|Steve Lippo is a sports producer at WGN-TV|
in Chicago. He graduated from the Missouri
School of Journalism in 2004 with a degree
in broadcast journalism.
Dear ONA Mizzou,
Run. Run as fast as you can. That's what a lot of people working in this business will tell you. More work, less money. More graduates, less jobs. These are facts, not fairy tales. They are truths all budding journalists must accept before diving in head first. Still think you're ready for this life? Let’s see….
I can best describe working in journalism as being a contestant on ABC's Wipeout...for the rest of your life.
-You are constantly fighting for everything. Ratings, resources, time, story ideas, exclusives, etc etc etc.
-The show has judges. You will have a news director. Or an editor. They hold all the power. At some point, you will disagree with them. You will probably lose this argument.
-Sometimes you get metaphorically smacked in the face for no apparent reason. Taste it.
-Change can be unexpected and quick. Be prepared for anything in all parts of the daily grind.
-Most of you will never make more than $50k (per year) for your Herculean effort.
-Yet, in the end, nothing is more satisfying than doing your best and finishing strong.
It's at this point you're thinking one of two things: "What is this guy's obsession with game shows?" OR "what a jaded asshole this guy is!"
-Well, I absolutely LOVE game shows. I would have dominated Legends of the Hidden Temple as a kid. (please tell me somebody in that room has heard of this show...)
-And yes, I am a jaded asshole. And I'm 1000% better of a journalist because of it.
**Lesson #1 - Learn to be skeptical. Learn to seek out truths beyond the smiling faces that get put on display. The best stories are the ones nobody sees at face value.**
-As a student, I never fully understood this concept. I could identify a good story when I saw one, but rarely did I dig past the norm. Dig, people.
**Lesson #2 - Be smarter than everybody else in the room. This includes your own newsroom.
-I work with idiots. A LOT of idiots. Now, I would never tell them this to their face. But knowing this allows me to up the creative juices and help people cultivate the best out of what they're doing. Like some game shows, you gotta be a team player. Make sure it goes both ways though. You may be the smartest in the room, but every blind squirrel finds a nut now and then. Side note: clichés are great for email, terrible for news.
**Lesson #3 - Be YOU.
-Sounds simple. It's not. Brian Williams is great, but he's already Brian Williams. Take notes from the greats but don't try to copy them. Develop your identity and let it grow.
**Lesson #4 - Never assume anything.
-Another cliché? Absolutely. But the first time you head to the studio assuming your producer printed scripts, but he didn't, and the prompter crashes, and you have to go to break because you're dead in the water...you'll be happy you didn't assume. That day sucked.
**Lesson #5 - Learn to do EVERYTHING.
-Anchor, report, produce, shoot, edit, write, THE WEB. I've been told the 'O' in ONA stands for online, so I hope you all know that last one is important. It will contribute to your prospective employment more than anything else. Be irreplaceable.
Sure, there are a thousand more lessons to learn. And you will learn many of them the hard way as you journey out into the world. Value these experiences. I was one of those Mizzou kids who thought they were, for lack of a better term, “the shit.” I yelled at Gary Grigsby once (lesson 6, don't yell at Gary Grigsby). Turns out I was just a smart kid with an attitude who had to fight his way through the real world like everybody else. Yes, even the game show loving a-hole still has many more lessons to learn. My cynicism aside, this is one of the most challenging professions in the world. You can’t just like doing this. You NEED to LOVE it. ‘Like’ will get you eaten alive and working in PR. Passion is an absolute.
I live this letter every day. I strive to be a better journalist every day. If my words have made you question your life’s path, GOOD. If you still want to be a journalist after reading all of this, BETTER. This is not a job for the meek. Live it, love it, own it. But if all of this sounds too difficult, too strenuous...just remember one thing.
I work in sports.
BJ '04 Broadcast
Sports producer, WGN-TV Chicago
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Editor's note: If you're a Mizzou journalism alum who would like to contribute to the Letters Home series, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your letter, your name, your sequence and graduation year, your current job and contact information.