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Thursday, December 22, 2011

ESPN's Matt Meyers Talks Writing and Baseball

ESPN has been on top of the sports news and broadcasting world for the better part of three decades. A major component of their success is their ability to attract and cultivate top-notch talent in all aspects of their operation. Between running a television channel, a highly trafficked website, and a magazine, ESPN produces a prodigious amount of content that is facilitated down through many levels of their staff. 

Matt Meyers is one of the staff members that help keep the world updated on sports news on a minute-but-minute basis. Specifically, he acts as a gatekeeper for one of ESPN’s most popular offerings; their baseball coverage. Meyers is the baseball editor for ESPN Insider and ESPN The Magazine; working with many of the top writers and experts that the media giant employ. He is also a contributing writer himself, having covered both major league baseball and college basketball during his career.

Meyers had an eclectic background in sports journalism prior to his current role with ESPN; working for several other major sports sites/publications. Undoubtedly his diverse experience is extremely beneficial covering baseball, where there is something new coming out every day. There truly is no coverage that is as comprehensive as what is provided by ESPN, and Meyers and his colleagues are responsible for maintaining that reputation. 

Recently I had the opportunity to ask Meyers some questions about his career and his thoughts on the evolving field of baseball journalism. Despite being in the thick of the baseball off-season, Meyers was gracious enough to provide me with some thought provoking answers.

Matt Meyers Interview:

How did you come to a career in sports writing/journalism?: I was always a passionate sports fan growing up, and this seemed like the natural path since I clearly wasn’t going to play professionally. I went to a small college in Maine (Bates College) where there were plenty of media opportunities, so I jumped right in. I was sports writer and editor on the paper, and called the football games on the radio. After college, I got a job as a freelance fact-checker at ESPN The Magazine, and worked my way up from there, with stops at Baseball America and CSTV (now CBS College Sports) along the way.

Can you please describe your job duties in your position with ESPN?: My primary role is as the baseball editor for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN Insider. I also handle the soccer content on ESPN Insider. For Insider, I am managing the day-to-day content for Keith Law, Jim Bowden and contributors such as Dan Szymborski and Dave Cameron. The Magazine is more big-picture stuff, where we are always looking ahead. For example, we are already talking about the MLB preview, which won’t run until March. I also write a weekly baseball column on Insider, which I really enjoy since I have a lot of freedom to write what I want.

What is a trend or void in coverage by sports media that you would like to see changed?: My biggest pet peeve about sports media coverage is that many writers decide a narrative before a game begins and stick to it regardless of what actually happened. A perfect example is Justin Verlander in the playoffs. He pitched fine, but he was by no means dominant. However, it seemed like a number of writers and TV commentators decided he was going to be the story no matter what he did, so we heard about how he “battled” and was “a warrior” when the only reason people said that is because the Tigers scored enough runs for him to get a couple of wins. The same kind of thing is happening with Tim Tebow. I wish coverage could be more nuanced and adaptable.

What are some things that aspiring sports writers and editors can do to get noticed?: I know it’s a cliché, but being persistent is key. You have to pitch and keep pitching, and not get discouraged if you get rejected (or ignored).

And if you are trying to get noticed, you should most certainly have a blog. Not only does it give you something to direct people to if they want to see your writing skills, but it allows you to develop.

In my experience you are better off trying to make that blog focused on one subject, and making yourself an expert on that subject, as opposed to trying to be a generalist who rants about all sports. It’s important to have a voice that makes you identifiable, but don’t try to be someone you’re not.

Blogs are a growing trend in "media" coverage. How viable do you consider them to be in the world of sports journalism?: Considering I’ve already mentioned blogs, I think you can guess that I consider them viable. A lot of the best analysis out there is being done on blogs. I’m a big Mets and Knicks fan, and I probably read Amazin’ Avenue (Mets) and Posting and Toasting (Knicks) more than I do any of the beat writers. It’s not that I think the beat writers are bad, it’s just that the blogs are not only entertaining, but they usually point out the most interesting stuff being written by the beat guys.

What is a dream project you would like to be able to work on?: That’s a really good question, and one that I’m not sure I know the answer to. I’ve always been fascinated by the MLB draft, and I would love to get an opportunity to sit inside a draft room, though I’m not sure readers would get as much of that as I would, since I doubt I’d be able to say that much about it.


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