Column: Confessions of a former sportswriter

06/26/2016 6:00 AM |

werkmeister-1

I pulled into the driveway of my college apartment after a seven-hour car ride in January 2006 to begin my final semester at St. Bonaventure University when my phone started buzzing. It was Michael Gasparino, a former Times Review Media Group reporter and editor. 

He called to offer me a job as a sportswriter — contingent on my graduation four months later — at the company’s now-defunct North Shore Sun, which covered news from Mount Sinai to Shoreham.

The call caught me off guard. I hadn’t even unloaded my car and suddenly I was pondering my future employment. Mr. Gasparino informed me of the starting salary, which to a college kid seemed like a boatload of cash, and advised me to take a few days to think about it. I didn’t have to think for long.

A real job as a sportswriter? Going to games and writing about them? What could be better than that, I thought.

Over the next few months, as classmates around me scrambled to fill out applications, set up interviews and fret over their futures, I sat back and enjoyed the final moments of college life before entering the real world.

I like to joke that I’m the only reporter at Times Review Media Group who has been hired without even interviewing for the position. In fact, I didn’t meet anyone in person here before I was offered the job.

I was fortunate that Mr. Gasparino and sports editor Bob Liepa saw something in my writing — based off a handful of freelance assignments during the previous summer and winter — to take a chance on hiring a kid they had never met outside of emails and a few phone calls.

A college professor told me not long after I accepted the position that the greatest challenge is finding that second job in a career. I understood what he meant. Oftentimes a college graduate accepts any job offer possible just to get their foot in the door. But it’s that next move that helps determine your career path.

When I started here as a full-time reporter, I never imagined this could become my career. Last month, I observed my 10-year anniversary with Times Review Media Group. And now I’m the editor of the Riverhead News-Review and The Suffolk Times, titles that seemed well out of the realm of possibility as a 22-year-old fresh out of college.

While I never took that second job, the journey I’ve been on over the past decade has been filled with enough transitions to feel like multiple jobs. The North Shore Sun stopped printing at the end of 2010 and we published online only for about a year after that. I worked remotely, often filing stories from home. In a sense, I was in my own bubble, going to games every day and writing as much as I could to fill up the vast space that is the world wide web.

It’s never easy to tug a sportswriter away from the fields and courts. But beginning around 2011, my co-workers gradually pulled me across the newsroom from the sports desk to news. At the time, the idea of leaving sports full time to become an assistant web editor undoubtedly scared me. Sports had been my passion, it was what I loved to write about and I knew abandoning sports would, in a small way, be the end of a dream.

But an opportunity awaited — one I ultimately knew I needed to take.

It was a pivotal moment for our paper as the transition from print to digital accelerated like a tidal wave. We were just beginning to understand the role social media like Facebook and Twitter played in driving web traffic. A newspaper company suddenly looked a lot different than it had when I started just a few years earlier. And that evolution hasn’t slowed down.

I’m proud to say I played a small role in helping these papers go through some of their biggest changes in the 100-plus years they’ve been around. Something I’ve always loved about working at a small paper is the ability to contribute in so many ways. I can report on a vast number of topics, take photos, create web packages, paginate news pages, edit stories and, now, help mold the next generation of reporters.

I would often get an excited response when I told people I was a sportswriter. It usually went something like this: “So, you cover the Mets or Jets?” And I would respond no, I work at a local paper. I cover high school tennis matches. The excitement in their voices would dissipate.

There’s something special, though, in writing stories that otherwise wouldn’t be told. And at a community paper like the one you’re reading, that’s what we’re all about.

I may not be a full-time sportswriter anymore, but the job is still the same: telling great stories.

Photo Caption: The author interviews Shoreham-Wading River football coach Matt Millheiser after a November 2014 game. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)

WerkmeisterThe author is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review and The Suffolk Times. He can be reached at 631-354-8049 or [email protected].

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