. For those reasons, another piece of advice I received about journalism was “find a new passion.”
But I’ll end with this.
I absolutely love it.
Most of the day it doesn’t even feel like work. Every day is another chance to share someone’s story in a new way. Oh, and the people in this business are a blast. I walk out of the newsroom satisfied every night.
Thomas Friesen is a CMU communications and media grad, and former Blazers volleyball and soccer player.