For the 24th edition of the Sports Journalism Institute presented a number of challenges for the 12-person class. The class experienced the traditional sports checks, deadline story exercises and a curriculum packed with value information about the industry. Through it all, the class survived the rigors from the SJI faculty. The students recall their eight-day journey at the University of Missouri at Columbia.
When I touched down in St. Louis, Missouri, I wasn’t prepared for what was in store for me at the Sports Journalism Institute. My nerves didn’t give way when I gave Greg and Sandy introductory hugs or when I got a firm, brisk handshake from Mr. Carter. I was confident in my skills, and then SJI turned me on my head. My first day, I texted a mentor and an SJI alum, and told him that this was too hard, and I wasn’t sure if our instructors liked me. I wasn’t used to getting criticism that isn’t delivered in a compliment sandwich. Day two, I did better on my sports check but then I had my baseball story picked apart. “That’s it,” I thought. “I failed.” But then I did well on another sports check, and only made one mistake in a basketball gamer; I was improving. Throughout the class, we had different speakers come in. I appreciated them all, but certain ones I won’t forget. SJI Alum Rhiannon Walker told us that we have got to put our egos aside. I think that was the day that I started to accept the criticism I was getting and not feel like I needed to fight back tears when I was used as a “bad” example of a lede. I held my head a little higher after 2001 SJI Alum and current Pacers’ beat writer Candace Buckner told us that she knows her work can “stand up against any regular man.” Greg Bowers made me question and analyze my love of the Golden State Warriors when he told us we get into this business because we are fans but that’s the first thing that has to go as a journalist. ESPN’s Josina Anderson had me ready to jump out of the gate by telling me that I have to be willing to do what everyone else isn’t willing to do. I had to pinch myself while talking to Kevin Merida, the Editor-in-Chief of the Undefeated, because that is a publication I dream of writing for one day. And of course, Garry Howard made question all of my motives when he said, “If you don’t have a competitive bone in your body, and if you can’t spell supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, then you’re in the wrong field.”
This story doesn’t end with me finishing at the top of my SJI class (although I did finish top 4). I never got praised for having the best lead in the story but I did learn more than I can explain in 500 words. I read more news this week than I have in my entire life and that will not be a habit I abandon. SJI has prepared me for my next adventure. I learned that I kind of like being picked apart because I realize now, it is the only way I’ll get better. I’m excited to head to the Denver Post (although I’m not excited for the 18 hour drive) and apply everything I’ve learned.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I applied for this program. I honestly thought I wouldn’t be accepted. Prior to this, the only experience I had was writing for my college newspaper. I applied more so because I wanted feedback on what I could do to improve over the course of the next year to be accepted in the following round of applications. Obviously something better happened. Whatever the circumstances were, whatever Greg, Sandy, and Mr. Carter saw in my journalistic ability, they gave me a shot and I am forever grateful. I am positive there is no other experience like this elsewhere. I have taken down more notes than I ever have in a full-length semester class in college. I know these notes are going to be something I keep for a long time and something I always go back to. Through the SJI Bootcamp, I know how to better make deadlines and I know what more to expect in the professional field. I’m sure my internship this summer will only add on to what I have learned this week, but this is a unique opportunity that not many people get. I have made so many connections and have met so many people who I know I can reach out to in the future if I ever need help. I need to say thank you to Kyle Goon. Without you, I wouldn’t have this opportunity. You gave me a letter of recommendation and I can’t even say how much I appreciate it. You give me tips on how to better interview people, on how to better tell a story, and most of all I know you have my back. You are always interested in what I am doing and how I am performing in school. It’s nice to have someone ask me those questions who’s not my mom, who genuinely wants to see me succeed. You’re a fantastic writer and I aspire to have your abilities one day. When you sent me my letter of recommendation you told me, “I didn’t write this because I think you’re a great journalist, but because I think you have the ability to become a great journalist.” This meant a lot coming from you. I know I still have ways to go, but with you in my corner and giving me every boost of confidence I need, I am positive I can do so. To my SJI Class of 2016: Aaron, Canaan, Christian, Chris, Daniel, Damian, Hayden, Javier, Katie, Malika, and Shannon. I’ll always remember you and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to learn with. I plan on keeping in touch with all of you and I’m excited to see where your career takes you.
