Vicki Michaelis: Shaping the Future of Sports Journalism

sports journalism jobs vicki michaelis
Vicki Michaelis sets out to influence the next generation of sports journalists as the director of GradySports at the University of Georgia (Photo Courtesy: UGA)
The media plays a key role in shaping perception, and while women are a rapidly growing fan base in sports, we still see a limited amount of women in power positions in the industry.

“At this point, women still face higher hurdles,” says veteran sports journalist Vicki Michaelis. “On television, they are predominantly relegated to the sidelines. Online, and in newspapers and magazines, very few hold high-profile positions, such as columnists and NFL beat writers. Very few women work in sports media management.”

Over the last 20-years Michaelis has held prestigious sports journalism jobs at USA Today, The Denver Post and The Palm Beach Post, and has witnessed the ebb and flow for women in sports journalism.

“Contractions in sports media over the last decade have cut into gains women made in the 1990s. When media outlets started worrying only about the bottom line -- taking buyouts and other reductions wherever they could get them -- most didn't concern themselves with protecting diversity," recalls the former lead Olympics reporter for USA Today.

Now, as the inaugural director of GradySports, the newly launched sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications, Michaelis is stepping to the forefront as a leader for women in the sports industry and helping craft the perception of the next generation of sports journalists.

“I think UGA made a strong statement on this issue by hiring me to create and direct this sports media program. The Grady College, like so many other journalism schools, has a majority of female students. Having a woman in this position empowers them and sends a message to the male students around them. When these students reach positions of power at sports media outlets, I believe that will make a difference.”

I aim to make UGA and Grady College the go-to place for students that want to work in sports media and for sports media outlets that want the best-prepared employees.”

For more on the growth of sports journalism jobs and the exciting program being created at the University of Georgia, here’s Vicki Michaelis:

The sports journalism program at the University of Georgia’s Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communication is new, having launched in 2012– the journalism school has been around since 1915, why was this the right time for a specific sports journalism program?

Michaelis: Since I was hired after the program was envisioned, I cannot speak to all the thinking behind that. I can say that Grady has all the elements -- from geographic location to sports landscape to interdisciplinary strengths -- that a top-notch sports media program requires.

sports journalism jobs gradysports atlanta falcons
Students from GradySports enjoy a day with the Atlanta Falcons (Photo Courtesy: GradySports)
We share a campus with some of the best NCAA sports programs in the country. We are surrounded by a vibrant prep sports scene. We are 90 minutes from a city with professional sports teams and some of the best sports media outlets in the country, such as Turner Sports.

Within Grady, we have well-established programs in journalism, broadcasting, public relations and new media that attract some of UGA's best students. Across UGA, we have faculty expertise in areas such as sports management and sports economics. When you combine all these in an interdisciplinary manner, the result can be a nonpareil program.

Employers today want even their entry level employees to have experience and skills, how does the program at Grady prepare students to compete in the job marketplace?  

Michaelis: We're giving the students foundational knowledge and skills in the classroom -- such as story structure and key coverage elements and multiplatform storytelling -- and we're requiring them to practice them in real-world, deadline-driven settings long before they graduate. They cover high school, college and professional sports as part of their classwork. The capstone course of our program is an internship in sports media.

We also have created the extracurricular Grady Sports Bureau, which we strongly encourage students to join as soon as they're ready. Currently, the bureau provides stringers to the Athens Banner-Herald sports department and works with a local high school on livestream broadcasts of the school's sports competitions. We plan to expand the bureau opportunities to include college sports coverage.

In your personal opinion - is social media killing journalism or enhancing it?

Michaelis: If done well, social media can enhance journalism. We need look no further than the Boston Globe's live blog of the Boston Marathon bombing for proof.

The key, I think, is for journalists to not lose sight of their role as trusted sources when they're distributing information on social media. It is still more imperative to be right than first, to thoroughly source all information, and to be transparent.

Social media is a powerful distribution channel, and a revolutionary way to reach, engage and learn from new audiences. As we know, social media survives on content. The more that trained journalists provide that content, the more journalism will thrive.

Does Grady have any specific courses in social media strategy as it applies to journalism and if so what is emphasized?

Michaelis: In the Grady Sports Media program, we incorporate social media strategy in all our courses. We do not treat it as a specialty. We treat it as a basic skill for journalists.

The emphasis is different, depending on the course. In our "Introduction to Sports Reporting and Writing" course, for example, we focus on event coverage. So the social media strategy we teach in that course emphasizes live tweeting and blogging, and curation and aggregation for story-stream coverage of sports events.

In "Multiplatform Storytelling for Sports," which I'll be teaching for the first time in Spring 2014, students will learn tools and techniques for telling non-event sports stories on various social-media platforms.

Where do you think the best opportunities lie for someone interested in sports journalism? 

Michaelis: Right now, the widest range of opportunities I see are with sports teams, leagues and organizations eager to produce their own content. These jobs, of course, fall more in the broader "media" field than in "journalism" specifically.

The Internet allows these entities to reach their audiences directly rather than relying on traditional media outlets. Those audiences still are demanding journalistic content -- news, features, injury updates, game coverage, etc. So sports entities, from small colleges to the NFL, are hiring people with reporting, writing and production skills.

What are the most important skills for someone pursuing that type of opportunity?

Michaelis: Of course, working for such entities requires that students know public- and media-relations strategies. They also must understand the compromises they make while producing branded content. I am fortunate that Grady has a top public relations department to help prepare our students for these kinds of jobs.

sports journalism jobs
The Grady School of Journalism at UGA has long been regarded as one of the best in the country, now adding a sports journalism program vaults them even higher.
The other growth area in sports media is in broadcast, with networks such as Fox Sports 1 and the SEC Network coming on board just in recent months. Again, advantage Grady. Our telecommunications department is working closely with us to provide cross-listed courses for students interested in sports broadcast and production.

I read a quote from you that stated, “Journalism is at a crossroads right now” – can you explain that crossroads and how you approach teaching your students through it?

Michaelis: The disruptive forces of the Internet, especially social media, have shaken journalism to its core. Everyone now has a printing press, and thus everyone has a voice. Journalists need to distinguish themselves above the fray. That doesn't mean they should be distanced from the communities they cover or the audiences they serve. It means they need to adhere to journalistic ethics and standards and to establish an authoritative voice through well-sourced reporting. That's what I'm trying to teach the students.

In your career I imagine you’ve crossed paths with all types of journalists; some have gone on to great success, others probably flamed out… what do you believe are the skills or traits that make one person a success in journalism and another a failure?

Michaelis: An intense curiosity is the one trait that all successful journalists share. They are in a constant mode of wondering, reading and learning.

A disregard for a "normal" work schedule also helps.
By Brian Clapp | November 04, 2013
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