Sports Journalism with Sachin Shenolikar
New York, New York
Sachin Shenolikar has always loved sports and journalism, writing for his high school and college newspapers. He started working in book publishing, soon realizing he wanted to pursue a career in magazines. He then landed a freelance fact checking job while still employed at the book company. Sachin is a great example of someone putting in the necessary effort and energy to make his dreams come true. As a result he gets to channel his creative side as an Associate Editor at SI for Kids. Reward yourself by seeking out work that inspires you.
CCB: When did you realize you wanted to work in magazine publishing? Was it always a goal to be involved with sports journalism?
SS: I was undecided about my career coming out of college. I was a Government major and had interned on Capitol Hill. It was something I enjoyed and learned from, but it wasn’t something I wanted to do long term. In the end, I came back to journalism, which I had also been involved in during high school and college. Sports is something I loved since I was a little kid so mixing those two ended up being ideal.
After graduating from the College of William & Mary, all I knew was I really wanted to move to New York. So, I moved to New York without a job. I ended up getting a job as a Production Assistant at John Wiley & Sons in book publishing. I enjoyed the job. I enjoyed the people I worked with. But midway through that first year there I decided it really wasn’t what I wanted to do long term. I really wanted to get into magazine publishing.
That’s when I started thinking, how am I going to do this? I started talking to a lot of people and the response wasn’t very positive. Jumping from book publishing to magazine publishing isn’t very easy to do because they are so different. At Wiley I was working with words, doing some copyediting, doing some things that were transferable to magazine publishing, but it wasn’t journalism.
I started sending out my resume for Editorial Assistant positions at magazines. Just around the one-year point at Wiley I got promoted to Assistant Managing Editor and I also got a response from ESPN The Magazine. They called me in and told me that they didn’t have any full-time positions open, but could hire me as a freelance fact checker, a researcher. So I was an Assistant Managing Editor at Wiley during the day, and every other week I’d work at ESPN The Magazine from 5pm to 9:30pm during the week. They closed their issues on Sunday so I’d go in all day every other Sunday, too. I did that for about a year. I ended up sending a resume to SI Kids and they had an opening for a reporter. After doing two jobs for a year, I transitioned into a full-time reporter at SI Kids.
CCB: What are the main differences between these types of publishing? Are there similarities?
SS: The similarities are working with words and working with a raw product. In book publishing working with authors, here working with journalists, writers. That’s kind of where the similarities end. I was in scientific textbook publishing…it was professors writing high-level science books for students. This is a much more creative field. You are involved in planning a magazine, the way stories look, what’s written, and how things are covered.
CCB: Were you able to use things you learned from book publishing in magazines?
SS: Actually I was. The eye for detail is one thing. As an Assistant Managing Editor some of the tasks included copyediting and proofreading. That was definitely applicable to fact-checking at a magazine, where you are under pressure to never make a mistake.
CCB: Is there a typical day on the job as an Associate Editor?
SS: I don’t think there is a typical day. I can take you through a typical month. (Laughs) We’re a monthly. Right now in November we are working on our February issue. This issue goes to press in two weeks and will come out in late December.
We start by having a story ideas meeting in the Managing Editor’s office. The editors meet and we decide who we want to put on the cover and what we want the issue to look like, taking into account the sports that are in season, good human interest stories, hot-button issues. We also want to make sure there are fun stories in each issue. We map out the issue on a board.
Then the stories get assigned to editors depending on what their beat is. Right now my beats are NBA, NFL, and college sports. So, I’ll handle those stories and organize a smaller meeting with the ME, Art Director, and Photo Editor to figure out what we want the story to be like. Do we want it to be a Q&A? Do we want it to be a straight profile? Do we want it to be off the wall, have the athlete answer questions in his own handwriting? Do we want to set up a photo shoot? After that’s decided, I’ll assign a reporter to do the interview or write the story. Sometimes I’ll report my own stories. In that case I’ll contact the team and set up a date and time for the interviews, which are done in person or over the phone, depending on the type of story. That often takes a week or two to set up.
CCB: What are your core responsibilities as an Associate Editor?
SS: The stories that I am assigned are my main responsibility for a certain issue. As the editor of a story in magazines, it’s the editor’s vision that is carried out. The editor develops story ideas and angles, and assigns the story to a writer. The editor also works with the art and photo departments on how the story will look visually. As far as text, the editor makes sure all the necessary info is included and makes sure it reads smoothly and fits the tone of the magazine, which is one of the challenges of writing for kids — making sure the tone is right without it sounding condescending.
CCB: You don’t want to dumb things down.
SS: Right. We had a big redesign before I got here in 2000. Through research, it was found that because of the Internet and cable TV, kids are savvier nowadays. They know more about sports. This magazine went from being a kids’ magazine about sports to being a sports magazine for kids. The articles are written pretty straight. We’ve tackled tough issues like steroids and players who have gotten in trouble with the law.
CCB: What is the actual demographic at SI for Kids?
SS: It is 8 to 15, but most of the readers are 11 and 12. So we’re talking about middle school.
CCB: What qualities do you need to succeed as an editor?
SS: It helps to be well-rounded and be able to juggle different tasks. Envisioning how stories will look on paper and working with others to execute that. Having the ability to come up with fresh ideas. Being a strong writer, even a reporter sometimes. Being able to spot holes in a story, giving good constructive criticism to writers, knowing what needs to be cut and what needs to be expanded…in a nutshell, recognizing what needs to be reworked in order to make the text better.
CCB: Do you have any advice for people interested in becoming editors?
SS: Focus on what you want to do as early as possible because it’s definitely hard to switch into something that is on a different track. It feels like a lot of pressure to have to decide on something that you want right at the start of your career, but that helps. The other thing I found helpful as far as breaking in was to look at mastheads and get names of people and what their positions are and write directly to them. I got the best response doing that. (As far as finding out about opportunities)
Another thing I did was sit down and make a list of all the things that I liked and that I was good at and filed them in my head. If this is your dream job, basically all of you will be applicable to that job. I was coming from scientific book publishing and I had to show SI Kids that I was perfect for this job. One example is that I was a Little League umpire in 9th and 10th grade. It was something that I brought up in my interview for SI Kids because I saw that they had a What’s the Call section with wacky scenarios that can happen in a game and have the readers play ref. I said I could definitely help out on that section because I had this experience as an umpire and had seen a lot of things happen in games. Of course, being an ump in 10th grade is not something that I would put on my resume, but in this case it was relevant in an interview. It was a way to show that I could help make the magazine better with fresh ideas. With magazines, you want to pitch your creative side. It’s all about idea generation.
CCB: What has been the most rewarding thing about the job so far?
SS: Being at a job that is creative has always been my goal and that is rewarding. It’s rewarding working with the staff, working together to create a strong product. In terms of things I’ve gotten to do, I covered the 2004 Olympics in Greece. I’ve covered the Super Bowl, the World Series, NBA Finals, Final Four, and all these things I never thought I’d attend even as a fan. I’ve gotten to witness history in person and document it, and meet many fascinating people. That’s been the most amazing thing.
Learn more about Sachin here: http://www.sachinshenolikar.com/