So, we often put together year-end pieces, recapping things that happened on our beats throughout the past 12 months. I always enjoyed these stories when they pop up on the TV news. You forget about some of the things that were such big stories, and it's fun to reminisce.
As we approach the end of another year, I've seen plenty of stuff already circling the social media world about "best ____ of the decade." Whether it's the best local sports moment, best song or the best athlete, just to name a couple. Naturally, as I often do as a writer, this is made me reflect on all that I've done and accomplished over the past decade.
First of all, the decade basically encompasses my entire career so far. At the end of 2009, I wrapped up an internship at a magazine group. It was a great experience, but the economic times didn't allow me to become a full-time hire, so I decided to test the waters elsewhere. That started with a part-time job as a sports copy aide with the Star Tribune. I still remember walking the halls of the now-torn-down building on a tour during my first night.
My first byline came in October 2010, covering the high school girls' state tennis tournament. It's kind of fitting since that, as I always tell people, was the one sport I played in high school. What was cool about that story as I talked to the singles champion was the little tidbit she gave me. After victories, she loves to eat frosting from a can. Hey, whatever works.
I plugged away and finally found my first full-time reporting job with the Post-Bulletin, working out of the Austin, Minn. office for the Austin Post-Bulletin. First jobs can be filled with nerves, and this was no exception. It was a news reporting job, but I had a desire for sports. I was going to chalk this up to earning some great experience and learning a bunch of new stuff.
First stop: Austin, Minn.
When you're a young journalist trying to break into the business, you hear about going to a small-town newspaper (or TV station, for the broadcast folks) to get your feet wet and learn as much as you can. That's certainly what I tried to do. In our two-reporter newsroom, I had the education and city beats, plus listening to the scanner for breaking news opportunities and covering any other community events or feature stories.
In a unique scenario, our office was very small with all the editors, designers, etc. over in Rochester. I was extremely lucky to have a very experienced reporter by my side in Kay Fate. After all the struggles and rejections of trying to land a full-time job for two-plus years after graduation, it all made sense to me when I landed in Austin; Kay and I were meant to find each other as colleagues and friends. I'm so grateful to her for being patient with me, helping me along the way and making me laugh every day.
I covered city council and school board meetings and work sessions. Kay told me I'd be the most informed person in the city, and she was right. I got to see how the local entities worked, then find a way to break down the important information for the readers in my stories. The city council was particularly interesting because of the divided opinions. Getting a 4-3 vote on an issue after lengthy debates on the seven-member council was not uncommon.
Along with the annual budget discussions came other issues like opening a dog park in the city and then declaring dogs "dangerous dogs" after incidents at the park. I also covered the HRA, even catching it in an open-meeting law violation dealing with the future of the organization's executive director.
Elections were another fun thing to cover, with a very diverse pool of mayoral candidates. But I really enjoyed the education beat. Along with the school board elections, the district looked into building a new intermediate school because of the growth in the area led to overcrowding in the schools. As the board looked to pass a referendum to build the school, I reported on a bunch of features relating to the specifics of the overcrowding, like kids holding class in a section of a media center. The referendum passed and I followed up with more coverage as construction for the school got underway.
Among other stories, the Minnesota Wild Road Tour stopped in Austin, I covered events and activities at the local library and had the chance to cover breaking news. My very first fire call I went on will not be topped. I was alone in the office after an evening meeting, and I heard a call on the scanner for a garage fire. I grabbed the newsroom camera and headed to the destination. When I got there, I snapped a bunch of photos of the garage fully engulfed in flames.
At the end of the 2012 calendar year, the Austin Post-Bulletin shut its doors. It was a sad time, but I found some part-time work down the interstate as a sports stringer for the Albert Lea Tribune. Getting some prep sports action again was a lot of fun. With a talented high school wrestling team, I learned about a new sport, too.
From there, I moved to Fergus Falls (a sister paper with Albert Lea) to take another news reporting job. I once again had the city beat and added crime/public safety to my resume. Covering the cops/courts was another great learning experience on how to objectively and safely report on crime. It's not as easy as one might think.
Fergus Falls had a similar feel to me as Austin - a small town just big enough to feel like a small suburb. In a county filled with lakes, Fergus Falls was also home to the Regional Treatment Center. Like the Austin school district growth, the RTC took up a lot of my coverage space in Fergus Falls. The old building on the list of historic places in the state of Minnesota was still standing and was once used as a mental hospital. There was an ongoing debate among the community as to whether it should be torn down or repurposed.
A couple of developers presented their plans to the city council but nothing panned out. There were even some closed-door meetings among council members regarding the RTC, which again seemed to speak toward violations of the state's open meeting law. In the everyday grind of covering stories to fill the paper six days a week, I was glad for the opportunity to take some time reporting on such a major story like this one.
The city's library needed more space, so I also followed that process of getting things approved to start construction on a new facility addition.
Back home for a fresh start
When I came back to the metro area a few years ago, I tell people I just kind of fell into freelancing. I wanted to meet with a lot of different people in the journalism and communications business to see what my next step might look like. But I still had the itch to get back into sports.
It all started with covering one football game. That started my relationship with the Star Tribune once again. I got connected on the preps beat and helped out the full-time writers with the extra coverage they needed during section and state tournament time for sports like football, volleyball, tennis, swimming, hockey, adapted floor hockey and soccer, and basketball. Thanks to David La Vaque for making this happen and for Paul Klauda for keeping me in the fold.
