OT: Woody Paige E-mail

Submitted by ChosenOne on March 16th, 2011 at 2:11 PM
Here is an e-mail my buddy in the Air Force forwarded from me that was sent from Woody Paige. Its long but really interesting read on how to become a sports writer. Thought you guys might enjoy.

Thanks for your email. I honestly appreciate, and am humbled, that
you asked for my advice. I think you finally are making the right
educational and career choices, and I'm sure your time in the U.S. Air Force
will advance over most college graduates without any experience.

Monthly, on average, I receive more than 250 emails from young men and
women who share your dream and your goals. I have tried in the past to
answer each individually, but cannot keep up.

Rarely do I hear back from most correspondents, but those who have
followed my advice generally say they have been helped _ and many not only
have ended up with jobs, but, in several instances, have become successful
in the communications industry.

I remember assisting a young man who grew up in Colorado and wanted to
be a sports writer. I was instrumental in him getting his first major job
with The Denver Post, and was responsible for him covering his first World
Series. When Rick Reilly was selected national sports writer of the year,
he asked me to introduce him. He has become one of the best, best-known and
highest-paid sports writers and commentators in the history of newspapers,
magazines and sports TV, and I'm very happy I was able to be a smart part of
that process.

Several others who actually paid attention are employed by ESPN and
major newspapers and radio stations around the country.

Most can't handle it, and choose another path in life.

I came close to giving up because several emailers have written back
and said I am too harsh or don't know what I'm talking about. I've been
doing this professionally since I was 15 (and I'll be 65 this year, so
figure that out), all through high school and college, because it was my
dream since I taught myself to type (without a typewriter or, obviously, a
computer) when I was 7. I dreamed of becoming a writer

The majority of young men and women who write me say they love sports,
and they know sports, and they have played sports, so they want to be a
sports columnist or a sports commentator on ESPN or a broadcaster.

Oddly enough, the majority almost never say they are interested in
writing or communications.

The least important aspect of my jobs is sports.

Most of my good friends who are columnists for major newspapers and
websites or work as anchors or commentators on ESPN also are not fans and
also don't take sports very seriously.

You CANNOT be a fan of a team, or even a sport, and do this job
effectively. I care little what my alma mater, Tennessee, does in sports.
If you are a fan, it tempers everything you write and say. Again, my
friends who are award-winning sports columnists in Los Angeles, Dallas, New
York, Chicago and other cities are much more interested in writing, reading,
the theater, history, and they have a passion for doing the job, not a
passion for the subject.

As I told one young man, Van Gogh painted fruit and flowers. He wasn't
a fan of fruit and flowers. He loved painting. The subject didn't matter.
(Despite what one young disgruntle man said, I am not comparing myself to
Van Gogh. It's an analogy.)

I have covered the aftermath of the 9-11 disaster in New York, wars,
civil rights, the Columbine student and teacher shootings, assassinations,
Fidel Castro and Cuba, events throughout the world, and I've found all to be
intriguing, sad, ugly or profound. But what was important was the
communication of the story to others.

I know of not one high-successful sports writer who is a fan. I know
that everybody knows sports. They share their opinions with me every day by
the thousands.

A love and knowledge of sports will get you nowhere. Oh, you can write
for Bleacher Report or some other blog or website and make a few cents a
story, and be read by a few dozen, and maybe that's the way to go.

But if you want to be in journalism/communication for a full-time,
good-paying occupation, it should be because you love to write, to report,
to talk clearly and concisely, because you are willing to work for many
years (as a doctor or a lawyer or a salesman or a bricklayer) at your
training, and you are willing to start at the bottom, and you are willing to
accept little money at the beginning.

It should be because you love and know the English language, not
because you love and know sports. Most young men and women who write me have
no understanding of the language. They don't know how to spell, punctuate or
string complete sentences together. And they don't care. I know of no radio
or TV station or network, or of any newspaper who will hire someone who does
not know how to use the language properly. I would suppose that
three-quarters of the people who write me use ""You're'' incorrectly.
""Your'' is an adjective - ""your shirt'' _ not a contraction of ""You
are.'' Nobody is hiring anybody who fails to use ""You're'' correctly. I
don't care how much you love or know sports.

You must have a unique style of writing. My suggestion is to study the
great authors of the world _ Chaucer, Shakespeare, Vonnegut, Hemingway, for
examples. They had a style all their own. They knew the language, and knew
how to twist it to make it their own. Sure, it's easier to study box
scores, but a box score never helped anyone become a writer.

