Guest Column – L.A. To Boston And Everything In Between: A Sports Reporter’s Tale

Today’s guest colum is from former CSNNE anchor and reporter Jackie Pepper.

L.A. To Boston And Everything In Between: A Sports Reporter’s Tale

By Jackie Pepper

Nearly every television broadcaster travels the same course:
You start in a small market, living and working in a tiny town nobody has ever heard of. While you dreamed of a luxurious life on camera, you soon realize that being on air is often the last thing you think of in your first job as a “one-man-band.” Shooting, editing, producing, and writing all of your own stories comes first while powdering your face and stepping in front of the camera as “the talent” is a mere afterthought.

Jackie Pepper

After a few years of life as a big fish in a small pond, you get a new job in a mid-size market and repeat the aforementioned steps. You travel the country going from job to job as you work your way up the career ladder until you reach the top; “The top” being the perfect combination of status, location, money and overall happiness; an occupational unicorn of sorts.

Born and raised in Santa Monica, California, I moved back home after graduating from the University of Arizona and continued to work as a freelance production runner for ABC Sports and ESPN, a gig that I landed by chance in the fall of my senior year of college. I traveled the country working on location at various sporting events from college football to NBA games to the X Games and sports awards shows. I went on Starbucks runs, picked up lunch for the crew, made copies, drove on air talent and executives to and from the airport, wrote thousands of shipping labels, mopped floors, stapled papers, packed equipment, took out the trash, cleaned TV trucks, and performed every other random task you can imagine. Being immersed in a business I craved made it all worth it.

At the same time, I was taking classes at a local junior college to give me any possible edge once I decided to pursue my dream of being an on air sports reporter. I took Sports Broadcasting, Football Coaching and Sports Marketing, just to name a few. After two years of classes and working freelance for the holy grail of sports television, I landed a staff position at NFL Network as a production assistant at the Culver City studio. For nearly two years, I learned the ins and outs of television production, working with editors inside dark edit bays, cutting game highlights and writing scripts (aka shot sheets), sitting alongside producers in the newsroom, building graphics in the control room, typing the ticker content that scrolls on the bottom of your screen and watching professional on air talent doing my dream job every single day.

Although I loved my coworkers and the perks that came along with working for the NFL (like watching a good looking man’s eyes light up after telling him the name of my employer, which never got old), I finally got my act together and made a demo tape of myself doing fake sports reports, an anchor segment, highlights, etc. After a few months of sending my DVD to small towns across the country, one news director took the bait and hired me.

My first on air job was as the weekday sports reporter and weekend anchor at KIDK, the CBS affiliate in Pocatello, Idaho. And to think while in college, I considered Tucson a small town! Tucson was like Vegas compared to Southeastern Idaho. I could write a book about the 14 months I spent in Pocatello (I actually plan on doing so eventually), but to get to the point, it was an utter culture shock. I had never spent time in a true small town where everybody really does know everybody. Each person I met seemed to be connected to my job. The mailman served as an assistant coach of a high school team, or a local business owner was a former Idaho State player, etc.

To give you an idea of where I lived, one of the schools I covered was Preston High School, where the movie Napoleon Dynamite was filmed. One school I covered in a farming community moved its daily afternoon football practices to 10p.m. for an entire month each winter so its players could assist their families in harvesting potatoes in the daylight hours after school. Southeastern Idaho borders Utah and is primarily Mormon, which is vastly different from multi-cultural life in Los Angeles.

Going from good weather year-round and the glitz and glam of L.A. to driving long distances in blizzards, scraping ice off my car and seeing snow in June, all for the first time, felt like an impossible adjustment at times. Tears were shed and home was sorely missed, but it was all part of the journey. A journey which, thankfully, I wasn’t alone in taking.

Almost all of the other reporters and anchors in my area were also in their early to mid 20′s, many of whom were California natives. It was like a do-over of college, moving to a strange place, knowing not a soul. The social destitution of the situation bonded all of us transplants, forming a TV news fraternity of sorts. Members were not only co-workers at my station, but those at the two other local affiliates as well. We were one big team and while we competed against each other in the ratings books, we were friends who often times helped each other professionally.

If one person’s camera malfunctioned (which happened all the time since most of us used ancient equipment) you could always count on a reporter from another station to secretly share their footage with you. In fact, even managers and executives of competing stations would call each other for favors once in a while. There was an unspoken, yet palpable camaraderie between us all.

That was small town life. Hard working, friendly and simple.