Before I landed in St. Louis, Missouri, I learned the true meaning behind adversity. I was stuck in Houston, TX for eight hours after my United Airlines flight, which was delayed multiple times. I was the last SJI member in my intern class to arrive in Columbia, Missouri and the only one to arrive the next day. My first day described my entire experience in Columbia. Dealing with adversity at its finest and being able to overcome it, I was thrown into covering my first ever baseball game on television which was the Kansas City Royals against the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox gave up seven runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to lose their 7-1 lead to the Royals. The Royals won 8-7 and the class had ten minutes to turn in our story to Greg Lee. Deadline writing was one of my biggest takeaways because the pressure will prepare us all for future jobs and internships. My mentor, Leon Carter, is one of my biggest role models because he does not sugarcoat anything. He speaks what he believes and come from a heavy writing background that I inspire to accomplish in regards of my profession. Now the “Leonisms,” will be a part of my vocabulary. How could I forget sports check? Sandy Rosenbush has been hard on us about being aware on all sports news on a daily basis. I had a slow start but pursued a stronger work ethic to finish out the week well prepared on our sports checks. Her constructive criticism was exactly what I needed to finish out the week strong. Overall, this week has prepared me to go off into my internship at The Advocate in Baton Rouge.
Maybe this speaks to my lack of preparation, but I had little to no clue what to expect coming into this nine day internship with the Sports Journalism Institute. Now as my time in Columbia, Missouri concludes, it is going to be hard to put into 500 words or less how grateful, humbled, and honored I am. In short, I have learned a lot and with the all the tools and resources at my disposal, via SJI, I am leaving a better journalist. There are three people that I need to specifically thank. Greg Lee, Mr. Carter, and Sandy Rosenbush. To take a chance on me, my 11 peers, and the 300 past graduates speaks to the dedication and generosity of these three. As many of our speakers told us in our sessions, “no one in this industry is out here to help you”, which makes what Greg, Mr. Carter, and Sandy did all the more special. Greg, thank you for your lighthearted humor, calm presence, and eclectic music selection on car rides over to the Missouri campus. Mr. Carter, thank you for bringing a serious tone to the class, crazy sports checks, and the hard to understand “Leonism’s”. You knew when to be strict, when to be funny, and when to be encouraging. Sandy, thank you for being so real. In the way you speak, the advice you give, and the way you controlled the classroom. Things would get a little too loud and crazy sometimes, and you were always there to put us all in check. I do not know how many encounters I will have with you three in the future, but I will conclude with this. No matter where I go or what I do, I will always remember what you three did for me and to my best ability I will represent you and SJI to the highest of standards with everything that I have. Forever Grateful, Javier F. Cortez
Coming into this week at the Sports Journalism Institute, I was excited, anxious, proud, but also confident. There were lots of ways to describe the way I was feeling as I headed to Columbia, Missouri, to be a part of the 24th class. But over everything else, I was terrified. I was scared I would disappoint people — especially Greg, Sandy, and Mr. Carter — and a bit scared I wouldn’t be at the level of the other 11 members of the class. I guess, of course, I wouldn’t be part of the class if that was true. Still, I wanted to lived up to the expectations of SJI. But I’ve learned it’s hard to disappoint people who are a part of the SJI. At first, when I found out I would join this program, admittedly, I was most excited for the internship with the Kansas City Star, and the opportunity I would have to work under Jeff Rosen and some of the best sports writers in the state I live in. This week, being around my classmates and talking to dozens of people connected to the program, I’ve realized it’s so much more. Everyone, every single of the hundreds of people who have come through SJI, will back you and support you and help you through your career. To an extent, that’s made me even more terrified — I’m now a part of representing something that is much bigger than myself. But in a much more important way, it gives me confidence and connections that few journalists my age can say they have. The amount I learned this week in the field I know I want to be in was tremendous. But this week was beyond just learning, and beyond my internship. So my goal now, after this week, is to remember this week. Remember how I felt, what I thought, what I learned, how the other journalists and instructors who talked to us became successful. I want to remember how they told us we can be the same. I want to remember that there are just like journalists like I want to remember all of it, and that there are journalists just like me are everywhere. Most importantly, they’re there for me. They want to help me, and they want to see me succeed. But after this week, more than anything, I want to succeed in this industry. And I know it will take much more than the help of other journalists to do that. But at least I have them on my side; now I can live in a little less fear.
