Next up in our Alumni interview series is Jimmy Toscano, who was kind enough to show me around the press area during the 2010 NBA Finals. Thanks Jimmy!
1. What have you been up to since leaving CelticsBlog and what you enjoy about your current position?
Disclaimer: I don’t expect anybody to find my answers interesting but I would go to war for Jeff Clark, so I’ll of course answer these questions for him. I know I speak for all of us when I say please bring basketball back.
Since leaving CelticsBlog, I have… returned to CelticsBlog! Well, sorta. Hopefully you guys have been clicking on our CLNS videos from the TD Garden that CelticsBlog posts on the site. You can find me there often. We’re crushing content whether it’s from pregame, postgame, random other times, the offseason… you name it. We keep it light and have fun so I hope you all are enjoying them. Anyways, between my start at the blog back in… 2009 I think… (Wow, I’m old) I then moved on to CSNNE (now NBC Boston) and Metro Boston. After five awesome years at NBC covering all four of the major sports teams and working on the editor desk, I decided to go in another direction and left the company to pursue an entirely different profession. I’m still writing for the Metro (mostly Celtics and some Patriots) and working at CLNS Media. I love both places - CLNS allows me to be myself on camera or the podcast, and the Metro allows me to write in the voice I think I’m best writing in. Both part time jobs allow me to balance a normal day job. I like to think somebody on the MBTA is listening to our CLNS podcast and reading my Metro article at the same time. Talk about the best commute of your life.
2. Tell us how you got your start in the industry and what role (if any) CelticsBlog played in it. (Yes, I’m totally fishing for compliments here.)
So a lot people used to tell me that in this business, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Let me tell you… that is absolutely correct. I went to Suffolk University because, well, I couldn’t get into Boston University, and I knew I wanted to be in Boston. I also knew that if I put myself in a position to meet important people in the business, I could probably fake it until I make - or at least give it the old college try. After learning through my professor that the Bruins do a program where they allow college students to cover games with press passes, I got in contact with them and started covering the games. Just like that. Somehow, it was that easy. Not many other students knew about it - and I definitely didn’t tell anyone - so I was covering tons of games and meeting other reporters over time. After gaining some experience, I emailed the Celticsblog guys and asked if they were looking for some extra coverage. The fact I had real reporting experience definitely helped. They gave me a couple test blog runs and I guess I passed?! I remember the first real thing they asked me to do… cover the Marquis Daniels press conference. Needless to say, I was in my car and driving to Waltham before Jeff Clark could even say, “Please don’t blow this for us.” Looking back, I was comically nervous for this. It’s funny now, but blogs did not have much of any respect back then so it was pretty cool the Celtics gave us a press pass. Then we got one for Media Day. Then we eventually got one for practices and games. The Celtics have always been one of the first to adapt to new media and I think CelticsBlog had to be one of the first blogs to get real media access. The OGs, if you will. So now I’m covering the C’s and the B’s, basically living in the TD Garden “halo”, and networking at the same time. Some of those reporters would let me know about job openings. In my case, Jeff Howe was leaving the Metro for NESN. He said if I was interested he’d let his editor know. Soon enough I was covering the Bruins for the Metro, and then the day the Bruins season ended I got an e-mail from them asking if I’d be interested in covering the Pats. And we’re off.
3. Who are some of your idols and/or mentors in the media and what impact have they had on your career?
Oh man… so many of them come to mind. I mean, as a kid it was Stu Scott, Rich Eisen, Dan Patrick, Kenny Mayne. I was a huge SportsCenter junkie, clearly. I wanted to be a sports anchor just like them and I did go to school for that. If you’re between the ages of, say, 27-35 you grew up saying “Boo Yeah!” about 750,000 times. If you’re an idiot like me, anyways. You also grew up watching the same SportsCenters all morning and having most of it memorized by the third hour. On a non-sports level, I’ve always liked Ryan Seacrest and Jimmy Fallon (did I just lose everybody?) because of their personalities and ability to make their guests and those around them feel super comfortable. More recently and personally though I’ve come across just so many great people in the industry. Obviously Jeff Clark is someone who paved the way for bloggers to get the respect they deserve. He’s always kept CelticsBlog a respectable website for fans (and trust me, media members too) to visit, share ideas, write, read, learn, and just enjoy Celtics basketball. To this day I’m impressed by that. Working at NBC Boston really opened my eyes to what full coverage was all about. I probably wouldn’t have even gotten a shot there if not for Tom E. Curran not being able to tie a tie. Luckily I knew the full windsor and tied it for him before he went on air. Weeks later he asked me if I was interested in a desk job. I guess we’re even… But on a serious note, I love his writing style and often times feel he’s the voice of reason on the beat. He knows when and when not to be serious out there. Art Martone is the best editor there is and I know there are many boston-area media members who feel the same way. He showed me what it meant to be an editor, how to shape a story, how to create news, and how to advance stories - among many other things. And my guy Phil Perry is someone I looked up to as soon as I got there and still do. He’s climbing up the ranks super fast as I think everyone close to him knew he would once he got the chance. I was always following Phil’s lead on the desk and then when we got in the field. We tag-teamed the hell out of Pats coverage. And of course, A. Sherrod Blakely. The thing I love about Sherrod is he was always giving me tips and little pointers, telling me what he thought was a good angle, asking me my thoughts, and making me feel like a huge part of our team. (I hope these guys don’t google their names. I can’t have them seeing these compliments).
