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Informational Interview – Brandon Koretz

2017 April 9
by bkoretz

For my informational interview, I spoke with Melissa “Missy” Isaacson, a family friend who is an award-winning sportswriter for ESPN and an adjunct lecturer at DePaul University and Northwestern University’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism. She has been working for ESPN since 2009 after spending 19 years with the Chicago Tribune. Missy’s career took off after her time as the beat writer for the Chicago Bulls championship teams of the 1990s, led by Michael Jordan. She later spent time as the Tribune’s beat writer for the Chicago Bears for seven seasons while becoming one of the paper’s most prominent feature writers and columnists. During her career, Missy has covered countless major sporting events: both the Summer and Winter Olympics, over a dozen Super Bowls, the Final Four, college football bowl games, Australian Open, Wimbledon, the U.S. Open (tennis) and the British Open. She also covered the Chicago White Sox during their World Series-winning playoff run in 2005 and the Chicago Cubs during the 2003, 2007 and 2008 playoffs for the Tribune. She then covered the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup-winning playoff runs in 2010 and 2013 for ESPN. Simply put, Missy has had an extensive career in sports journalism, covering various sporting events at the highest level for decades.

In discussing Missy’s normal day of work, she said she teaches at Northwestern once or twice a week. To my surprise, she said ESPN strongly encourages this to expand the company’s brand and connect with more young students. Another ESPN reporter, J.A. Adande, serves as Northwestern’s Director of Sports Journalism. Missy’s coverage of the Olympics and sports like tennis and golf has expanded in recent years as she works with ESPN International, causing her to travel to much further destinations than her previous roles. She said she loves working for ESPN International as it is the company’s fastest growing division, expanding to India, Asia, Africa and more. A majority of her days are spent researching for stories and interviews, conducting phone interviews, writing, reporting and conducting the occasional radio or TV spot. Missy says she has to be flexible in her job, as she is often tasked with helping out ESPN’s coverage in other departments, like when she helped cover a Kentucky vs. Louisville college basketball game earlier this year. Though I do not intend to pursue a career in sports journalism, I considered it at one point. I was the editor-in-chief of my high school’s student-run newspaper and my “specialty” was in sportswriting. I now plan to pursue a career in sport business, particularly in marketing and branding. However, I asked Missy what advice she’d give to someone trying to enter her field. Her answer was simple: create your own niche. She said there are people doing things in media that they essentially invent on their own. This is particularly the case of a former University of Oregon journalism student who was hired by the New York Giants in public relations. That former student helps shape the brand of the players by covering them in a unique way. The players confide in her and she provides excellent content for the team, causing the Giants to be voted the most media-friendly sports team multiple times. This is interesting because it is true for anyone entering the workforce: carving a unique niche and providing value in ways others have not or cannot often leads to success.

Missy noted that writing appears to be somewhat of a lost artform, particularly in sports journalism. She said, “Everyone wants to be a sideline reporter and thinks they can get there without learning the basic writing skills.” Missy then pointed out that ESPN would rather pay talented writers than people who only look good on camera. That point on the importance of writing is something notable for all professions. It seems simple and obvious, but skillful and effective writing is a vital tool to have upon graduating college. Missy gave a piece of advice that I find to be applicable in fields other than journalism as well: use youth as a benefit. For most companies, young people are the single most important demographic. Leveraging my youth and knowledge of how young people think and behave is a vital trait that can add value to any company if applied correctly. This interview allowed me to connect with Missy on a more professional level and learn about her career specifically, though I have had countless encounters with her on journalism in general over the years.

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