Major in college: Journalism (2010)
Current job title: Senior producer, SI.com (Sports Illustrated‘s website)
Ed: What is the best part about working for SI.com?
MD: The wealth of resources and the eclectic staff. SI brings together such a diverse group of people — legendary magazine writers, editors at the top of their trade, up-and-comers straight out of college — it’s really an incredible meeting of minds. What brings us all together are sports and writing. No matter the background, everyone here eats, sleeps and drinks sports. Needless to say, the office can be a pretty fun place to work.
Ed: What is the relationship between SI.com and the print publication?
MD: “Integration” has been a buzz word around SI for years. We’re trying to combine and gel the print and online sides as much as possible. The staffs are separate (we even work on different floors) — but we do share some writers and have weekly meetings. Rarely do we have situations where we step on each other’s toes. I think the two complement each other pretty well, but there’s plenty of room for improvement as anyone at SI would tell you.
Ed: What career path did you take after moving to NYC that led you to your current gig?
MD: I was a two-time intern at SI Kids during my days at IU, so I had my foot in the door at the SI offices. Two weeks before graduating, I was offered a part-time job by SI.com to work in their Atlanta office, which runs the site during nights and weekends. I worked three years in Atlanta, covering just about every sport and contributing in every which way possible. But I always had my an affinity for the NBA. I pitched in wherever I could. When I was transferred to the New York office, my NBA allegiance was already known. I had been writing the Power Rankings for SI for a year and when the NBA editor job opened up, I was lucky enough to be considered.
Ed: What’s the best piece of advice about the job/internship search that you’ve ever been given?
MD: Don’t be afraid to call in a favor. I’m sure professors and class speakers have given you the networking schpiel about 1,000x by now — but they aren’t lying. If you’re a reporter, you need to be more than a good writer, you need to have contacts and sources. That’s pretty much the case with any journalism job. You can be extremely talented, but if people don’t know you, it might take awhile to get recognized. Continue reading
Ed: You didn’t plan on going into the magazine industry while you were in college. What made you want to take the leap into the biz?
ML: I’ve always loved editing. I think of it as a puzzle that you can inject your own style and personality into as you tweak it until it reads just right. As I was finishing my public affairs degree, I realized that I would miss the sense of fulfillment I got from whipping a story into shape—something I had been doing regularly throughout college as a writing tutor at IU’s Writing Tutorial Services. So despite my lack of an educational background in the field, I took the plunge and applied to dozens of magazine internship programs in New York City.
Let’s assume two things: One, you want to write for me. Two, you’re a stranger to me. That puts the burden on you. See, I have a crew of regular contributors—writers I know and trust—who’ll send me a dozen ideas at a moment’s notice. Or, if I’m really desperate for a story, I can just write the piece myself. After all, I know what I want better than anybody.
Now, you might read this and, discouraged, think: It doesn’t sound like I have much of a shot, so why should I even bother pitching him? Because here’s the thing about editors: We’re always hungry for ideas. We’re always looking for interesting people and trends and angles. We’re always after that one story no one’s done. So, when a pitch does arrive, we desperately want to open that email or envelope and discover this brilliant idea from a total stranger. We want to assign the story now because we want to share it with readers as soon as possible.
So, let’s assume one more thing: You have an idea.
Here’s are some tips to help you craft that idea into a pitch so good that I’d be a fool to reject it.
Start small. Be realistic: You’re not going to write features right out of the gate. Focus your efforts on story ideas tailored to shorter pieces for the front-of-book sections of magazines. Or, instead of pitching the magazine, pitch the website. Section editors and online editors often have the most stories to assign—because they’re responsible for so many bitsy stuff—so they can be the best people to target.
Get a nice portfolio of these shorter pieces—and develop a working relationship with an editor—then you can start thinking about bigger stories.
Know the magazine—and it’s audience. You could have a fantastic idea, but if it’s not right for the magazine (and the editor will know whether it is or not right away), it’ll never get approved. Pitch ideas to magazines you know well and read regularly. For example: Say a writer came to me with a pitch about fishing for marlin. In his query, he’s outlined the best waters in the world to chase the fish; he’s included quotes from the leading experts in the sport; he’s even attached some beautiful photographs. And to top it off, the guy can seriously write. I mean, this is one terrific pitch. There’s just one small problem: Field & Stream hasn’t published a marlin story in probably 50 years. And it’s not because the right story hasn’t come along. It’s because our readers couldn’t give a shit about marlin fishing. If the writer had read the magazine, he would’ve known that and pitched a salt water fishing magazine instead.
