Saturday, April 9, 2011

There and back again, a writer's journey

I feel a bit like I'm moving back to a home I've lived in before, but one that's been shuttered for years and the furniture covered in sheets to protect from the encroaching dust. There's both familiarity, and a sense of disconnect. The blog's been here, though not updated, for years, and I've moved on and changed a lot.

One of the main reasons Sideline Views was fun was because Luis and I could write about the stories we personally wanted to, even as we were hustling to get paid for enough stories to well, be financially viable.

It's not so simple when the corporate world, website traffic numbers, SEOs and sponsorship demands crowd in on the basic mission to bring soccer stories to the world. It could be that I simply don't have the tiger mentality to make it in the management jungle. Long story short, I'm no longer chief editor at USA. Right now, I'm still working there, but with a reduced work load that allows for me to freelance again with other outlets. (Need a soccer story? Need copy edited? I can write movie and food reviews, too.) I've been mulling over whether to go back to teaching, because frankly, the hustle required to chase down stories and pitch them to outlets seems to suit the younger generation better. Perhaps, also, there's not the need for reporting that there once was before fans could just "follow" their favorite players on Twitter.

I guess I'm still figuring things out, and perhaps, then, it's not surprising that I've come back to Sideline Views, and not just because I'll have a bit more time to maintain the blog now. It was always less of a straight news blog and more an inside look at the process of what Luis and I were doing as soccer writers and people.

Got an email from a young aspiring sports writer the other day, who wanted to e-interview me for her school project. I generally can't say no to helping a student - it's the teacher in me - so I agreed to answer her questions.

1.How did you decide to enter this field? I always enjoyed sports and grew up reading Sports Illustrated. I first started writing sports stories for my high school newspaper.
2.What kind of education training did you have? I took journalism classes, but since I was worried about finding a job in the field, I decided to apply my credits to a degree in English.
3.What personal qualities are important for an individual considering this field? It's good to be adaptable (things go wrong) observant (pay attention to details) disciplined (deadlines are no joke) and friendly (sources like friendly people).
4.What do you wish you had known before entering this field? I wish I had known about how little it pays.
5.What kinds of preparation do you wish you had? Sometimes a little ignorance can be a good thing, because players are tired of hearing the same exact questions from reporters, but in general, it always helps to be prepared.
6.What are your typical duties and responsibilities? I check my email for assignments, announcements of press events, try to plan interviews and pitch ideas for articles - then deliver those articles on deadline.
7.What do you like best and find most rewarding? I like crafting a story, from when I think of the concept, to talking to people with an interesting perspective on the topic, to putting together their thoughts (and mine) in a finished piece that I hope presents something new to the reader.
8.What do you like least and find most frustrating? Players too snobby to talk to the media, people who think the job is easy.
9.How is your time divided between people, data and things? Most of my articles are based on interviews - I'm not a big stats person. Other writers are, though; it's a personal style.
10.What are some of the positive and negative aspects of working in this field? The positives are interesting, creative work. The negatives are low pay.
11.How much influence do you have over decisions that affect you? I have a lot of influence over how my articles turn out. I don't have that much influence over how they are compensated.
12.What additional training and qualifications are necessary for advancement? If you're interested in being a managing editor, it's probably good to take some classes in managing people. As a writer, you're more of a free agent - as a manager, it's about getting a team to work together.
13.Do people typically get promoted from within or do they move on to another company in order to advance? It depends on the place of employment.
14.What is the turnover like in this company/field? It's pretty frequent. Newspapers are a dying industry, but the web doesn't pay much, so people move on all the time to different careers.
15.What types of training or professional development is offered at your company? We offer a lot of opportunities via internships.
16.What types of internships or part time jobs would you suggest to people before they enter this field? Take an internship somewhere that will really let you write what you're interested in covering, and see if you enjoy it, are able to come up with plenty of fresh material and don't get burned out.
17.What specific advice would you give to someone considering this field? Be careful with your money - most sportswriters don't get paid well, but if you manage your money well, you shouldn't be stuck working for an editor you dislike.
18.Are you familiar with any professional associations that might be helpful for me to learn more about? I don't spend a lot of time with association groups - just personal preference.
19.Could you recommend any other people working in this field who might be willing to talk to me? You can try to reach anyone in the same way you reached out to me.
20.Is there anything I should be asking that I have forgotten? The most important question is to ask yourself if this is really what you want to do, and then to try it to find out for sure. Some people have a fantasy about writing that is much more glamorous than the reality.

In answering Amber's questions, I thought about what I first wanted to do when I started - and that was to write. This blog allows that, and perhaps I can also point readers to where my new stuff is hopefully appearing. So cheers, all, it's good to be back.

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