Sports Journalism Institute

Helping women and minorities get into newsrooms since 1993

SJI alums are built to last

By J.L. Kirven
SJI Class of 2019

Why would anyone want to be a journalist?

The competition is steep, the deadlines are tight, and the industry constantly changes. Even though ways to produce content are growing, TV stations continue to lay off reporters, and newspapers continue to get smaller. It has never been an industry for the faint of heart.

Unfortunately for many college graduates eager to get a full-time job, some don’t have a clue on what it takes to survive in the business.

Well, there is one group who does.

For the past 26 years, the Sports Journalism Institute has prepared some of journalism’s brightest writers for the tough road ahead. SJI, which includes an internship, provides minorities and women with the tools they need to succeed.

There are 330 alums, and 50 percent remain in media-related careers.

“I owe basically my entire career to SJI,” said Paul Gutierrez, an NFL insider for ESPN since 2013.

Gutierrez, a member of the second SJI class, is one of many alums who found success after SJI and managed to maintain it.

Gutierrez had already seen many changes in the industry before joining ESPN. He credits SJI for his ability to adjust.

“If I never learned how to adapt, I’d be a dinosaur,” he said, “and who knows if I’d even still be in the business.”

In the short time that the students are in the program, some say they learn tips more valuable than they’ve learned at their respective schools, but how does a summer-long program prepare you in ways that four years of undergrad can’t?

It’s simple. SJI teaches students how to write and report in the real world. The lessons that are taught don’t come from a book but rather from the wisdom of some of the most prominent names in the industry.

“I went to a small liberal arts school, so my journalism was lacking,” said Katie Richcreek (SJI 2016). “It was the first time that I got to learn how to be a true sports journalist.”

In the week long bootcamp, the students face an array of different challenges. Deadline writing, covering live events and Leon Carter’s dreaded sports checks. Those challenges provide for an intense but fun atmosphere and leave its alums reeling with new knowledge that they are eager to utilize.

It’s the same knowledge that program co-directors Carter, Greg Lee and Sandy Rosenbush have passed down that has kept alums ahead of the scrum.

“Those old heads know what they’re talking about,” Gary Estwick said.

But not all alums stay in journalism. Estwick, for example, works in marketing as a brand manager and senior copywriter for i-Blason. He switched careers because he could make more money writing ads than he could writing game stories.

Yet even in a new field, Estwick (SJI 1999) still uses the skills he obtained from SJI.

“The ability to think fast, move fast and act fast is always important,” Estwick said. “Dealing with words, videos, infographics, social media posts, e-books, podcasts, banners — all those pieces of content in the marketing department and (being) able to put that together on a daily basis with speed. Journalism is the reason I’m able to do that, specifically SJI.”

What makes SJI stand apart from other internships or institutions dedicated to young journalists is the bond alums have with each other. SJI’s network reaches across the country. And with more than 300 alums, the group constantly grows and looks out for each other.

“I look all around my office and see SJI alums every day,” said Kellen Becoats (SJI 2017), a WNBA producer at Sports Ilustrated. “It’s like a family.”

Other SJI alums at the company include Shemar Woods (Class of 2010) and Alaa Abdeldaiem (Class of 2018).

And that family comes in handy, especially when it comes to job hunting.

“SJI got me all but my last two jobs,” Estwick said.