My son often asks me why I left Sports Media. In the eyes of a child, the early part of my career was glamourous. I met, and sometimes worked alongside, world famous athletes. I had access to a press pass on occasion, to attend games. Part of my job, both in radio and TV, meant I HAD to watch sports. My son just cannot fathom how I would ever choose to leave that world. But I did. And I don’t regret it.
I also don’t regret the wonderful and unique opportunity that I had to work in the industry. What has stayed with me today aren’t the memories of athletes I met or games I attended. I learned life skills, how to hustle and was lucky to work with some talented people who I consider my friends to this day.
My choice to leave sports media is one that I haven’t really thought about too deeply for a long time. But over the past week, hundreds of great journalists lost their jobs, many of them in sports media. Earlier this evening, in particular, when I saw social media posts from former colleagues, writing of radio stations changing their formats and wiping out their employees, brought a memory back of when I was one of those people, many years ago. It was one of the reasons that eventually led me to leave my job on an assignment desk and follow the career path of a communications professional.
Where it Began
In my final semester of my Master’s Degree in Journalism at New York University I had to choose an internship in media in New York City. I still remember listening carefully to the guidance from my mentor, Professor Michael Ludlum. He was my Radio Broadcasting professor from my first semester, who brought me under his wing and taught me everything I had to know about working in radio. He encouraged me to pursue a different kind of internship, at ABC Sports Radio. It was a small operation, a kind of central intake hub of sports news, and he felt that it would give me skills that I could take anywhere.
Of course Professor Ludlum was right. I learned how to grab quick interviews for the radio format, edit my tape and write copy. And my first big assignment was to represent ABC Sports Radio one night, to collect sound bites, on the field, at the World Series (the Subway Series no less!). At that moment in time I thought sports media, radio in particular, was my future. I knew it was for me.
Where my Early Career was Shaped
When I decided to pursue my career back in Toronto after graduate school, it took me a few months to find that coveted job in sports media. My first “real” job was at the Team 1050 sports radio station. The guys took a chance on me, a young, very inexperienced journalist, but I was eager to learn and grow. My colleagues were genuine, wonderful people who had a love of sports and great talk radio that was infectious. I was excited to go to work every day. I produced everything, from shows that started at 10:00 pm on a Friday night (when I learned sports reporters in Texas cover high school football, not hockey) to the morning show. Sometimes I arrived at work at 3:00 am and sometimes I left at 3:00 am. It was everything I dreamed of.
Then 16 months later, one summer morning, the Team 1050 radio station disappeared. Just like that. All of the employees were brought together into a room and were laid off. I was devastated. In a short time I got the taste of what I wanted my career to be, and I wasn’t ready to walk away. I remember Paul Romanuk, who co-hosted the morning show, walked over to me that morning and said, “Alicia, you are not a true journalist until you have been fired at least once. Welcome to the club.”
When I made the Choice to Leave
I was one of the lucky ones, as I was hired by Rogers Sportsnet days later. It was an entry level job, but I took it. I had made some great friends in my days in radio, and one of them brought me over to TV. He knows who he is and I am forever grateful for his kindness. It took me only a couple of months to apply and get an opening on the Assignment desk. It was a different pace than radio, with different personalities, but again, some great people. This is where I really learned how to hustle and get the news on air.
The days were long, and during hockey playoffs I often worked until 4:00 am. Some days were exciting and full, and I felt the adrenaline running through me, but over time I became less motivated. I kind of lost my drive and desire to go to work. I knew I was good at my job and respected by my colleagues. I knew a career in sports media was unstable and while it never happened to me at Sportsnet, I continued to see colleagues within the industry losing their jobs every day. And I knew this problem would only deteriorate.
And so, I eventually left my job in sports media and pursued my career as a communications professional. There are many days when I miss the energy of the newsroom. When I read a piece of breaking news I can still picture what was happening at that exact moment at the assignment desk as the news came in. Who should they interview? What are some key questions to ask? What headline would be good?
While I may miss my days in radio or TV, I do not regret my decision to leave. I have met and worked for and alongside some equally talented and wonderful people during my years as a communications professional. In particular, I work for a company right now who respects me, as a professional and as a woman and parent. The skills I have learned along the way, from my Broadcast Radio class with Professor Ludlum, to producing the morning show at a radio station, are some that I use every day in my current job.
To all of you who chose to stay in sports media, who either lost your job recently or are currently employed, I applaud you. You are some amazing people, many of whom I had the honour to work with. Stay strong and follow your passion. That’s what I did, and I have never looked back.