The only professional sports team I covered in person was the Utah Jazz. Once a month or so, I would make the three hour drive (each way) to Salt Lake City in the news car, work the game, get back in the car and arrive home in Pocatello around 2 a.m. Sometimes I would carpool with the sports reporters from the other stations which always made the trip more fun, and walking into an NBA locker room less intimidating.

Once I got to know the players and staff, working the Jazz locker room before and after games felt natural, and me and my fellow small market pals were often the only television cameras around. Yes, I was that girl holding my camera with one hand, the microphone in the other, and praying that the mic was close enough to get the sound while the camera was far enough away to get all of the player’s head in the shot, all while looking him in the eye as he answered my questions instead of looking through the lens. Many times, I would return to media work room, roll the tape back, and see I had cut off the top of Carlos Boozer’s head. Apparently, that’s an occupational hazard that comes along with being a “one-man-band.”

The lack of sports media in Salt Lake City gave me a chance to get to know guys with the cameras turned off. There was never a fight for 1-on-1 interviews, or the pushing and shoving you experience in bigger markets, so after I asked my questions on camera, I could take the time to know the man behind the basketball player.

I learned that the best way to get your job done was to be trusted, and a stranger only trusts you when you are no longer a stranger in his eyes. Harvesting a relationship based on genuine interest in the person and knowledge of their craft yields the best interviews, quotes, sources, etc. It would have been hard to learn that lesson in a place like L.A. or Boston.

Just when I felt like I had finally figured out my job, I got a new one! I went from Pocatello, market 168 to Boston, market 7.

Aside from then-head coach Jerry Sloan, the most high profile sports figure I interviewed regularly was a high school football player named Taysom Hill, a man-child of an athlete who played quarterback (as well as defensive end, kicker, power forward, long jump and relay) and won the state championship for Highland High School. Hill had accepted a deferred athletic scholarship to Stanford, but while on a religious mission, he bolted for BYU once Jim Harbaugh left Stanford for the 49ers. Keep an eye out for Hill as he will be a super star, believe me. Okay, I digress…

I went from high school sports, rodeo and the monster truck show to Bill Belichick, 17 NBA championships, the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry and No. 4 Bobby Orr.

I was in the midst of yet another culture shock. One day I was a small-town television reporter, the next, I was beamed into four million households. I went from rookie ball to the big leagues in one fell swoop. Within weeks of arriving in Boston, I met Dan Shaughnessy, Jackie MacMullan, Steve Buckley and Bob Ryan, all living legends in the field of sports journalism whom I had long since admired. The journey took me from Hollywood, to potatoes to the Ivy League. Three different parts of the country, three different lifestyles and three different work environments.

I was prepared for the worst as the Boston media is notoriously tough, its intimidating reputation perhaps second only to New York City.

Yes, the Boston media is hypercritical when it comes to sports, and I sure as hell didn’t envy any of the players I interviewed after a loss. But I was surprised to find that much like in L.A. and Idaho, there is a fierce connection between competitors, even in a town as feisty and scrappy as Boston.

The press corps in L.A. is very laid back, warm and welcoming. In Boston, smiles, conversation and recognition must be earned, but once you’re in, you’re in for good. Perhaps the contrast in dispositions is correlated to the weather, who knows. Fans might not want to hear it, but members of each city’s sports media even like each other. Blasphemous, I know.

Even though we started in different places, we all took the same road that got us to where we are today. Despite diverse accents and attitudes, the goal is uniform; do the work, make the deadline and tell your story the best damn way you know how.

Check out Jackie’s Blog, Pepper On Sports, where she regularly weighs in on the current events in the world of sports. Her demo reel can be viewed here.

  • latetodinner

    Thank you for sharing Jackie. As someone who spent time in the Pac Nor West I am glad you escaped Idaho and found civilization. I enjoyed your work when you were at CSSNE and wish you all the best going forward.

    Having said that…you wrote " I met Dan Shaughnessy, Jackie MacMullan, Steve Buckley and Bob Ryan, all living legends in the field of sports journalism whom I had long since admired. " Seriously…you admired Buckley and Shaughnessey from afar? I can understand Jackie Mac and Bob Ryan…but Buckley and Shank? Admit it that is just more of that inside media stuff where all media members protect each other. A few questions about those initial meetings…did Dan and Steve make the introductions all about them? Did Buckley tell you he was gay, that he played softball in the Cambridge GLSL and that he knew Ty Cobb? (not that he does those things every time he writes or is on the radio lately) Did Shaughnessey advise you slant all your stories in a way to make the story about you? Did he bitch and moan that the he was not invited to breakfast in 1996 by the Patriots when they invited only beat writers and he was a commentator? Just curious…enquiring minds want to know.

