I typically dislike the use of a question mark in headlines but felt it was appropriate for these first few pieces of content, so please bear with me.
As I mentioned in my initial post, I used to write every day and then went more than half a year writing next to nothing until now. That probably comes off as a bit odd.
How does someone who wrote full-time suddenly come to a complete and prolonged halt? I’ll attempt to explain below.
In order to understand much of the past eight months, you need to understand much of the previous 23, so let’s take a trip down memory lane.
The majority of my final two years of college were devoted to working for Onward State, the final year and a half spent covering Penn State football.
Onward State is a wonderful student media outlet to work for. If any young Penn Staters happen to be reading this or some high school seniors matriculating to Happy Valley in the fall with an interest in writing, editing, photography, or social media, I highly recommend checking it out. Like most work places though, it is important to have some friends because everyone doesn’t love everyone and sing Kumbaya while holding hands (although we do typically sing “Hey Jude” on press row THON weekend)
Thankfully, I had that support system. I would wager the majority of people who have worked for the site at some point did too because most of the staff is extremely friendly and nice, but if you don’t have that group of people to make you feel like you belong, I imagine it can be rather lonely at times.
I made my best friends through Onward State, but as I got more into it, I also made two of my biggest enemies.
Before morphing into the most followed college media outlet in the world, the blog built its reputation and formed its initial niche readership through snark and generating conversation with engaging posts. The former isn’t always my style.
I like to think that I can be funny and show a sense of humor when I write (perhaps best illustrated here), but controversy just for the sake of controversy was never my thing. That bothered my haters. They thought I had no guts, when really, I just liked writing about sports. If something controversial comes your way, then report it, but creating controversy for no reason was pointless in my opinion.
This all really came to a head when I began covering the football program in the spring of 2012. If it was up to my haters, I never would have written for Onward State in the first place nor would I have been promoted to a bigger role after one semester.
There’s one thing though that my haters knew in the back of their heads but would never admit to you: I was good.
Oh yeah. I was more or less teaching myself how to cover a college football team and needed to get better and more consistent, but they knew I was good and that freaked them out
Before I could go about destroying my haters though, I had to overcome a little natural shyness and a lack of confidence. I still vividly remember my body shaking as I sent a few tweet updates during the Blue-White game that spring.
I spent the first five minutes in the media room after the game looking every which way, trying to work up the courage to talk to someone. That’s one part of journalism that never came easy to me. Once I had information, I felt like I could write a great story, but asking someone to talk to me never felt completely natural.
I realized though that I had to do something or I wasn’t going to have any quotes for postgame stories. Way in the front left corner of the room, Ted Roof’s full head of gray hair stuck out and I saw only a few reporters were around him. I can’t even exactly remember what I said, but I asked him some question and in my head immediately grimaced.
What the hell kind of question was that, Drew? Why would you go with that of all things?
As that thought raced through my head, Roof answered and gave me some good quotes about the spring and working with Larry Johnson Sr. and Ron Vanderlinden for the first time.
Okay, phew. That was good. Let’s go talk to John Urschel now. He’ll have something intriguing to say.
As that spring turned to summer and the season approached, I constantly thought about shutting up my haters. They were no longer with Onward State or in State College, but they wanted me to fail. They wanted to eliminate me, and I wasn’t about to let them.
Naturally I did what anyone in a similar situation does when they desire to prove detractors wrong. I worked — hard. I remember exiting the Beaver Stadium press box and walking home through a somber State College after Penn State dropped its season opener to Ohio. I opened the door to my apartment, grabbed a beer from the fridge, slumped into a chair, and nearly fell asleep within a few minutes. It couldn’t have been much past 7 p.m, still bright outside on September 1st.
“So Drew, this is what you’re gonna do every Saturday? Just work yourself to exhaustion,” quipped one of my roommates.” “I…I guess so,” shooting a half smile back. “it’s fun.”
I designed my class schedule in a way that I could attend every weekly press conference, open practice, and other media availability event without having to miss class. Sure, Saturday is the money day in college football, but this wasn’t a one or two day a week gig. You have to do the dirty work to be prepared for gameday.
As September turned to October, I reached a point where I may have started taking it too seriously for my own good. I had gotten back from Champaign, Illinois with Ryan Beckler and Kevin Horne Sunday night around 10 p.m. They were my two best friends at OS and traveled to every away game, cheering on Penn State from the stands and helping out with some crowd pictures on social media while I did my thing in the press box.
