MPS Journalism Alum of the Month - September 2012
New author Curtis Eichelberger (G’09) is our MPS Journalism Alum of the Month for September. Eichelberger currently works as a Sports Reporter at Bloomberg News and his first book, “Men of Sunday,” was just released last month. In “Men of Sunday,” Eichelberger reveals the strong faith of many NFL players and how they embrace their faith in times of difficulty (i.e. drug abuse, family crises, career-ending injuries). Eichelberger interviewed dozens of football stars for his book, including Mike Singletary, Aaron Rodgers, and Tony Dungy, and in our Q&A with him, Eichelberger shares his most memorable interview.
1. Tell us how your degree from the Journalism program has impacted and/or changed your career.
“I was a mid-career journalist when I enrolled in the MPS program in 2007. I had lots of sources, but my technology skills had fallen behind. Think about it - when I graduated from college in 1990, I didn’t know anyone who had a cell phone. The screen on my first laptop was so small it would only let me see five lines of copy at a time and the computer couldn’t hold more than about 10 stories in its memory. After 17 years in the business, it was time to learn new software packages like Excel and Access and to catch up on all the new databases and research tools that help reporters do a better job.
Graduate school was also helpful because it allowed me to receive the one-on-one instruction I needed. When you are a young journalist, there are plenty of older reporters and editors who will offer instruction and encourage you to improve. By the time you turn 40, they are asking you to help the youngsters. That’s perfectly fine. I want to give back. But my career is far from over, and I was hungry to work with talented professors who didn’t care about my status at the office. They took my work apart, challenged my reporting and writing every day and pushed me to do better. It was just what I was looking for.”
2. Why did you pick Georgetown’s Journalism program? How did you hear about us?
“I received a promotional flier in my mailbox at Bloomberg. I had been talking to some of co-workers about the need for additional training and the timing was right. I also liked the flexibility the MPS program offered.
When I interviewed with the Dean, she asked how the program could help me become a better journalist. I liked her approach right away. She wasn’t offering me a cookie cutter program. She was willing to address me as an individual and build a program around my particular needs.
I took five journalism classes to update my tech and research skills, and provide the one-on-one writing/reporting instruction I needed. And four classes in sports administration that related specific to my day-to-day work issues. The program was tailored perfectly for my needs, which gave me a sense of satisfaction when I left. I didn’t feel any of my courses were wasted. I work long hours, I’m married and I have family responsibilities. There was no time for a “blow off” class that didn’t advance my mission of getting better ASAP.”
3. Who is your favorite working journalist?
“I’m a big fan of Jason Cole at Yahoo! He’s one of those bulldogs who won’t let go once he’s sniffed out a story. When I was a young person working for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, I had an older partner who reminded me the day I teamed up with him that we were called “news” reporters for a reason. Write a feature, he said, only after you have failed to find news. For months, he would taunt me with the morning greeting: “What do you have today? Working on any good features?” It was his way of reminding me that if I didn’t break news, I wasn’t doing my job and I wasn’t welcome on the beat. I think Jason probably has a similar attitude, though we are not friends and I say this based only on his body of work.”
4. What one interview for a piece you’ve done has had the most impact on you?
“I interviewed former Baltimore Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer, now an analyst at ESPN, about the death of his then-5-year-old son, Trevin.
The former Super Bowl champion had the money, a beautiful family, fame … and then his only son caught a virus during a vacation to Disneyland and died 40 days later. (The full story is in my book, Men of Sunday.)
It was a reminder to me that we aren’t covering “subjects.” These are human beings with families and pain in their lives too. In trying to keep our distance, we sometimes forget that.”
5. What one piece of advice would you give current students?
“Journalism is increasingly about specialization. Anyone can be taught to write a few coherent paragraphs, but what else do they bring to the table? Top media outlets hire former Wall Street traders to talk or write about trading, lawyers to report on the legal system, economists and accountants to rifle through company filings and executive compensation.
The second thing you might want to give some thought about is a mortgage. When you see your future, are you in a home? What’s it look like? Get on MSN.com, find a house you like and see what it costs. Now, ask yourself if you envision children in your future? Do some quick research to figure out what good private schools cost in the District or what houses cost in suburban neighborhoods where the public schools are good. Calculate college costs (double whatever it is now), a car and oh yes, retirement savings. Then do some more research and find out how much journalists make. The numbers will shock you. OK, now stop. Think real hard and real long about the choices you are about to make. Journalism has provided me with incredible opportunities and life experiences, but I’ve been lucky. I am not the norm. You can always enter journalism with an economics or computer science or law degree, but you can’t become a lawyer, programmer or economist with a journalism degree alone.
Dream, but be reasonable. Have a plan. Decide how long you are willing to spend working at becoming a great journalist. But if you are not advancing like you thought, use the considerable skills you will develop in this field to find a job that pays the mortgage and lets you take your spouse and kids out to dinner every once in awhile.”