I didn’t know what to expect. All I saw were the long list of successful alumni; all I heard about were the meticulous sports checks. The only foreseeable goal was to gain valuable skills in preparation for my summer internship at the Salt Lake Tribune. It wasn’t until I hopped off the plane and arrived at the Marriott Hotel in St. Louis – meeting Leon Carter and Sandy Rosenbush for the first time – that reality started to set in. Jokes aside – and there were plenty of them – this week with the Sports Journalism Institute was a shaping experience. My view on the industry was molded; my ego was tested; my knowledge expanded; and my network reached areas that I didn’t know existed. When Leon, Sandy and Greg Lee told us that there is no other program like SJI, they weren’t lying. There is a genuine love that overflows in the SJI family, and it was the foundation of everything we did. All 12 of us were told – upon receiving admission into the program – that the SJI program is unlike any other; that it’s a family above all else. By the end of the boot camp, that love was not only obvious, it was also reassuring. Every day, alumni called in from all across the country. They answered our questions; they provided invaluable insight into what it takes to be successful in this business. They all took time out of their busy schedules to touch back in with the program that changed their lives. To me, that reflected the lasting impact that SJI has had and continues to have, as more and more ethnic minorities and females look to diversify newsrooms. Before this experience, I had always been the only ethnic minority on the sports desk. Like some, I didn’t feel like that ever deflated my confidence or effected my work. But when I built relationships with my 11 classmates and earned the respect of leaders like Leon, Sandy and Greg, I realized, for the first time, that there was a greater purpose to what we were doing. I felt a passion and motivation that I had never felt before to not only represent this program proudly throughout my career, but to also give back when the time is right. I will never fully comprehend the life lessons that I gained this week. I’m sure there will be moments when I look back and realize what these accumulation of moments truly meant; why we did what we did. But for now, I’ll try to reflect back on an unforgettable week; the memories I’ll carry for the rest of my life.
I applied for SJI because I wanted a good internship. The actual institute, the reason I spent seven intensive days with students from around the country, was an afterthought at first.
I certainly knew I’d learn during the week of different sessions on journalism, but I really just wanted to get started with my internship at the Houston Chronicle, my hometown newspaper. I thought it was a little silly I’d be spending a week in a hotel that’s a five-minute drive from the Missouri campus. I rent an apartment that is a five-minute walk from campus. I figured I’d check out mentally when we had to tour the Missouri School of Journalism, a set of building I occupy practically every day of the school year. But something happened. And now I feel almost surprised that it’s time to head to Houston and start my internship. SJI, I’ve come to realize, is not just a way to get an internship. It’s something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my professional career, both for its specific, practical exercises — like the many practices at writing on deadline — and its big-picture lesson: Being surrounded by talented reporters from around the country has not only reinforced in me why reporting is the best job I could ever imagine, but it has also shown me just how hard I’m going to have to work to be successful. There are so many tremendously talented people who want to be a part of this industry. I’ve been lucky to interact with some of the best during the past week. We heard from reporters covering the NFL and NBA, Major League Baseball, the auto industry and politics. We talked to editors with more years of experience than I can wrap my head around. We learned how to be a successful intern and a true professional. Through SJI, I developed a clearer understanding of what I want for myself as a professional. And I entered a network of smart, hardworking people who are invested in me reaching my goal.
I survived sports journalism boot camp. The Sports Journalism Institute lasted eight days. I boarded the plane at 5:45 a.m. ET in Atlanta and landed in St. Louis at 8:30 a.m. ready for the real world. I was one of 12 lucky college students from across the country to be accepted to SJI, and the second straight person from the University of Georgia. One week of SJI and then I can go to ESPN. No big deal. Little did I know how much I would learn while I was at SJI. Long days filled with speakers, some SJI alumni and prominent journalists, and my favorite: sports check. Sports check tests our knowledge of what’s going on in the news and our observation skills. I thought I had decent observational skills. SJI said, “Nah.”