My suggestion is to pay no attention to sports for a full year. Read
books about the history of the world; read great literature _ ""Moby Dick'';
and read the newspapers, the magazines, the websites that are available.

If you hate to write, as most of my friends did in school, you won't
enjoy working for ESPN or The Denver Post or The New York Times or ESPN.com.
You'll hate it. Anchors on ESPN write their own shows every night. They
have style; they know the language; they understand how to communicate.

If you are in college or high school, take English literature every
chance you get; study foreign languages; take philosophy, world history,
current affairs classes, writing courses, grammar classes. If you are out
of college and didn't major in English or communications, go back to
graduate school and take those courses.

Write every day of your life. Read every day of your life. And I don't
mean watch ""Around The Horn'' or read Sports Illustrated. Learn to write.
The difference between a sports talk show on a local weekend radio program
and an anchor on a TV station or a network is great writing. The difference
between a young man covering high school track on a weekly newspaper and a
columnist on a major newspaper is the ability to write.

The best newspaper columnist in the country, and one of my best
friends, is Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times. When he was 10, he would
go to the hotels where teams were staying, or call the rooms where the
players were staying, and interview them. He would then write a story about
the athletes for himself and his mother, who would do the typing. He studied
journalism and writing in college. He worked hard at a number of smaller
newspapers; he worked at his craft; he improved his writing, and over a
period of 30 years, he worked at odd newspaper jobs and as a baseball beat
writer, and finally, he got his own column.

Kevin Blackistone, one of the most important sports journalists in the
country, got his start as a business writer. He loves writing about sports;
he doesn't particularly love sports.

I continue to emphasize that loving and knowing sports doesn't mean
anything. That sounds crass, and most of you think I'm totally wrong. I'm
right.

What's important is knowing about the world around you, not just the
sports world around you.

I began writing for my school newspaper in elementary school, then
junior high and high school. I worked for a weekly newspaper when I was 15,
and actually wrote about the games I played in, but never mentioned myself.
I was a stringer for a local daily newspaper; I put out a newspaper for my
neighborhood, and my next-door neighbor and I did a daily radio show and a
TV show - with each other as the only listeners.

In college I worked all-night for a radio station in Knoxville, Tenn.,
as ""Woody Wakeup.'' I became a police and political reporter for The
Knoxville Journal. I wrote a column on all subjects for my college daily
""The UT Daily Beacon'', and I studied journalism, English, business and a
variety of subjects.

Each summer I worked for small newspapers. Then I became editor of my
college daily. Over an eight-year period I got a wealth of experience.

That's my suggestion. Most people who write me say they have just
graduated, and they majored in finances or phys ed or something, and they
want to know how to get started in sports writing or TV. They have no
experience, and they'll get no jobs. Newspapers are dying, and laying off
employees. Magazines, too. TV and radio stations aren't hiring, and even
networks like ESPN aren't adding people without years of experience in local
TV or newspapers (unless they are former pro athletes or coaches).

Get experience now, no matter your age. Apply for internships;
interview at your local community newspapers; beg on at a small radio
station. I don't mention blogs or working for websites that don't pay
because there are no editors helping you to improve as a writer; there are
no checks and balances about what you can write (unlike at a newspaper or a
TV station), and nobody in the profession is hiring anyone based on having
experience as a blogger, a website writer, a tweeter or a facebook writer).
And, again, nobody is hiring because somebody has an opinion about a
football team or knows the batting averages of everybody on a team.

In fact, nobody has ever asked me if I knew anything about sports.
When I told ESPN years ago I didn't pay much attention to sports, the
president of the network said he didn't care. He wanted somebody who could
communicate, was creative and funny.

Study English.

Read, Write.

Get whatever experience you can as soon, and as often, as you can.

Develop a style of writing.

Here's what I told my daughter, who has a great job (not in sports; she
never watches any games) and a master's degree in math: (1) Work harder
than everyone around you, and you'll pass 75 percent of the people who don't
want to work; (2) Be more passionate about your work than everyone else, and
you'll pass another 10 percent, and (3) Be more creative than everybody
else, and you'll pass another 10 percent.

It worked for me and most of my friends who are columnists or
commentators. Simple advice, but hard to do, because most people aren't
willing.

I'm not that talented, but I've always worked hard (three jobs now); I
am passionate about writing (seven books, thousands of columns, hundreds of
articles for magazines, and 10 years with ESPN), and I am creative, which
keeps me loving my job and people reading me or listening to me.