4. What has been the biggest thing you’ve learned along the way and what advice would you give to aspiring writers and people trying to break into the sports media business.
The biggest thing I’ve learned along the way is that this business is pretty much a constant grind. It is not all Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith (thankfully…). The competition for jobs in this field makes for the supply limited, and the demand extremely high. Also, it’s now become a never-ending news cycle. There’s always something to report, or piggyback off of, or speculate, or confirm, debunk, etc. We are now 24-7 and if you aren’t keeping up, someone else is or will. Sleep with one eye on Twitter. I didn’t realize that in high school or college because it didn’t exist, but the times have changed over the last decade. Another thing I’ve learned… there are tons of really good writers and reporters out there and lately it seems like way too many of them are looking for jobs. It’s kind of scary. Newspapers are going the way of VHS (and DVD) and many people don’t want to pay for content, and that’s making it difficult for companies to offer respectable salaries to those past the base salary years. Just be ready for the grind! It’s a different lifestyle but one that can make for quite the interesting ride if you’re willing to take it.
Time for advice…
If you want to be a writer or reporter or anything like that in the sports media business world, definitely follow that path/major, but my biggest advice for those of you still in school is to double-major in college if you still can - whether it’s Marketing, PR, or something even more business-like. It’s less work and more manageable than you think and will give you something else to bring to the table. Or, it’ll help pay your bills as you pursue that reporting career post-college.
Write for your school paper or cover local sports. If you’re in college, it’s very important to write for the school newspaper, get an hour a week on the school radio station, and/or get some airtime at the television studio. The more articles and reels you have coming out of school, the better. Treat the coverage like you would a pro team - your access will be much better at school as a student anyways, trust me. Those looking to hire will be far more impressed with that stuff than your GPA.
Internship! This one is pretty self-explanatory. Get that real life experience even if it’s not exactly what you want to do. The relationships you build in that time are far more important than what task they give you. Use that internship time to learn about other aspects of the sports media world. Also, be nice to everybody.
5. Where do you see sports media headed in the future? What trends do you see and how would you like to see the industry adapt over time?
Oh man… the future of this business is anybody’s guess, really. The media landscape is constantly changing. Social media is now a huge, huge part of reporting that didn’t even exist a decade ago. Not as many people are sitting down to watch the news, not as many people are reading the news the way they once did. Podcasts are growing. Everything is on the go now - mobile, mobile, mobile. Attention spans are smaller and I think we’re starting to see that online with shorter videos being produced and posted quickly. Same with writing. It’s tough because if you’re not paying for content, advertising is a huge part of staying afloat, which means you need eyes and clicks. Not enough people appreciate or care for good journalism, though. I can’t tell you how many times I spent long hours working on an article that I loved only to post it and get a pathetic amount of page views. But if LeBron throws shade at Kevin Love, and I write a blurb about it, it will take off (every writer will tell you this). It’s the nature of the beast and it has to be done. And that’s when I started to ask myself why a company would ever keep me around and pay me a “good” salary to re-write an Instagram post when they could pay someone coming out of college half of that? The answer: They wouldn’t. So that’s a bit of a problem for the longterm that I don’t have an answer for.
Live sporting events on TV will continue to thrive as new technology is invented to make the viewing experience even more enjoyable, but it’s the stuff between the live events that has everybody guessing. The biggest trend I see happening now is that teams and players have their own voice and shape their own news. Whether it’s through team websites, or a website like The Players’ Tribune, or a podcast that a professional athlete may have, many teams/athletes are now cutting out the middle man, which is the reporter, and are doing their own thing. Same with social media, which all athletes now have. Much of the reporting industry has started to become re-writing or talking about what an athlete has already posted on his own. Fans have become much closer to athletes without the connection that reporters once had, so it’s been interesting to see. I think as pro athletes start to see themselves as businesses, you will see them start to hire their own “team” of media people to help with their image, get their message across, sell their brand, etc. Some athletes are already doing this of course, but I do think it’s something you’ll see more of over time and hiring people with experience in the media world is something they’ll look to do.
I hope some of this was interesting and helpful for you all. Hit me up on Twitter @jimmy_toscano and slide into my DMs if you’ve got any other questions!
Thanks Jimmy! Looking forward to seeing you pop up on CelticsBlog again this year.