This past week Darren Rovell took some flack on Twitter for advising those looking to get into the media business to work for free. I was a little struck by the outrage, because I’ve been telling people this for years. Free labor was a huge part of my path too.
Giving something away for free, working for free at some point as you try to make it in the industry, is some of the strongest advice I got.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) January 27, 2017
Fastest way to a job today is to provide a team, a player, an agency, great work unsolicited and for free. Great way to be noticed.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) January 27, 2017
Clay Travis also responded to this upheaval and explained the “journalism free market” to a ‘T’. Jobs in media — sports media especially — are hard to come by, they are very competitive and sports media companies get thousands of applications, resumes, tapes and articles regularly from those aspiring to work for them.
So how can you get your foot in the door? By offering free labor in order to prove yourself.
During college, I worked full-time for a local television station through the University of Missouri for free while I was going to school. That free work led to more opportunities and gave me a foundation for my skill-set and knowledge.
While my friends were going out on Friday nights, I was driving all over rural Missouri shooting high school football games. While my friends were sleeping in on the weekends, I was working overnights at a local pop radio station hoping to get a shot at the sports station in the same building. While my friends were going out after Mizzou football or basketball games, I was back at the station working the 10pm sportscast.
And my free labor didn’t stop there.
I graduated college a couple years after the market crashed in 2008. Media companies made huge cutbacks and sports were the first thing to go, they were also the last thing to come back. With no job and no plan, I moved back home to St. Louis (literally back home in my parents house) working for anyone that would give me a project.
In the meantime, in order to make some sort of money I bounced from a video production company where I worked as a video editor – just sitting at a computer editing corporate videos all day, to my local small town newspaper over in Illinois.
My parents never let me quit anything when I was growing up and my dad owned his own business – so I saw what hard work looked like from a young age.
Maybe those lessons are what kept me going because I never gave up. I knew no one in the media business and had no connections through family or friends, so I emailed anyone and everyone I could. I took countless people out to lunch and coffee (I don’t even like coffee) with what little money I was making.
Eventually some of those people gave me (free) projects and some of those projects led to freelance gigs. But the reality was: three years removed from college I had didn’t have a steady job and still lived at home with my parents.
I did make a breakthrough at one point, getting a nice, steady freelance gig with FOX Sports Midwest. It was such a visible role, most didn’t even know that it wasn’t a full-time gig, that I was still stringing other jobs together on the side and still living with my parents.
Sometimes you have to prove your worth though, and those contacts you make along the way will payoff. I was eventually able to convince the St. Louis Cardinals to bring me on and create a brand new multimedia role within their video department that had never existed before. It was there, that I was randomly discovered by CBSSports.com at the MLB All-Star game – lugging all my own camera and editing equipment across downtown Cincinnati. (I definitely didn’t look like an anchor or a host at that moment, but for some reason that producer from CBS struck up a conversation with me and passed along my info to his boss. – Thank you Mike.)
So nearly 5 years after I graduated college, I was finally able to move out of my parents’ house. I left everything I knew, all the contacts I had made on my own, the job I had created with the sports team I grew up watching, to move across the country to South Florida to work for a national website. The rest is history. After getting a football season under my belt with CBS Sports, I landed my dream job covering golf for the PGA TOUR.
It’s funny to look back at where I was just a few years ago, wondering if any of my hard work would ever payoff, if it would ever lead to anything. I could’ve gotten a desk job like many of my friends and started making money right away, but anyone in the sports business will tell you not to do it for the money because you won’t make any. But I kept going, I didn’t give up, I didn’t let myself quit and I didn’t let the fear of failure prevent me from pursuing my passion.
In fact, I let my fear of failure drive me to except nothing less than success. As Clay Travis alluded to in his podcast, many people never try because they are afraid they may fail. I never stopped because I was afraid to fail.
This was made apparent to me when I went home for a wedding this past fall and a girl I knew in passing (a little tipsy, may I add) came up to me and just straight up told me how proud she was of me. She told me that I was so brave to pack up and move across the country to go after my dreams. “That’s scary and you did it and look at you now.”
Granted, I still have goals and will continue to push myself in my profession. In no way will I ever settle (that’s just my personality) I’ll always be striving to be better, to do better and to evolve. But it never struck me that what I had been doing was “brave.”
Honestly, I consider those that fight for our country, those that put their lives on the line to protect our cities, freedoms and dreams to be the definition of brave – not me. I’m not sure that I define myself as brave, but if that’s what it means for you to go out, work for free and do whatever it takes to live out your life’s passion – then go be brave.
Be brave enough to let the fear of failure drive you, not inhibit you. Work hard. Work for free. And never quit.