That night I was asking for it. I had put off a lengthy assignment that was due Monday morning in one of my classes. I knew I could get it done. I usually worked well under pressure, but there was an unforeseen problem here: I felt really sick.
No sleep, a long car ride, and a couple nights out at Champaign bars had gotten to me. I got done about 10 percent of my assignment and decided to rest my head for a few minutes, but it’s never just a few minutes when you hit that point.
I don’t intend for any of this to come across as bragging or self-serving. I most certainly wasn’t the busiest person on campus — far from it — but working on a huge assignment in the wee hours of the night when you don’t feel good really sucks and I don’t wish it upon any of you.
I sprung up a few hours later in a panic. Good news: It’s 4 a.m. I still have some time. Bad news: It’s 4 a.m. and I should not be awake right given how sick I feel. I kept myself up, gained a second wind at some point, and eventually finished the project (which I think I got a B+ on so not bad), but I needed sleep and the week which included two exams, my birthday, and the coverage buildup to a homecoming game against undefeated Northwestern was in full swing.
No rest for the weary, but I knew there was some light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a bye week. Just get through Saturday, I thought to myself. A scene early Saturday morning served as a microcosm for where my head was at.
It was 3 a.m. and I was laying on the couch with my laptop finishing up a game preview that always ran first thing that morning. A blanket was draped over my body and a box of tissues was an arm’s length away as I flipped through a game notes packet between typing.
One of my roommates and his girlfriend opened the door to the apartment and walked in. “Drew, why aren’t you sleeping, man? It’s so late and you gotta be up early.”
“Because my haters ain’t sleeping,” I shot back in a half-delusional manner.
I had lost it, but I didn’t care. I knew I would wake up without any issue in four hours. Despite how little I had slept during the week, it was impossible to be tired early on a Saturday. I knew what was ahead of me. I got to do a full day’s worth of work for an organization I loved while simultaneously saying “Hey Devon. Hey Dan. I’m better than you. Deal with it.”
I don’t get mad easily at all, but if you asked me to point out a character flaw in myself, I would say that I’m not a grudge-dropper. In a perfect world that wouldn’t be the case, but I didn’t let this one go. My haters couldn’t stand to constantly see my byline on the site, and it fueled me.
That Sunday night scene of me unintentionally falling asleep and popping up a few hours later repeated itself one too many times over the next month and a half, but I pushed it aside.
I’ll sleep in December, I reassured myself. I was doing everything that a full-time beat writer did. My features and analysis were well-researched. I didn’t break a whole lot of news, but I was generally quick with updates and we did get a big one in late November the day before the season finale.
The season ended. I was sleeping a bit more, but had something else to deal with the second week of December. My then girlfriend of almost four years broke up with me.
Seeing how long this post already is, I don’t want to go off on a huge tangent, but to sum things up, I saw it coming and if I’m being honest, the relationship probably should have ended a year or so earlier than it did. She went to Pitt and was really committed to her studies. Aside from breaks or summers, we hardly saw each other.
We had survived three and a half years in a long distance relationship, but part of the reason it lasted that long is because both of us were afraid to end it at times — scared of the unknown. That fall put the nail in the coffin. We stopped making time for each other. Phone calls went from daily to maybe weekly. Text messages went from nonstop to only a few each day. She was doing her own thing, and I was doing mine. The spark was gone and couldn’t be rekindled this time.
I don’t blame her at all for officially ending it. She deserved better. I just wish she could have understood that I was doing something I really loved at the time. How many 22-year old college seniors get to cover football games in Beaver Stadium and travel all over Big Ten country? If she had a similar opportunity for whatever she wanted to do, I would have expected her to pounce on it without thinking twice. So it goes sometimes.
Anyway, the few days after were rough, but my friends got me through it, so let’s fast forward ahead a few months.
The first day back from spring break was Penn State’s Pro Day, and the beginning of spring practice was only a week away. I couldn’t wait. Most of my classes were out of the way, so I was only taking 12 credits last spring meaning I’d have way more time to devote to coverage.
I had also begun to think a bit more long-term and wondered if maybe there was an opportunity for me to stay in the area and do this for real after graduation. This feeling intensified as March turned to April.
I was on a roll churning out quality news and features every day. Similar to last fall though, I had created some unrealistic expectations for myself. I would come back to my apartment at 2 a.m. after a couple Cafe teas with friends and instead of going straight to sleep I would start charting some statistic like how many of Allen Robinson’s receptions resulted in first downs and stuff like that.