The economy is impossible, and jobs are hard to find, but those who
follow 1,2 and 3 will succeed. My dad told me if I wanted to be the world's
greatest ditch-digger, I would be successful and make a lot of money. I
don't dig ditches, but both of those worked out because, as Red Smith, the
greatest sports columnist of all time (and a guy who cared about writing,
not sports) said: ""You sit down at the typewriter, cut open the veins in
your arms and bleed onto the paper.''

If you want it bad enough, you can do it.

If you still want to love and know sports, apply to a team as a public
relations or marketing worker, although they don't get paid much, and,
honestly, don't get to watch the games because they're working behind the
scenes. If you want to love sports, get a job in another industry and just
be a fan like everyone else.

If you're still interested and don't know what to do, I'll give you my
best idea. Only four people I know have gone with it. The rest are waiting
for some newspaper to hire them because they know sports, or waiting to be
discovered by ESPN because they love sports. (ESPN hires about 10 young men
and women a year to cut highlights; after a few months or a year or two,
most get out of the business, and I know this for a fact, because they can't
climb the ladder, and cutting TV tape is not exactly the job they wanted for
life.)

Pick out seven states where you want to live during the summer or after
you graduate. (For instance, one young man picked out Florida, Arizona,
Wyoming, Nevada, Oregon, Illinois and California.)

Go on the internet and find 10 of the smallest towns in each state that
have a newspaper, a radio station, a TV station, whatever you're interested
in. Then find who does the hiring, specifically by name and title.

Then, write her or him a letter (not an email) and include your resume,
your experience, your reason for writing the letter (not because you love
and know sports, because the letter will get tossed) and a couple of
examples of writing (or home-made radio and/or TV tapes).

Then, offer to work for six months (three if it's for the summer) for
free, without benefits. Tell them you will do anything at the newspapers,
and at the end of the period, you will walk away if they do not want to hire
you permanently (or invite you back for the next summer with a paid
internship). Beg, borrow money to do this, if there is an offer.

Do this well ahead of time (don't wait until January for internships;
do it in September; don't wait until you graduate from college, do it at the
beginning of your senior season).

Assuming someone will hire you, and it should happen because companies
like to hire people they don't have to pay or provide benefits for, work
your butt off for the six months (or the summer), night and day, seven days
a week (even when you're -- not your - off). At the end of the period, (A)
You will be offered a full-time job or (B) You will be thanked and told to
go on your way.

(A) You'll have a job.

(B) You have six months experience you didn't have before, and you'll be
able to tell that to your next prospective employer.

Win-win. You'll find out if you really want to do this.

One young man who followed my advice got a (non-paying) job in Florida
at a small newspaper. At the end of his trial period, he was offered a
(paying) job covering high school sports. Instead, he took a job in
California with a bigger newspaper and covered college football.

Another stayed with the newspaper in New Mexico, and has a nice job now.

A third has gone on to work for a number of radio and TV stations,
going to a bigger market each time. He is a broadcaster of minor league
baseball games.

The fourth decided he wanted to work for teams _ and has a job with an
NBA team.

There. That's all I got. Now, it's up to you. Remember, though, that a
doctor gets a degree, then a medical degree, interns in emergency rooms and
doctors offices for many years before he is a doctor. My friend got his law
degree and worked in a firm for years before he actually made much money and
had a title of sorts.

Being a sports writer or broadcaster requires more than just showing
up. Because you like courtroom dramas on TV doesn't mean you can
immediately be an attorney.

I was very lucky, and good, and it worked out for me. Be good, and
luck will follow.

One last time: Don't do it because you love and know sports. I had a
young man who worked for me when I was a sports editor if he could cover
some baseball games because he had played minor league baseball and loved
baseball and knew more about baseball than anybody on the staff. I said
sure, and told him to go write about the next four games. At the end of the
week I told him he had one problem: He couldn't write.

I wish you well.

Sincerely,

Woody Paige

Comments

Hannibal.

March 16th, 2011 at 2:29 PM ^

Interesting. 

I can't imagine wanting to get into journalism nowadays.  Come to think of it, I wouldn't want to get into any "sexy" field that sounds cool.  That's usually where the jobs are that make people miserable. 

maizedandconfused

March 16th, 2011 at 2:29 PM ^

He said

1. I almost quit because people said I dontknow what IM talking about

2. Dont be interested in sports, be interested in writing

3. Throw your opinion around based on writing not on knowledge of the game

This is crap. Woody Paige sucks.