  • mandb97

    Jackie, this is a very good piece. It is pretty informative and you get a good idea at how difficult the T.V. industry is. The only thing I wish you talked more about was your experience in Boston. It seems like you enjoyed your time here but there had to be some times where it was difficult. I would have liked to have heard more. I did enjoy your work here.

  • tl;138

    Off topic: Does anyone know what Felger is talking about when he says the two best QB’s in the playoffs got bumped last weekend. Um, Tom Brady won last week. Brees is great but it’s got be Rodgers, Brady, Brees.

  • Tom

    We miss you Jackie!! Good luck in your next role.

  • bsmfan

    A great, candid column. Seems like the brass in Boston picked well to get someone not only intelligent but with a little humility. I've seen Jackie a few times on some of the shows (Baseball Reporters when it is not Jessica Moran?) but not much more. Wondering why she's not featured more on some of CSNNE?

    • mandb97

      bsmfan Jackie was let go by CSNNE.com a little over a year ago. I think you might be thinking of Nicole Zaloumis who has been on maternity leave for the past couple of months.

      • bsmfan

        I had only asked because her twitter/bio link on there still says "CSNNE" but I think you are right. Any idea why she was let go?

        • mandb97

          Actually, I looked around for a possible reason and the only thing I saw was Bruce posting that she had been let go from her contract. Speaking of Nicole Zaloumis, I just saw her tonight doing the CSNNE sportscast on NECN. She must have just returned from her leave.

  • Guest

    Jackie, good article. I am not surprised that media like each other, it's the fans they hate.

    • latetodinner

      I am not sure I agree…I don't think sports media people 'hate" the fans…they just think we are all uninformed, stupid, lazy, beer swilling, basement dwelling, dead beats. They also think they are smarter than all of us, and that comes across as arrogantly as it was meant. But honestly they do not "hate" the fans…to hate us would mean they would have to be emotionally invested in our well being and when you think your self that superior you can't generate an emotion like hate.

  • NutCracker

    A very good article by Jackie. I enjoyed watching her while she was at CSNNE and was disappointed to see her leave. Personally, I liked her work much better than Jessica Moran (her voice drives me crazy) and Caroline Manno who were hired around the same time as her but made the cut. Wish her well going forward.

    • mandb97

      I actually enjoy Moran and Manno a lot more than when they first came to Boston. I know this is going to sound a bit shallow but what bothered me was their hair. Moran's Hair was so red it clashed with the studio background and actually took my focus from a story. Manno had hair that looked like she had been in a brawl with a swan. Both have since changed it and look much better on camera and I pay attention more to their work. I would not be surprised if superiors may have asked them to try something else. It may seem silly but I read an interview with a reporter from Maine named Shannon Moss, who had really curly hair. She was told by a broadcast professor that she would not go anywhere unless she changed her hairstyle.

      • bsmfan

        Wouldn't say it's shallow at all since it's been proven many times over about audience perception/trust as things that can be dictated by looks, right? Harder when it comes from a guy but I don't even think that the hair/makeup/etc is even a debateable topic anymore. See ESPN or FOX for the above.

        • 23FenwayFan

          Agree with poster above that Jessica Moran's voice drives me crazy. I always feel as though she's screaming at me. Between the veneers, hair color change and style, etc. Moran doesn't look like the same person. Not sure it's all good either.

  • bsmfan

    I hate to fill up an unrelated (and good post) but did anyone watch Celtics Postgame tonight (18Jan)? Usually it's GearBear and Donnie Marshall but tonight they had on JackieMac filling in with him. In the few times I've watched Celtics Postgame, but moreso on SportsTonight, GearBear is the "host" and usually in tricky host/analyst role. I don't consider him much of an analyst but usually call into question his "host" part because he either interjects too much into the analyst part (forgetting to be a host) or can't stop talking and tries to be the one and only analyst.

    I recall seeing him with JackieMac on before but can't recall him actually doing the "host" job so perfectly. He kept the conversation going, interjected when needed via follow-up or question and looked like a seasoned pro. It was almost shocking to see him just do the role I thought he's supposed to do (host). So, I wondered if it was because it was the female affect? the veteran/respected female? or they pumped him full of thorazine?

    In this true host role, he does a great job. I think this was the first time I didn't change the channel or shut the TV off when he was talking.

  • LaChiam

    you’ve come a long way from starbucks runs…and making a lot of your former coworkers very proud along the way.  keep up the good work kid

%d bloggers like this: