ESPN baseball personalities speak at Newhouse

Jayson Stark '73, Tim Kurkjian and Dan Shulman shared their paths to sports reporting and advice to aspiring journalists.

Students and faculty packed the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium Friday when three ESPN baseball personalities visited the Newhouse School.

“There are really two reasons I am where I am in life,” said Jayson Stark ‘73, a graduate of the Newhouse School. “One is because I’m one of those lucky people in the world who is doing exactly what I dreamed of doing since I was nine years old. And the second reason I am here today is because I went to Syracuse.”

Stark, Tim Kurkjian and Dan Shulman are all ESPN baseball writers who spoke about their experiences and dispensed advice for Newhouse students entering not just sports reporting, but journalism as a whole.

“I was smart. I went to Newhouse and Syracuse really set me up for my whole life,” Stark said. “When I got out of Newhouse, I was ready and I was prepared for whatever came along.”

The trio shared laughs with the crowd as they discussed how they became involved in baseball coverage.

“I think I fell into this by accident,” said Dan Shulman, a graduate of the University of Western Ontario. He is ESPN’s Major League Baseball and National Collegiate Athletic Association college basketball play-by-play commentator.

Shulman graduated with a degree in actuarial science and spent all four undergraduate years calling games, giving play-by-plays and hosting talk shows for his campus radio station as an extra-curricular activity.

“After I graduated, I worked for an actuary for about six months and I had my mid-life crisis at the age of 22,” Shulman said with a laugh. “I said ‘I’m getting out of this and I want to go do something that I want to do.’ I started sending out demo tapes and I got a six buck-an-hour overnight job at a small radio station 50 miles north of Toronto, and one thing led to another.”

Stark shared that connections and good relationships are what got him into better jobs. He also emphasized that relationships are key to a journalism career.

“The most important thing we do is build relationships. We do it every day in our jobs,” he said. “And when I get to know someone and they get to know me, we build an understanding, we build trust.”

Kurkjian, a graduate of the University of Maryland and ESPN’s MLB commentator and reporter, echoed Stark’s point about the importance of relationships.

“The journalism business has changed so dramatically and today I’m a little worried that we’re not communicating with our athletes and our players and our coaches like we used to,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of things on Twitter and social media, which is all great, but I think we’re getting away from actually calling somebody on the phone and getting an answer. I can tell you, the most important thing about communicating is actually going to the player.”

Kurkjian also emphasized the importance of always working hard because reporters are always in the spotlight.

“Somebody’s always watching you, even if you’re at the smallest newspaper in Idaho and you’re just mailing it in because you don’t think anybody's reading it, trust me, you’re wrong,” he said.

“I can tell you a thousand stories of people who came from nowhere and ended up working at Sports Illustrated. Just don't forget that no matter where you are, somebody is reading, and somebody is watching.”

Replying to a question about covering news within sports, Shulman said that he would rather revisit big stories too many times than not enough. He reiterated that it’s important to not only cover the game you’re at, but also other big stories within the sport and throughout the world.

“When that [breaking news] happens, we blow up the show. We do a whole different show,” Stark said. “And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. When you're in that setting and something incredibly newsy breaks out, I think you should do that.”

“I can’t tell you how many times breaking news occurred while we were on the air,” said Kurkjian, who has been on the program Baseball Tonight for seventeen years. “Everything that we had prepared before the show goes away. This is why we have to be prepared for all sorts of breaking news. When it comes to you, you have to be ready to talk now.”

They all agreed that preparation is key and underscored the importance of being ready for change.

“You have to have this off the top of your head now, and that’s what preparation is all about,” Kurkjian said. “It may not be what you prepared for that show, but when something happens you have to say, ‘Alright, this is the new topic’ and you have to go now.”

In the end, the trio parted wise words to every writer, producer and editor in the room.

“Here’s my advice: somebody at ESPN ever calls you and says, ‘We’d like you to work here,’ you should say yes,” Stark said, adding that Newhouse was the beginning of his journey to ESPN.

“I’m really glad I went because the greatest thing about ESPN is the people you work with. Everybody there wakes up everyday and thinks, ‘What great thing can we do today?’ That’s amazing.”

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