I was obsessed with run-pass ratios, breaking down Bill O’Brien’s tendencies when he went for it on fourth down, anything I could think of. Absolutely no way my haters would think to do a story on something like that or be willing to put that much time into it, and if they tried some cheap knock off of my content a day or two later, I would laugh.
There was a stretch where ESPN’s Big Ten Blog included us in their lunch links roundup three times over a 5-day span. Then, one day they didn’t, and I was actually angry at myself.
Maybe a 1000-word post on how Michael Zordich’s graduation impacts the fullback position just wasn’t that interesting. Dammit though, that story was good, I thought.
Even after the Blue-White game, I tried to hang on for as long as I could. While most of my friends were either studying for finals or celebrating their final few days as college students at bars, I was waiting to see if any team was going to pick Michael Mauti in the draft so I could write about it.
I was burnt out, but at the same time I couldn’t let go. I loved it too much. After graduation, I stayed in State College doing some freelance work. My apartment lease ran through early August, and between the freelance stuff and graduation gifts, I had some money, so I was in no hurry to leave.
A month later, I was offered a full-time job with a small online news outlet in State College. I accepted it without any hesitation, but this is where things started taking a turn for the worse.
As an aside, the next day I was contacted about a job I had applied for in Miami and offered a phone interview. I politely emailed the HR person back telling her that I had just accepted another offer. I didn’t want to take up her time but was open to keeping lines of communication open for the future. She wished me well and moved on.
Who knows what would have happened? It would be completely presumptuous of me to say that I would have been offered that job had I went ahead with the interview, but to this day, I still want that email back.
You will hopefully understand why in a few minutes.
I was doing a good amount of general assignment reporting with the loose agreement that I’d cover some football stuff in the fall but felt really out of my element covering stories that were completely foreign to me while working long and unpredictable hours.
Obviously the latter is a natural part of journalism, and no one comes out of school with their dream media job. My bigger concern though was that I felt as if I didn’t fit into the company culture.
Many of my — what I believed to be — forward-thinking digital media ideas were shot down. They were in love with man-on-the-street interviews, and my creative control was really limited.
Why walk around State College asking a few random people what they think of Bill O’Brien’s amended contract when we can put out a question on Twitter, get a higher number of responses in a much more efficient manner that would likely form a more representative opinion, and then Storify some replies? While waiting for mentions to come in, we could maximize resources and be working on filing other stories that would have been put off during the time spent gathering man-on-the-street answers.
That was my general thought process and for a “new” media site, I thought it was reasonable, but it’s a real difficult sell when someone has bought the same way for 30 years and past credentials trump a good idea.
Similar ideas like that got rejected and I get yelled at more by my boss/editor for running into a dead end or two on stories when essential sources didn’t get back to me right away, Only three weeks into the job, I began to wonder if I had settled and sold myself short.
A week later, things went from bad to worse on the Fourth of July. I had worked from 8 a.m. until about 8 p.m. and thought I was just about done for the day. Wrong. Very wrong. A massive fire broke out in a State College apartment building. I drove 10 minutes, parked my car in some random lot praying I wouldn’t get towed, and ran past police officers and traffic until I saw the flames up-close in person.
The sight of this freaked me out. Plenty of good reporters can stomach covering tragic events like this without much of a problem, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but approaching people and asking them to talk to me while they watched their homes and possessions go up in smoke shook me up.
I did it because the alternative was getting my head ripped off by my boss but felt heartless the entire time. A night later, I actually found a pretty heartwarming story, but most of my work wasn’t good enough for my boss despite the fact that we had easily the best and fastest live updates of any outlet there.
That next week was rough. If I thought I was burnt out in the fall and spring, there was no doubt about it this time. Getting yelled at every other day had done its damage. I cried myself to sleep one night. Most other nights I couldn’t sleep. My happiness was gone along with my confidence that I had built up from covering a competitive beat for over a year. I wanted to leave, but I had a full-time job, and another one was no guarantee in this economy.
I confided in a few friends and told them that while the thought had crossed my mind, I didn’t think I would pull the trigger yet without something else lined up. Media jobs are hard to come by, and I didn’t want to come off as some entitled prick. I wasn’t trying to run the place or anything; I just wanted a little more respect that I thought I deserved.