I enjoyed sports checks though. While I did get quizzed in college about what’s going on in the news, I only prepared for one quiz at the beginning of class. SJI forced me to be on my toes since we had multiple quizzes a day. On top of always being expected to study the news, we listened to speakers, wrote game stories, and had to write blogs, we still had to be prepared for sports checks. That means even if we were covering the Royals, which we did, we still had a sports check shortly after. This entire concept frustrated me, not because it was stupid, but because it was overwhelming. Then I remembered a quote from when I pledged: “Excuses are tools of incompetence used to build monuments of nothingness, and those who excel at using them are barely good for anything.” Excuses. As many speakers reminded me this week, excuses will get me nowhere, and I refuse to be barely good for anything, especially at ESPN.
By the time I walked across the graduation stage and shook the hand of my University president in May, I had already secured what I wanted most. Unlike what other recent college graduates might consider to be a top post-grad plan, what I had secured was not a job. It was not an acceptance letter to graduate school either. Rather, it was a spot in the 2016 Sports Journalism Institute class: A 10-day bootcamp followed by an eight-week summer internship. In other words, it meant nothing guaranteed beyond August. Yet, in the same breath, it has come to mean everything to me. I came to SJI looking for a challenge. I wanted to affirm my passion for sports journalism, refine my skills, and develop new ones. But what I will actually be walking away with when I board my flight from St. Louis back to Southern California on Saturday exceeded even my own expectations. It has been a week-and-a-half of waking up at six in the morning, discussing the biggest news of the day and game stats from the night before over breakfast with my 11 other classmates, sitting through marathon class sessions of Skyping alumni and hearing from University of Missouri professors, sharing stories and laughs over meals, rehearsing Invictus in the hotel lobby, and doing it all over again the next day—times 10. It has been growing as a writer, growing as a journalist, growing as a student of the craft. It has been networking with a few of the 300-plus graduates that have come before me, fostering relationships with my peers who have become friends, and learning from true industry leaders. It has been everything I hoped it would be and everything I didn’t know it could become. I emerge on the other side of this experience with the words of William Ernest Henley echoing behind me. I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.
How bad do you want it? For eight days, I thought, wrote, dreamed and talked about sports. I watched ESPN, read USA Today, memorized the Columbia Missourian and attempted to learn the history of the University of Missouri. From 8:15 a.m. to 11 p.m., I worked to transform myself into the sports journalist that I dreamed of becoming. Before I became a member of the Sports Journalism Institute Class of 2016, I served as the sports editor and editor-in-chief of my college newspaper, but SJI challenged me in a way that I had never experienced. The deadlines were tighter, and the standards were higher. I came into the program hoping to meet new people, pick up skills and learn more about the industry; I never expected I would grow to love and cherish this family as much as I have. I met classmates from around the country, and I talked to alumni who work as lawyers, beat reporters, columnists, political reporters and editors. Between classroom sessions in Lee Hills Hall, a Royals game at Kauffman stadium and practice stories on the NBA playoffs, I filled 28 pages of notes. I learned how to turn in a game story within ten minutes of the buzzer, and I learned what the sports journalism grind really means. On Monday, I will start my internship a Sports Illustrated in New York City, but I’m ready to work. The 24 th class of SJI bonded over the morning SportsChecks, pizza at Shakespeare’s, the one hour lunch break at noon and the games where teams pulled off comebacks that ruined our initial ledes. We came to Missouri as eager students, and we leave sports journalists, trained under the expertise of Greg Lee, Sandy and Leon Carter. Ten years from now, we may not all be in sports, but we will all be able to recite Invictus on demand. The struggles may come, but we are SJI trained and ready for anything.
As Garry Howard told us, “[we’re] going to make it because [we] will not be denied.” Thank you for the experience of a lifetime, SJI.