I would much rather have halted writing from someone with passion for the event they watched than eloquent praise from someone who could give 2 shits.

 

WingedHelment

March 16th, 2011 at 2:36 PM ^

Seems he forgot this crucial part of his own (and Strunk & White's) advice.  Otherwise, as someone who writes for a living, I'd say this is pretty great advice to aspiring sportswriters.

BlueDragon

March 16th, 2011 at 2:37 PM ^

I don't know anything about professional sportswriting, but I would want to get a second opinion after reading that lengthy response from Mr. Paige.  What's the point of being a sportswriter if you aren't a fan of at least one of the teams?  It's an academic exercise at that point.  It seems counterintuitive to me.

lexus larry

March 16th, 2011 at 2:51 PM ^

Not sure of the venue, but I've seen stories about both Rosenberg and Snyder indicating that they try to disocciate themselves from the subject being covered.  (I know, fine job they did while hacking away at Rich Rodriguez.)

I remember reading Rosenberg whining about having to fly to Pittsburgh during the Cup Finals the Wings won, having lost Game 5 at the Joe, and having to fly that night/next day to PA.  And Snyder saying essentially the same, while being compared by the Daily to our own MGoBrian...do I have that recollection correct?  Didn't Snyder kind of make a point that he had to be dispassionate, not share the enthusiasm or joy of fandom?

(Which then puts the glee at the DB presser where Rodriguez was whacked at direct odds to the whole "journalistic integrity" crap - no clapping in the press box, etc.)

Don't know that the sports journalism career is really journalism, or bombastic op/ed crapulence...seems like ages since there's been excellent writing in the local papers.  Most of the print media is now AP/Reuters cut and paste!

bsb2002

March 16th, 2011 at 2:38 PM ^

i'm fairly certain knowing how to write and knowing what you're writing about are not mutually exclusive, contrary to mr. paige's suggestion

GVBlue86

March 16th, 2011 at 2:41 PM ^

I like the advice about how to be successful, work harder, be passionate, creative. I don't know how you can do those things as a sportswriter if you don't care about sports. Having knowledge of what yo u are covering can only help in my opinion. Woddy seems to think it only hurts. This is just odd.

Wolverine96

March 16th, 2011 at 2:50 PM ^

...that you should not have knowledge about sports.  In fact a good writer must have a knowledge about the subject on which he is writing.  He is saying that having a passion for sports, in particular for a team is detremental to ones ability to write about the subject.  He will let his passion get in the way of the facts and change his perception about what happened. 

As a writer, it is more important to have a passion about the theatre of the game and what occured rather than the outcome.  Knowing that a particular play was a critcial point in the game on which you are writing is very important and that is where the knowledge of the game comes in. Caring about which team or player was on the benefical end of said play is what will affect the writing in a detremental manner.

AnthonyThomas

March 16th, 2011 at 2:43 PM ^

I don't particularly like Paige but he's right in saying sports writers shouldn't be specifically sports writers. Editors are initerested in people who can write about a wide breadth of topics, not just sports. A lot of journalists were history or political science majors, and I'm guessing there are many sports writers who took the same path in college.

MgoMoney

March 16th, 2011 at 2:46 PM ^

As someone who briefly worked for a small-town newspaper like the ones Woody described as a good place to start, I think that all his advice could not be more correct.

I deeply enjoy sports, but when you're covering sports in a small town, you have to rely on quality writing to attract readers, especially when you're covering low profile events such as high school tennis or wrestling (even uneven high school football games). Sure, passion would help, but you don't learn passion. You learn how to write, and to progress in your career as a sports writer, being a skilled writer means so much more than being passionate.

Furthermore, my opinions on anything related to college football were tainted because of my loyalty to Michigan football. I wasn't the main sports writer at my paper, so I rarely got an opportunity to write an opinion column (we had a very small newsroom so I was frequently covering sports but rarely opining on anything in print). Having a strong loyalty to a team comes through in your writing, which serves to undermine your credibility and alienate readers.

This is a great e-mail for anyone looking to be a sports journalist because it describes the reality of the profession well. The job is only for the people willing to put in the tough hours at the small papers while being detached enough that you understand appreciate/sports but don't have any deep loyalties that will slant your perspectives.

 

Thanks for posting this, it was a great read.