Over the past few years, I've had the chance to tell some great feature stories about prep athletes, starting with a weekly feature piece in the Star Tribune. I've also continued to cover playoff action on the preps beat, plus I spent some time covering Gophers men's hockey games and Gophers women's basketball. This coverage spilled over into working for SportsEngine to cover regular-season games during the winter season for preps.
Also in 2015, I connected with Gregg Litman, a former journalist who works for StoryTeller Media + Communications, during my quest to talk with folks in the communications industry. That meeting led to some freelance work, writing blog posts for Hazeltine National Golf Club.
After a winter season getting my feet wet with some freelancing, I found myself applying for a social media job with Major League Baseball, working with the Minnesota Twins, that I heard about after one of my networking meetings at the Twins offices. By the end of May, when my parents and I had taken a quick trip to Indianapolis to watch Carb Day ahead of the Indy 500, I found out I got the job: In-game social media coordinator with MLB/@twins.
Working in sports on a daily basis, finding my niche in social media and calling a major-league ballpark my office has been an amazing experience. After five seasons with the Twins, I've said that the team has seemed to go the opposite direction of expectations, which has been good (see 101 wins and the MLB home-run record in 2019) and bad (see 103 losses in 2016).
Along the way, I've developed many more working relationships and friendships with the writers and media members I've met in the press box, especially at Target Field. I don't take these ball games for granted, and I don't take these relationships for granted. I'm also thankful because more opportunities have come my way because of some of these great people.
That freelance hustle, though
While my baseball work is basically in-season, I still hustled on the freelance side of things in the baseball offseason, building up more freelance clips, hours and outlets. I covered a couple seasons of Gophers men's basketball (shout-out to Derek Wetmore at 1500 ESPN, now SKOR North). I dabbled a bit with USA Hockey stories thanks to a friend-of-a-friend connection.
My first two books in 2017 were Women in Sports Media and Women in the Olympics. As of early 2020, I'll have seven published titles. They go out to school libraries; I know for certain they're at Crooked Lake Elementary School. ;-)
In 2016, I had the chance to cover the WNBA Finals in Minneapolis for USA Today. I've also covered NCAA regional volleyball at the University of Minnesota a few times. Thanks to Pat Borzi and Rachel Blount, plus the Star Tribune sports department, for thinking of me.
I also got to know Michael Russo, formerly the Wild beat writer for the Star Tribune and currently The Athletic. When the new site got going in 2017, he approached me to write some stories for The Athletic as a freelancer. I've written college hockey season previews, wrote some features on Krissy Wendall and Rob McClanahan, and covered the Minnesota Whitecaps in their first season in the National Women's Hockey League. The freedom to tell stories without the hindrance of tight deadlines and word counts is a blessing.
How else did networking lead to other work for me? I've stayed in touch with an editor I worked with briefly at the Red Wing paper. As he moved on to other places, he called upon me for freelance work. I wrote prep features, previews and some other feature stories on tennis players and a hockey player named JT Compher for the Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press (suburban editions). Everything was done over phone interviews and internet research.
One interview for a basic boys' swimming preview led to one of the most in-depth stories I've had the chance to tell: "Glenbrook North swimmer learns to walk again after beach accident." Thanks to Ryan Nilsson for encouraging me to dig deeper and for providing consistent freelance assignments. When Ryan moved on to a paper in Indiana, the Times of Northwest Indiana, he tasked me with writing weekly notebooks on local athletes as they continued to excel in collegiate athletics.
Let's do that hockey
Starting with the 2018-19 season, I became the main Minnesota Wild beat writer for Minnesota Hockey Magazine. I don't cover every game or write "gamers," necessarily. But it's been a great opportunity for me to explore having a beat with a professional sports team as a sports writer. I've enjoyed taking it all in and writing some fun feature stories on the team and its players.
My other hockey writing started with a now-defunct site called WildXtra.com. It was a chance to get writing about sports again and even write some columns about the Wild. When that site folded, I joined the ZoneCoverage.com (then Cold Omaha) team as a Wild writer in early 2017.
It was another press-box connection that helped me get to know one of the site's founders, Tom Schreier. I produced weekly Wild content with stats, columns and game stories. Throughout the 2017-18 Wild season, I produced game preview and recap stories for nearly every Wild game. I've also filled in some with Gophers basketball coverage, written stories about the Indy 500 and covered the state hockey tournaments for Zone Coverage.
In 2018, I started contributing to the Breakdown Sports preview magazines put out by Tim Kolehmainen and his team. I've written about baseball, softball, volleyball and hockey, focusing on big-picture feature stories previewing some of the top programs in the state in their respective sports.
This past year was filled with one of the best baseball seasons in Twins history. The Bomba Squad won the AL Central Division and set the MLB home-run record. I covered the same smattering of tournaments on the prep side, covered my first full season on the Wild beat and watched the Whitecaps make history by winning the Isobel Cup.
Thanks to my parents, friends and colleagues who've been with me along the way throughout my work journey the past decade. It's been fun to explore so many different types of work as I try to establish my career. I didn't mean to leave anybody out by name, but if I did, you know who you are and I hope you know what you mean to me.
Cheers to 2020 and the next decade of work, friends!