Things changed that Friday morning after a meeting. Our differences in philosophy were too far apart. Staying much longer was only going to make me more upset and threaten my health more. I indicated that I was going to have to think about my future there, but in my head I already knew the answer.
That weekend coincided with Arts Fest in State College. I had to work most of Saturday, but when I saw my friends, they could tell I wasn’t quite right.
“I don’t like to see you sad,” was a text message I received that day. “Been sad a bit too often lately,” was the best thing I could come up with as a response.
Sunday I requested a meeting with the company president. Monday I went in and resigned, gave my two weeks notice after only five weeks on the job. Our conversation was peaceful. Whether I was working or not, I was going to be in Chicago for a wedding in late July. The stars had aligned in a way that Big Ten Football Media Days, held annually in the Windy City, were scheduled to take place the same week as the wedding.
It was easily the coolest event I had ever covered, but as I filed my final story (some piece about whether Adrian Amos or Stephen Obeng-Agyapong might see snaps at linebacker in the fall) sadness crept in.
The next minute was spent rummaging through my notes seeing if there was any other angle I could reasonably turn into a story. I didn’t want it to end, but anything else would have really been forcing the issue at that point.
I caught a cab back to my hotel and drove 75 minutes to a different hotel where the wedding would take place the next night. Aside from collecting my final paycheck, I never had to see my editor again or return to that office, but the thing that I had devoted the most amount of energy to over the past year was gone.
After the wedding and return trip, I spent about another week in State College hanging out and then returned home to Philadelphia.
My confidence from the past two months was still pretty shaken. I applied to some jobs in Philadelphia, New York, Florida, California, and other places, but there were some days where I got pretty discouraged.
Watching Penn State football last fall was weird at first. For better or for worse, covering sports changes the way you view things. Instead of “WOO! Allen Robinson touchdown!!!!” it becomes “Alright, how many touchdowns is that for him on the season. How many yards? Gotta tweet that Update the live blog. Dammit, why won’t you refresh and update?!! Okay got it, phew.”
Bill O’Brien turned out to be exactly what that program needed at the time and a lot of fun to cover, but unlike 95 percent of the fanbase, I didn’t view him as a demigod who was saving the program one win and verbal commit at a time. To me, he was just some social media hating, football loving good man who I sat 10 feet away from every Tuesday afternoon as he answered questions from reporters. Occasionally if he disliked a certain question, he would let the person who asked know about it, myself included. (Maybe I’ll do a post on this down the road for anyone who hasn’t heard the story)
Back on topic though, last fall was weird. I was still sort of in reporter mode, so during games I tweeted any stats I could think of. Some people on Twitter thought I was still covering the team at first and not just watching games from my living room couch.
I don’t think I really cared either way about the final result of games until Bill Belton received a handoff from Christian Hackenberg, darted left off tackle and raised his arms above his head a few yards deep in the end zone against Michigan.
Being back in Beaver Stadium against Illinois a few weeks later and sitting in the stands rather than the press box for the first time in nearly two years was odd for a few minutes, but my love was slowly coming back.
Aside from that and the Eagles though, I didn’t get excited about much in the fall. There were days where I was still pretty down from the summer and just couldn’t completely snap out of a funk.
My 9th grade class had voted me “Most Likely to Succeed.” If they saw me over these past seven months, they’d find their choice pretty hilarious.
During some bad days, I contemplated getting out of the media altogether, but then I think back to my peak time at Onward State where some wide-eyed college senior with a full course load was getting linked by ESPN three times a week and getting retweeted left and right on Saturdays while keeping thousands of people informed.
I want that feeling and sense of fulfillment again. Last summer my boss made me feel like a real worthless person, but deep down, I know that’s not true. I still have a lot to learn and there’s always room to get better, but I have ideas about digital and social media. I’m waiting for the right person and company to listen and give me a chance.
I’m 23 years old. I love Chip Kelly, Dunkin’ Donuts french vanilla iced coffee, Pete Carroll, no-huddle offenses, wheel routes, well-run Twitter accounts, Wings Over Happy Valley, Chipotle, Otto’s Apricot Wheat Beer, Domonic Brown, Cliff Lee, and Claude Giroux (mostly in that order)
I hate close-minded people, the Dallas Cowboys, punting on 4th and 1 no matter what the line of scrimmage is, and burning timeouts in the first or third quarter of a football game.
The rest of it I’m still trying to figure out and find my place in this peculiar world.
As long as I have this blog running, I hope you will join me in the process.