When you’re pitching a story, you’re essentially a salesman. Your job is to convince me, beyond a doubt, that this story belongs in my magazine and that my readers will benefit from having read it.
A 1993 IU Alumni, Chad Millman got his first job as a reporter for Sports Illustrated three weeks after packing up his bags and moving to Manhattan. He was hired as an associate editor for ESPN The Magazine in 1998 and has since been promoted to editor-in-chief. He has written and co-authored several books and now writes a daily blog that explores the culture of sports gambling.
ED: So Ed knows that you’re an IU alum! What kind of journalism experience did you get during your time in Bloomington?
Chad Millman: Mostly I worked at the IDS. Beginning the second semester my freshman year I joined the sports desk and covered baseball. Loved it. The advisor for the program used to grade every story in the paper and then throw them up on a bulletin board in the newsroom. The first time he said something nice about one of my stories I was shocked, only because it was my first experience of someone reacting to something I wrote. I covered men’s wrestling and women’s volleyball as a sophomore and then skipped junior year because I studied in London. When I came back I did a couple of features, but nothing on a daily basis.
ED: With which publications did you intern, and what are a couple of helpful tips you learned along the way?
Chad: I interned at Pro Football Weekly between my freshman and sophomore year and at Sports Illustrated in Barcelona for the Olympics in 1992, after my junior year. What l learned was say yes to anything that is asked, do the task with a smile and be valuable. Which means looking for ways you can serve the product you are working for, not just what you can get out of it to put on your resume. Pitch a lot of ideas, even if you don’t get to write them, because editors need ideas and appreciate people who feed them. Eventually, you will get a chance to write something or edit something because editors will recognize your skill set and the way you think in your pitches.
ED: What other magazine experience did you have prior to joining the ESPN team?
Chad: I graduated in 1993 and went to work for Sports Illustrated. I worked there and at a now defunct sports network that was a partnership between CNN and SI for a total of five years, before joining ESPN in 1998. I also wrote for other magazines, including Details and Esquire.
ED: What would you say drew you to wanting to be a sports magazine editor? Have you been a life-long sports fan?
Chad: I loved sports, love magazines and especially love sports magazines. When I was a kid I read SI the second it came in the mail but also read Inside Sports and Sport and The Sporting News. To be honest, I never wanted to be an editor. I was a writer and an editor at ESPN The Magazine convinced me to try it before he hired me. All during my tenure with ESPN I have written frequently — for the magazine, for the website and some books. Right up until the moment I was offered the editor-in-chief job I assumed I was going to go back to writing full-time eventually.
ED: We’re all dying to know… what is most fun to you about your job?
Chad: The mag is like a big puzzle and you have no idea if it is going to come together. I am pretty sure everything we are doing stinks until sometime during the second week of our close cycle (we are bi-weekly). Although I can’t really say “we stink” anymore because it’s become like I am crying wolf. People at the mag just laugh at me when I say it. I love seeing the cover for the first time, because I think that is one of the greatest commodities a magazine has vs. other mediums such as TV and Internet. Magazine covers still matter, to readers and to athletes. But, really, I just love when I know the issue is going to be good, and that’s a pretty elusive moment.
ED: Do you have any advice for college students pursuing internships at a sports magazine?
Chad: Grind, grind, grind. Send emails, send follow up emails. Emphasize in those emails what you like about the publication you are applying to, be aware of stories it has done in the past, be specific about pieces that you liked. Explain how your skill set can be of value to the place you are applying. And if you want a full-time job somewhere, go to where the jobs are. I didn’t get a job at SI until after I had moved to NYC. I don’t think I would have been considered if I had stayed at home in Chicago after graduating.
ED: We have to ask, how are you feeling about IUBB this season?!
Chad: Thrilled with the progress. Love the team that is being put together. But I would like to see more consistency.