Tweets, Bylines, and Brady: My Summer at SI
NEW YORK, NY -- "The back end of that quote isn't correct, but do with it as you may," read De'Aaron Fox's tweet. He was hastily and inaccurately trying to deny one of my tweets quoting what he said earlier in the day. Until that day, I had no idea what "viral" really meant until I pressed send on that tweet and overwhelmed my Twitter, notifications, and phone battery.
Why, you might ask, was Fox, the then-Kentucky, now Sacramento Kings point guard, responding to my tweet, one that ended up garnering almost 2,000 likes and was commented on by well-known news outlets like the Ringer and Kentucky Sports Radio? Well, this summer, I had the incredible opportunity to intern at the editorial department of Sports Illustrated. I moved to New York City at the end of May, and worked for nine weeks, from June 5th to August 4th. It was certainly the best experience of my life, so far. For a first internship and first paying job, I was thrilled with my experience at SI, and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in sports, journalism, media, or any combination of the three.
The internship started on day one with orientation. As SI is one of numerous brands under the Time Inc. umbrella, I sat down in an auditorium with about 100 other interns who would be working for Time Inc. magazines like Essence, Food and Wine, People, Time, and many others. We were treated to an introductory presentation, where the head of Human Resources and several other employees told us about what to expect this summer. After the 30-minute session, we all filed out of the hall and were met by our respective managers. I soon found my manager, Larry Mondi, and quickly met the other three editorial interns (Ethan, Eden, and Brendan), and headed upstairs.
The first thing I noticed about the SI office space was how open it was, and that's both in a literal and figurative sense. Almost everyone works at their own cubicle (there are very few offices and they are reserved for only the most important and senior editors). I figured that this would enable us to be more casual in conversing with other staff, and I quickly was proven right. The openness, kindness, and flexibility displayed by SI's editors, reporters, copy editors, and writers is one of the parts of this internship I'll cherish the most.
Once we got the lay of the land, Larry took us into a conference room, where he gave us our own SI-specific orientation, telling us about our general tasks and objectives for the summer, explaining some of the software that the team uses to put together the magazine each week, and telling us about the general schedule. The SI magazine team has a unique timetable. Monday was the day that every part of the magazine, from features to the famed Faces in the Crowd section, closed and was sent to the publishing department. Essentially, Monday was the end of the previous week (the day that we'd most likely be working late), while Tuesday would be the beginning of the next week. It was strange at first, but we quickly adjusted.
Our general intern tasks mostly revolved around fact checking and editing. A typical day consisted of me being routed several sections of the magazine. At first, they were smaller portions like Inbox (letters from readers), but as the internship progressed, I was entrusted with more intensive pieces, including big features that I would have to fact check. Fact checking could involve a quick look-up (how many points Kevin Durant scored in Game 3 of the NBA Finals), or could require contacting people associated with the story.
One day, I checked a piece about the former Olympian Abby D'Agostino, an American runner who became famous during the 2016 Olympics when she tripped on a competitor's foot, tearing her ACL and MCL. To properly fact check the piece, I ended up talking to D'Agostino herself on the phone for almost 30 minutes (she could not have been nicer).
Fact checking was our most common daily task and easily our most time-intensive. Another frequent assignment was compiling research and data for bigger projects. The first such project in this vein was for the MMQB (Monday Morning Quarterback) SI's football hub. We were magazine interns, but throughout the summer were enlisted to work on content for SI.com. Earlier this summer, MMQB unveiled its "All-Time Draft," essentially a fantasy football draft with every player in NFL history as the draft pool. Underneath each player's name on the site, there was a blurb with statistics. That's where we came in. There were 12 different teams, so each intern checked the name spellings, statistics, Hall of Fame status, and more for 22 players on three teams apiece. This took almost a full week, but it was fun to learn so much about the history of football.
Another similar undertaking came while we were assembling a commemorative edition of the magazine celebrating the career of retiring race car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. Tricia Blackmar, the editor of this special issue, had set aside a four-page spread filled with comments from past and present NASCAR drivers, owners, crew chiefs, celebrity fans, commentators, and more wishing Dale well and maybe providing a fun story or two that illustrated Dale's impact on their lives and/or careers. The interns handled this task as well. Tricia handed us a lengthy list of drivers which included the contact information of their publicists, and other names of relevant people to reach out to for comments. Because of the sheer enormity of this task, we got started quickly, and took several weeks to wrangle responses from as many people as we could, eventually filling four pages. Through this task, I continued to gain valuable experience writing formal emails, communicating with professionals, and working as a member of a team.
