Young people often ask me “how do I get started in the media business”? It should be easy to answer, but it’s not. That’s because everyone travels a different path to their first break.
In many cases, internships are an advantage. They help you get your foot in the door. Then it’s up to the individual to work their tail off and prove that they have that extra-something that stands out. During my programming days I’d have my Assistant Program Directors oversee the process, and we’d identify 1 or 2 of the 10-15 people who came through the door that were worth holding onto at the end of the quarter. When interns know that their hard work could result in a future job at the radio station, they’re more inclined to give their best effort.
But what if an internship isn’t an option? Some stations require college credit to get inside the building. In my opinion, that’s one of the silliest rules in our industry. Why would a radio station turn down free help? Especially from people who see the internship as their one big shot? I know insurance salesmen, bartenders, callers, and contest winners who occupy the airwaves in major markets today. If someone has talent, passion, and dedication, that’s what should matter most. If a radio station hadn’t allowed me to intern (without being in college at the time), I’d have never gone on to program in three top 20 markets, produce some of the industry’s top national shows, and host my own program.
If there’s one advantage today that didn’t exist when I was working my way up, it’s that the internet and social media have created platforms for people to develop their skills and expand their connections. Every aspiring broadcaster has the opportunity to podcast, record videos on YouTube, and establish a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Periscope.
I’ve said this many times, there’s no excuse for young media professionals to not seek out program directors, corporate executives, talent, and producers on social media. The worst someone can do is deny your request. If they accept it, you get a chance to interact, and understand who they are, and what they value. That relationship has potential to one day lead to opportunity IF you have talent and the fit they’re looking for. Most jobs in this business are filled through word of mouth, internal connections, and external relationships. It’s a lot harder to be unknown to a hiring manager, and land a great position based on submitting an email or filling out an application.
Since starting my own company, Barrett Sports Media, I’ve had a chance to spend more time researching people, listening to different markets, and reading websites that I didn’t get a chance to enjoy as much in the past. One site that I’ve spent more time reading lately has been Outkick The Coverage. It’s run by Fox Sports personality Clay Travis, and features a good mix of sports coverage, media topics, and pop culture.
It’s on Outkick The Coverage that I became familiar with Mattie Lou Chandler. When she first reached out expressing interest in writing a column for the website I was unfamiliar with her background. I’m not a viewer of the Bachelor or Bachelorette, so I had to venture into unfamiliar territory and read her recaps of the show to get an idea of her style. What I discovered was that her writing was conversational, inviting, and very entertaining. In one of her recaps she said “If I make a joke that Johnny Manziel is currently going through his 2007 Brittney Spears phase, you better laugh“. It was hard not to chuckle and continue reading.
That left me wondering though if she had an ability to write deeper content. After doing some research, I landed on a story she wrote about Jameis Winston. The headline read, “A Victim’s Perspective on Jameis Winston and FSU“. In the article, she opened up about some of her personal experiences and how they related to the story, in addition to sharing her opinion on how Jameis Winston conducts himself. I was impressed with her willingness to put a personal side of herself on display because not everyone has the courage to do that.
After sorting through a number of her stories, and getting familiar with her witty, sarcastic, light hearted, and direct personality on Twitter (how can you not appreciate the opening line on her profile – “Attempting to combat the Wussification of America“), I touched base to ask her what she’d like to write about. After brainstorming some ideas Mattie Lou came up with the column you’re about to read. I think you’ll find it really helpful if you’re looking to open the doors and develop a career in the industry. Especially if you’re female.
There are a few areas that I think are especially valuable. From the way she got her break, to her approach to social media, to discovering the importance of finding your own niche and being willing to sacrifice and work multiple jobs at once, if it’s something you want bad enough it can be accomplished.
This story is refreshing because it reminds me that working in sports media still remains attractive to many people. When you get paid to do a job that you love, and invest everything you have in becoming great at it, there’s no telling how far you can go. But don’t take it from me, hear it instead from Mattie Lou Chandler.
Getting Started Without Experience
A female, in sports, who has zero experience. Two and a half years ago, that’s what I was. Sitting in the cube farm of corporate finance, miserable. My dad had a rule when I was little, you’ll watch an hour of SportsCenter each day during the summer before he watched My Pretty Pony or something of the sort with me. His reasoning was that it would make me well rounded and I could converse with boys and girls. It’s not only paid dividends, but it spurned my love of sports. Okay, I’d be lying if I said growing up spending Saturdays in Athens, Georgia and witnessing three BCS National Championships while in college didn’t help significantly.