Carved into the arc between Walter Williams and Neff Halls of Mizzou are seven words that resemble the purpose for which the Sports Journalism Institute was erected: “Wise shall be the bearers of light.” Twelve of us came to Columbia, Missouri, after accepted. I think I can speak for every student who participated that we’re leaving this program tomorrow more appreciative of the efforts of Greg Lee, Sandy Rosenbush and Mr. Leon Carter than before we’d arrived. The latter two founded the organization 24 years ago with an agenda to diversify sports journalism by cultivating nascent college students in a rigorous program that would help refine their skills in many fields. We’ve done hours of writing drills, sports checks (daily sports-fact tests), listening to alumni and experts in the industry and observing the operation of one of the best journalism programs in the nation in the University of Missouri. I ultimately depart with resounding sentiments of gratitude. They say that in journalism that nobody can do it alone. After all, the greatest writers in the world must not only learn how to become great but must also know people who are willing to vouch for them, and give them a chance to break into a very competitive industry. Our instruction has provided us with the tools to be a good journalist, but the beauty about SJI is that it is a program for the future, not the past, combining the aspirations of the ambitious and naïve with the skillsets of experts with indignation, whose willingness to sacrifice their time and knowledge is fueled by an acknowledgement of the harsher realities of the world we will get into. From here, us 12 will only grow as a product of our own passions, driven to pursue wisdom so we can carry the light of our predecessors. The consolidation of wisdom and virtue is no coincidence; neither trait is attainable as a right to the many, which is why ever leader exists because of followers. Now more than ever, more leaders in the world must have true diversity of mind in effort to pursue the light, and SJI has done that for over 300 interns who have sought to change journalism for the better. After hundreds of years, the world of journalism is an industry still lacking diversity, but it’s important for all of us to remember that diversity not only manifests in the color of one’s skin or even through one’s beliefs. Instead, diversity is primarily a product of our experiences, the way we are raised and interests we continuously pursue and decide to appreciate as we find our place in life.
I could never achieve the total wisdom that after hundreds of years, the world of journalism is an industry still lacking diversity, but it’s important for all of us to remember that diversity not only manifests in the color of one’s skin or even through one’s beliefs. Instead, diversity is primarily a product of our experiences, the way we are raised and interests we continuously pursue as we find our place in life. I have a long way to go, but being an I know that I never would gain the collaborative wisdom I have without attending this program, and I never would have gained direction without the program serving as a beacon of light for me. And for that, thank you, SJI.
I sat on the plane on May 27 on my way to Missouri, ready to embark on a one-week journey that would change my life. From the moment I received the news that I was accepted into the Sports Journalism Institute, I knew this opportunity would be special. I was going to receive training from three marquee names in the journalism industry in Leon Carter, Greg Lee, and Sandra Rosenbush. I was going to share experiences and stories, and grow alongside eleven like-minded individuals from all different parts of the country. It was going to be the longest period of time away from home I’d ever been, and as this experience ends, all I can think about is, I wouldn’t mind staying here another week. It is a strange feeling. I’m anxious to get started with my internship at MLB.Com, and put to work everything I learned with SJI. Yet at the same time, I don’t want to leave Missouri. The experiences I’ve had and the friendships I’ve made with my peers have been memorable. In just a week, I truly feel like these people are my family. It was a feeling I had from the moment we gathered at the Airport Marriott in St. Louis. Speaking with people who think like I do, who share the similar interests, and who are pursuing the same career, was something I had never experienced before.
But my experience with SJI would not have been possible without the help of Carter, Lee, and Rosenbush. Together, the three provided so much insight and career advice. The three have been involved in sports journalism for decades, and their knowledge and expertise are top of the line. In just a week, I feel like I have grown immensely as a journalist. My game-story writing is much better. I now know how to manage my time better, and what all game stories should include. In addition, I have received valuable career advice: How to network, how to stand out at my internship, and how to remain calm, as Mr. Carter would say. As I leave SJI I’m ready to embark on my next journey, and anxious to see where all my peers end up. We shared amazing experiences and grew together. There’s no doubt in my mind that we will stay in touch. We are now family. SJI family.
Read more about their experiences from their class blog here