While checking and doing research were certainly instructive and informative tasks, I was an editorial intern, so I went into this summer as an opportunity junkie who wanted to look for every possible chance to write. I learned very quickly that I would not be able to write a full-fledged story for the magazine, so I started to meet website editors and writers (though we certainly had our fair share of work with the magazine, we were permitted to write separate pieces (Larry practically expected it) and online editors would sometimes ask one of us to do so.
In early June, I met DeAntae Prince, one of the editors of The Crossover, SI's online NBA hub. I expressed interest in covering the NBA draft and sent him a list of prospects that I was interested in, and from there, DeAntae set up a phone call interview with Chris Boucher, the former Oregon center who was recently signed by the Golden State Warriors. This was a very nerve-wracking experience for me, while I absolutely love sports, I also attend a Division III school, Williams College, in the middle of the Berkshire Hills, so I'm not exactly used to covering and interacting with major college athletes like Boucher. I prepared diligently for the interview, and was very nervous as I got on the phone with Chris and his agent, but they were easy to talk to and generous with their time. I talked to them on Monday night, wrote the piece on Tuesday, and it went live on the website late Wednesday morning.
That specific Wednesday (June 21st) was an especially crazy day. Not only was my first ever SI article released that morning, but I spent the late morning and early afternoon at NBA Draft Media Day, basically a mass press conference for 20 of the top NBA draft prospects. Noting my fellow intern Brendan's and my interest in the draft, DeAntae and Matt Dollinger, the other Crossover editor, sent us to this event with the directive, "Tweet anything that might have a chance of going viral." We weren't there to ask hard-hitting questions, but rather ones that could garner interesting responses. Again, this was a new experience for me. I had never been to an event with so many media members and such famous athletes, so it took me several minutes to understand how to succeed in achieving DeAntae and Matt's expectations for us.
Eventually, I figured out how the event worked and ended up interacting with future NBA players like Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, and Jayson Tatum. When I wasn't asking questions, I walked from table to table, listening and immediately taking to Twitter if I heard anything particularly interesting. And DeAndre Fox's statement was, by far, the most interesting statement I heard all day. In response to a question, he said, "We actually go to class at Kentucky, not like some other schools," a comment clearly directed at North Carolina, a blue-chip school that has been rocked by academic scandals in recent years. He said it. I heard it, tweeted it, it was retweeted by SI's account, and it went viral. The amount of traffic that tweet as well as some of my other Media Day activity received, combined with the traffic from my story on Chris Boucher, created an intense crazy day on my social media accounts and gave me a taste of what it might be like to be a professional sports writer.
While we weren't going to be able to write features for Sports Illustrated, as interns we were sometimes asked to create content for smaller sections of the magazine. For instance, one week we worked on a commemorative issue celebrating Tom Brady's 40th birthday. I was asked by the editor of that issue, Sarah Kwak, to create a "GoFig," or a package of numbers and figures that we would use to quantify Brady's incredible career. Not only did I write, fact-check, and edit this GoFig article, but I also received a byline in the magazine for my work. To see my name in Sports Illustrated, an iconic brand was a surreal experience, especially when seeing my name next to names of such writers as Peter King, Charlie Pierce, and Michael Rosenberg. It almost seemed like a mistake. As a native of Buffalo, New York, a city that takes much pleasure in reviling Brady and the Patriots, at first, it was difficult to reconcile that my first byline forever linked me with this quarterback and this team. But now, I'm just proud.
So, what will I remember most about this summer at SI? I will remember and cherish plenty. Mostly, I'll remember all the new experiences I had and the professional growth I felt. I learned more about collaboration, working efficiently, and on deadline and was fortunate to have some smart, funny, and helpful coworkers. I learned a lot about the magazine business and the journalism industry, from how an issue is put together to behind-the-scenes looks at how and why SI is changing its print and online presence in this turbulent and evolving time for journalism. I learned how to communicate with professionals and prepare for important interviews and meetings. It was an incredible summer, and I will remember everything I was taught as I think about future internships and career opportunities. I cannot recommend a job or internship at SI highly enough, and hope to see future Ephs working there someday.
Mandela Namaste is a junior who is a serious sports trivia player and he also plays the violin in the Berkshire Symphony. For Eph Sports Information Mandela writes about men's soccer, does color commentary on Eph men's & women's basketball webcasts as well as softball and baseball webcasts. During the fall semester Mandela will be studying in South Africa before returning to Williams in January.