While in college at The University of Alabama, I could never decide what I wanted to major in. It’s a common dilemma for many students, but I couldn’t settle on anything. Attending a school that is so immersed in sports, my parents quite frequently asked, “Why don’t you go into broadcasting and be like Erin Andrews?” I usually came back with some response about every division one school popping out fifty or so EA wannabe’s a semester, and not being interested or “do you realize how pretty she is?” What did I decide on? That would be Finance, General Business, and Computer Science.
So, how did I get to where I am now? Well, insert Outkick the Coverage, Clay Travis, and Twitter. Clay created a now extremely popular website that’s hosted by a major network, but it has a unique component. The Bull Pen, where you can submit articles in the hopes of them getting published. Everyone at Alabama follows and knows Clay. I was a huge fan of his so imagine my surprise when an email from him appeared in my gmail account saying I needed to write the Bachelor recaps for OKTC. Long story short, my best friend submitted our pledge class recaps and well, the rest is history. Except, the Bachelor isn’t sports.
This is where the necessity of social media comes in. To say I have a love hate relationship with it would be the understatement of a lifetime. As Chrissy Teigen put it, “females in sports have the worst mentions in Twitter.” How bad? My first hate tweet is framed in my house. It was like a badge of honor, which is ridiculous, almost like I had gained some credibility. I created my OKTC Twitter towards the end of my first season of The Bachelor recaps. I thought it would instantly take off and I would get a lot of followers quickly, but not so much. You have to be interacting constantly, it’s the nature of the beast. This is how I started to weave in sports to prove that I could offer more than just Bachelor recaps. College Football and golf, are my first loves, so that’s what my Twitter content consists of.
Social Media is an incredible tool if you utilize it properly. Not only do you have to constantly be active, but you have to differentiate yourself. It won’t be enough to be a not completely unfortunate looking blonde who knows some fun facts about football and golf. The best advice I got before I walked into my first agency meeting was, “don’t walk in there and say you want to be the next Erin Andrews.” What do you want to do? How do you want to be presented? Whoa. I needed to hear that a week before the meeting, not twenty minutes prior.
Six months after writing for Clay and Outkick, I met him in person. The internet is a weird place and I have entirely too many “internet friends” that are in the industry that I’ve either never met or have only seen a few times, and we all think it’s normal. I digress, Clay wrote a book called “Dixie Land Delight Tour” where he went to every SEC school in one season. Our meeting was in the summer before the inaugural season of the College Football Playoff and he suggested given my deep experience with tailgating in the SEC that I go on a version of his book and write about it from a female’s perspective. “Wait, you’re going to pay me to tailgate and talk about college football? Is this real?”
This is how I was going to differentiate myself. I wasn’t going to try and talk x’s and o’s, because while I know the basics and have learned a lot, I’m far from an expert. So I don’t try to be. I’m a southern belle, but I’m witty and can be a guy’s girl. It’s the wholesome, girl next door vibe that comes with the sassy side you never saw coming. I realized this would benefit me greatly for the audience I was writing for, but I had to play to my strengths. You have to know your demographic and target audience.
As I stated before, being a female in this business can be brutal. There are good days and bad days. You’re going to have to work harder than the men sometimes, and that’s okay. I’m sure you’re all thinking, “wait, you just walked into this job with no journalism experience?” Yes, Clay gave me an opportunity to get my foot in the door, BUT while I quit the corporate world, I’ve worked as a nanny for at least forty hours a week. I then go on the road for three days during the season, and am back at the nanny house at 5:30am on Monday’s.
If you want to be in this industry, you have to go all in. You have to send the DMs to the random radio station that followed you to beg for a segment. You have to check Twitter and get your opinion out when your friends are begging you to get off your phone. You have to write a bunch of articles that will never get published, and you have to take the ones that offer to help you and provide you with advice. Poor Todd Fuhrman, I’m sure he regrets ever offering to help me as we now talk daily about different stories and the best way to approach things. Most importantly, you have to want it, or this business will eat you alive.
I still have much to learn, and I’m just getting started. In two and a half years I’ve gone from writing Bachelor recaps to heading into my third season covering college football for a major network’s website. I appear frequently on radio show’s across the country, have developed a decent social media following, and I’ve had the opportunity to interview for additional opportunities….all while still nannying.
Don’t go into sports journalism for the money. You’ll more than likely be disappointed. To say it’s been an interesting ride would be an incredible understatement, but it’s only the beginning. Don’t worry if you don’t have a journalism degree or don’t think you know enough. Reach out to people in the industry whose work you respect, and the good one’s will be more than happy to help. In most cases, someone did the same for them. All that matters is getting that one opportunity to get your foot in the door, but you have to continuously build off of it.
Mattie-Lou Chandler is a writer and media personality for Outkick The Coverage and Fox Sports. To connect with her or book a future media appearance, follow her on Twitter @MattieLouOKTC or on Instagram @MattieLouC.