I had a chance to chat with NBC 5 sports anchor Mike Berman, ask him a couple of questions, pick his brain about the Blackhawks, and get some advice as a college student looking to break into the sports industry. I split this interview into two parts: one focused more on the career side of journalism and the other is all about the Blackhawks, which you can read here.
How did you first get into journalism and when did you know for sure that you wanted to be a sports journalist?
I played sports my whole life growing up, but in high school it was obvious that I wasn’t good enough to play in college and I always wanted to stay around sports. I went to Glenbrook North in Northbrook. There were two great resources there. There was a TV program, and so I did that. There was a newspaper program so I did that. I worked doing sports for both and it was very clear to me while I was doing it that I did wanted to pursue sports journalism. So that’s why I chose Mizzou. I went to University of Missouri, loved it there. It was great preparation for a career in sports journalism, and then I started my trek around the country and through the market to get back home. It was always my goal to work in Chicago and my hometown and cover the teams that I care about. It’s really been outstanding and fulfilling to have this opportunity to come back home, work at NBC 5, and do what I love in my hometown.
How did you end up at NBC 5?
My first job out of school was a weekend sports anchor in Springfield, Ill. I was there for two years. Then, I went to Austin. I worked at Time Warner cable news. I did weekend sports news there for six years. Then I was in Indianapolis as the main sports anchor at CBS for a year and a half until last August, when I got the job at NBC5.
Did you do any internships when you were in school?
I did. After my freshman year, I did an internship with Pioneer Press. I did a sports writing internship with them and I think at that point I was like, ‘I don’t love writing print as much as I would broadcast.’ The next summer I did an internship with WGN Radio sports and it was great. I loved it. But I thought to myself, ‘I think TV might be right for me.’ So the following summer, I did an internship and I knew that [broadcasting] is what I wanted to do. I thought the internships were very helpful in terms of, not just learning the industry and picking up really important tips on what it takes to be good, but also finding out and really narrowing in on which area of sports journalism I wanted to do.
What would you say is the hardest thing you’ve had to overcome during your time as a sports journalist?
I think one of the hardest things is that sports journalism is a very enviable job because there are so many people who love sports and eat, breathe, and sleep it, and they want to work close to it. But there are only a finite number of jobs. The biggest challenge has always been exhibiting patience, being willing to wait it out. I think that, as is the case with anything in life, if you are going to climb the ranks and you are going to get really enviable jobs, it’s going to be because you are good. Talent, of course, plays a role, but I also think that your commitment to it and your willingness to stick it out also plays a role. I think the biggest challenge has always been being turned down. You’re sending out your resumes and your links and your tapes and most of it is rejection, most of it you never hear anything. So, are you willing to stick it out and be patient and exhibit that belief in yourself that eventually you are going to get where you want to be?
What is the most important advice you would give to young journalists who want to break into the sports industry?
I touched on one bit of the advice that I always give, the patience thing. You have to be willing to be patient. Also, being multi-talented is so important in this day and age. You’ve got to know how to do video, web, social media, editing. You need to know how to do all of those things and be good enough at all of them that you can stand on your own doing any of them at any time. There are just no jobs anymore, until you are in really big markets later in your career, where you are essentially only doing one task. One more thing: be willing to relocate and move anywhere because there are so many opportunities around the country but you have to be willing to go take them and get out of your comfort zone.
Do you think it’s more important to have an extensive resume right out of college, or is it okay to have a smaller resume but be better at those skills you learned at each job?
That’s a good question. I’m going to twist it a bit and say, ‘Is it more important the thing’s you’ve done or the people you know?’ I would say while it is great to have the experience and you need it because you need to do it on your own and practice and get the reps, it’s equally or more important to build your contacts. As we talked about, there’s only a certain amount of jobs in the field and there are so many people applying to them. How are you going to stand out? Well, your work can certainly make you stand out, but do you know someone in that newsroom? Do you know someone that can make a connection? The people you know, in what becomes a very small community of sports journalists, that’s really important. I think that it is important to do things that involve you and immerse you in sports journalism because you’re learning, but also so that you can make your contacts who hopefully can, not just teach you things in the moment, but help you some point down the line. Now, I also think it’s really important to be a college student: to have fun, to be with your friends, not to work in sports journalism as a full-time job while you’re in college because it’s college, it’s a great time. Strike the right balance. Have fun, be a college student but remember there are a lot of people out there who want these jobs that you are going to be seeking. How are you going to set yourself up to be separated from the rest of the field?
Check out part two of the interview here: Part two