Mike Sielski, a long-time sports columnist and author, told students at Cabrini what it takes to be a great journalist.
“If you want to be an excellent journalist, you need to do two things. One, read. Two, write.”
Sielski, a columnist from the Philadelphia Inquirer, visited Cabrini University on Nov. 8 for a live broadcast to speak to students about his journey as a journalist and author. He sat down with students with his humorous energy as he told students how he found his passion for writing and sports.
He has had a lengthy career in sports journalism. While he knew that he wanted to work in a sports-related field, he was unsure what he wanted to pursue. As a result, he spent his first two years at La Salle University trying out different experiences.
During his sophomore year, he covered the women’s basketball games for the school’s paper. One game he covered was against then-ranked Notre Dame. After La Salle pulled off an upset, Sielski was hooked. He wanted to become a sports journalist.
After college, he worked for The Intelligencer, a local Bucks County newspaper. While it wasn’t the most well-paying job, he enjoyed and felt valued by the community for writing about the high school sports games.
“I had to take time away from my friends to do my job,” Sielski said. “But it was worth it because I found something I was passionate about.”
After his time at the Intelligencer, Sielski was picked up by the Wall Street Journal to cover the New York Jets and Mets. While he enjoyed this experience he encountered some challenges that he hadn’t experienced before in his career including jumping from a small-town newspaper to reporting for one of the biggest news companies in the world.
He felt the constant pressure of writing for sports teams that constantly had the spotlight shone on them. Sielski also quickly realized that despite the massive audience of the Journal and New York sports, much of his audience consisted of casual sports fans. As a result, he found himself simplifying his articles and writing stories that combined other subjects with sports.
A few years later, he would be hired by the Philadelphia Inquirer, his dream job. While he liked working in New York, he was much more confident writing for the die-hard sports fanbase of Philly.
“In this area, it is so prudential to know these legendary ‘totems’ (star players) to know Philly sports,” he said.
His latest project is a book titled “The Rise: Kobe Bryant and the Pursuit of Immortality.” It covers the basketball legend’s personal life before the Los Angeles Lakers drafted him. After the helicopter crash that took the life of Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, Sielski wanted to write a story about the early years of Bryant’s life and how he found his way through basketball, flaws and all.
“There are many stories about Kobe’s career,” Sielski said. “I wanted to write the Batman Begins for the Black Mamba, but I truly wanted to cover Bryant’s childhood, especially how he grew up as a black kid in Italy and Philly.”
This is not Sielski’s first stint at writing a book. He has written two others: “Fading Echoes: A True Story of Rivalry and Brotherhood from the Football Field to the Fields of Honor” and “How to Be Like Jackie Robinson.”
“These stories were personal to me because they both evolved around where I grew up,” Sielski said.
Sielski then gave inspiring writers and journalists tips for their projects and career.
He stressed that you must be able to switch stories on a dime. For instance, Sielski shared how he covered Super Bowl LII featuring the Eagles facing the Patriots. Sielski wanted to cover the life of Eagles wide receiver, Alshon Jeffery, who guaranteed that they would win the game. He had a deadline to turn in the story at the end by that night. Instead of focusing on how good the story was, he was focused on turning his story in on time.
He also advocated for students to improve their writing and reporting skills by reading various books and news articles.
Sielski explained how journalism skills are transferable. To be a reporter, one needs to know how to write and report well. Reporters need to know where to go to get their information. Most of all, it’s helpful if they know about the topic they are writing about, like sports or movies.
“You have to know what you want to be,” Sielski said. “You may not stay in the same field forever. You cannot be afraid to try new things.”
To watch and listen to the interview, click on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HctpEqMLf64