Sports Journalism Institute

Helping women and minorities get into newsrooms since 1993

SJI skills pass tests in non-sports careers

By DeArbea Walker
Class of 2017

Pitching stories, cultivating relationships and writing well are not skills exclusive to journalists. They are equally important to public relations professionals.
“When you’re a reporter and when you’re a journalist … you need to have strong writing skills and vocal skills,” said 2010 SJI alumnus Didier Morais. “When I eventually transitioned into PR, those were two skills that really put me in position to succeed. I was a strong writer. I was good with speaking with reporters and I understood how reporters think.”
The Sports Journalism Institute laid the foundation for alumni like Morais, Stephen K. Lee and Amanda Comak to be successful in their current careers — even though they aren’t journalists.
Comak, the senior director of communications for the Washington Nationals, made the transition from journalist to PR director by leveraging some of the relationships she made through SJI.
Comak knows that to do her job well, she has to build relationships with those in the Nationals organization. “It definitely translates to my role,” she said of the approach she learned as a reporter. “My relationships with the media, with the players with my front office, with all of the people I have to work with and all of the moving parts of my organization.”

Comak

Morais, media director for Berk Communications, is required to pitch story ideas about his clients to media outlets. He said he thinks he has mastered a 360 view of the types of stories media outlets are looking for while also providing those he serves with good exposure.
“Because I was a former reporter, and with the skills SJI gave me and experiences I gained along the way, I was able to think like a reporter,” Morais said. “When I’m pitching and reaching out to reporters I can think from their perspective.”
Although Morais still considers himself a journalist, he decided to move on from sports journalism because of a lesson he learned while in the institute. During the 2010 class he heard from ESPN’s Marc J. Spears about the degree of sacrifice necessary to be an excellent sports reporter, but he didn’t realize that would soon hit home.

Morais

“I had a friend of mine who passed away unexpectedly while I was covering the Red Sox, and for me, that was kind of a wake-up call,” Morais said. “As much as I love sports journalism, I needed to have a better work-life balance.”
For Lee, an assistant media relations director in the University of Tennessee’s athletic department, the decision to leave journalism came at a time he felt he’d hit a wall. Lee was a few jobs into his career when he landed a desk job with a small paper in McAllen, Texas, The Monitor. Around then, Lee said he quickly realized that he was losing the joy he initially had for working in journalism.
“Journalism for me had kind of run its course,” said Lee, a 2007 SJI alum who described himself as “only getting worse” at the time.
“I tried to think about a parallel or similar industry where I could use the skills I learned [at SJI] and be productive,” Lee said. “And this basically was the one that came to mind.”

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