S FL Wolverine

March 16th, 2011 at 3:03 PM ^

I never worked in journalism, but I've always loved writing.  Writing well is absolutely critical to success in many professions, inlcuding journalism.  I'm currently an IT auditor, and it's the ability to write that sets people apart.  There are plenty of people who understand technology who can't write a coherent report, and they'll never make good auditors because of this. 

Writing is very important if you want to be in managment as well.  I've seen plenty of people write crappy emails complaining about how they can't "get ahead", yet when you read the email, you see why.  They don't take the time - or have the knowledge - to write intelligently.  And as a manager, you'll write a lot, and be judged based on that writing.

Back to Woody.  It's interesting that he does not care about sports because he is on shows like Around the Horn where he has such strong opinions on sports.  Which demonstrates that most of it is an act.  Drew Sharp is an act.  I remember reading once that somone claimed to have met Michael Savage and he said that most of his show is an act.  There is a market out there for opinions, so people give it to them.  But many times it's really not even that person's opinion, it's just a show to attract attention.  It's smart when you think about it.  And it makes you wonder why we should listen, or get angry listening to commentators of all sorts.

Now that's totally different from objective journalism, and yes, journalists should try not to have strong opinions (like be a fan of a team) in the field they are covering.  One of the criticisms of jounalists in general in the younger generation is they don't care about objectivity any more.  But I'm more inclinded to go with what Brian says:  bias is unimportant because everyone is biased; it's being accurate that matters.

End self-important pompus post.

Tater

March 16th, 2011 at 2:49 PM ^

Paige knows that blogs are eating into his profession and he has to hate them.  He can dismiss them all he wants, but he can't change the fact that business and writing are done differently nowadays.  He also can't change the fact that blogs are taking over the business.   

I agree with him on the fundamentals of writing, though.  There are a lot of alternate ways for writers to make money right now, but not knowing the language is not one of them.  

Wolverine96

March 16th, 2011 at 3:04 PM ^

Blogs distort fact from fiction.  Blogs try to pass opinion off as facts.  The power of blogs cannot be understated, but they do not hold themselves to the same journalisitc standards as newspapers.  Blogs are opinion pieces with writers who have a definitive bias on an issue.  The problem is that many blogs are treated as true factual journalism.   This is most apparent in politics today.  Nearly every day one side will take something written in a blog as fact.  A great example is the Obama $2Billion trip to India with 40 warships.  A conservative blog picked up a story off another blog in India, which was then quoted and treated as fact by Fox News and a number of US Congressmen. 

In my opinion, blogs are hurting journalism as newpapers and media outlets are now feeling the need to combine opinion and facts.  Rather than reporting on the facts and allowing the reader to draw his own opinion. 

 

NateVolk

March 16th, 2011 at 3:00 PM ^

Woody is cool.  I'd pay good money to have him and Bob Knight in a room talking about the training necessary to become part of the print media.  Knight being famous for scoffing at the notion that there is any skill in what they do.  Something to the effect of:  "I learned how to write in the first grade."

Would be a fun spectacle.  Maybe Knight would break out his game face too.

 

dosleches

March 16th, 2011 at 3:30 PM ^

I think it's awesome that he took the time to write that response and there is probably a lot of merit to most of what he says.  HOWEVA, I think Mgoblog's creator would disagree with the argument that you shouldn't become a sports writer because you love sports. 

Tacopants

March 16th, 2011 at 3:44 PM ^

I think its a changing of the guard.  The new school that Bill Simmons brought on is all about sportswriters also being fans.  Brian fits into that mold.

Woody is a from a different time and generation, where you couldn't become attached to any one team otherwise you were considered a homer and not a serious journalist.  Obviously that will color his world view.

Angelique Chengelis is a good example.  Do you think you would take her as seriously if she professed her love of Michigan?  Do you take Rosenberg as seriously now that you think that he had a bias against Rodriguez?

Andy

March 16th, 2011 at 4:59 PM ^

Being able to remember some of the crap he wrote during the heights of the Wings/Avs rivalry I have a hard time taking Paige seriously.  I mean he's probably not an Avs fan, but he certainly wrote like he was one, and a dim witted Avs fan at that.  His lack of interest in sports though makes some of the things he wrote make more sense, still craptastic journalism though.

Michiganguy19

March 16th, 2011 at 10:44 PM ^

1. He didnt have to write the kid back.

2. No Doubt he worked hard to get to where he is.

3. No Doubt he works hard now.

Not my fav on TV, but he entertains... Impressed with his advice.