Wednesday, October 22, 2008

So You Want to Work in Sports?: Jimmy Traina, Senior Producer, SI.com

Over the next several weeks, HHR will be interviewing 20 and 30-something-year-olds in various careers in professional, amateur and collegiate sports to get a take on how they broke into their respective industries and to offer tips how ambitious sports-related job seekers might do the same.

Today, we interview Jimmy Traina, age undisclosed, Senior Producer at SI.com. A name known universally to sports bloggers, Jimmy runs the Extra Mustard page and Hot Clicks section at SI.com.

Name: Jimmy Traina
Age: Ugh.
Position: Senior Producer
Organization: SI.com
College Major: Broadcasting
Prior Sports-Related Experience: Worked at WBAZ radio on Southold, Long Island, Scorephone and AP

First, tell us about your work prior to SI. What were you responsible for at your stints at WBAZ, Scorephone and the AP.

At WBAZ, I was on air and read news. I hated it. It was a very local station and they wanted me to do reports on the Strawberry Picking Festival taking place that weekend. I was miserable and the job sucked. At Scorephone, I recorded sports scores and news updates every 15 minutes. That was a fun job. And at AP, I wrote game previews.

Can you give me an overview of your current position, and the course by which got you there?

My current position is Senior Producer and my responsibility is handling the Extra Mustard page and writing Hot Clicks. I started at SI eight-plus years ago as an editorial assistant and basically worked my way up, becoming an associate producer, producer and now senior producer. At one point or another, I've worked on almost every sports section on SI.com.

Basically, I run the Extra Mustard page on SI.com and write Hot Clicks. In addition to putting out Hot Clicks every day, I edit and post the rest of the Extra Mustard columns, do the production work for those columns.

Before the page was "Extra Mustard," it was "Scorecard Daily" and I did the same thing minus Hot Clicks. Before that, I mainly edited and produced columns for various sports across the site. I started here 8-plus years ago, and got the gig through a friend who was working here at the time.

So it's who you know not what you know?

Who you know plays just as big a role in landing a job in sports as anyting. The other big factor is luck. I think what you know is a very small part of it.

It seems you have mostly editorial responsibilities. How much original work do you produce for the site?

Well, I produce Hot Clicks every single day. I also produce our weekly "Did You See That" (formerly called "Caught in the Act") photo gallery. I'll also put together other photo galleries (Leryn Franco, Minka Kelly, Maria Menonous -- do you see the trend here?), do interviews and other miscellaneous features.

Given your college major and your experience in radio, did you ever think you'd not only get a job in print media, but remain there as long as you have? Any interest in pursuing something on-air or are you content with the direction that your career has taken you.

I wasn't focused on getting in radio or TV as much as I was focused on just getting a job in sports. The Internet really came into play just as I was finishing college, so the timing worked out perfectly for me. I think in this day and age, working for a sports site is just as good, if not better, than working for a sports radio station or sports television station. I'd have interest in pursuing something on air, but I'd still make sure I had some Internet presence as well.

We've seen you describe this elsewhere, but it's been a standard question that we ask...Can you take us through your typical day?

Get on my Long Island Railroad train at 7am. Fire up my laptop and start going through e-mail. I get to the office at 8. I either listen to Howard Stern on the Internet or, these days with it being election season, I put on Morning Joe on MSNBC or Saved by the Bell on TBS, and I go through even more email and start surfing the 'Net and I start to put together Hot Clicks. A big part of that is finding the photos to use. Some days, that takes more time than you'd think. I work on Hot Clicks until 10:30, when we have our daily staff meeting. After that meeting, I clean up any typos in Hot Clicks, switch out or Campus Clicks section, update our Hot Clicks Facebook page, and then I get started on my other work for the day. But all throughout the day, I'm still surfing sites for the next day's Hot Clicks and I'm still dealing with tons of emails.

How many different blogs do you have bookmarked in your web browser?

More than 200.

And what are your must-visit straight news sources?

Hmmm. I can't say that I rely on straight news sources much these days. I do read the NY Daily News and NY Post first thing every morning. The first sites I tend to go to are Drudge Report, Huffington Post, Perez Hilton, People.com, Big Lead, Awful Announcing and Ballhype. I usually check those 7 sites first each day and then go from there.

On average, how many emails do you receive from bloggers looking to push some of their work? How annoying does that get?

I don't know how many I get but I do know that I can't keep up with it anymore and it usually takes me a couple of days to respond to emails. I easily get more than 100 a day. The only time I get annoyed is when it's clear that someone has had all their friends send me the same link, and I get 10 emails within 2 minutes of each other, all telling me I should check out the same link.

Do you consider yourself a king maker and pseudo-celebrity among the blogosphere?

I definitely don't consider myself a pseudo-celebrity. I wouldn't say I'm a king maker, either. I'd say that I do have a little bit of power in that I can drive traffic to places. But I think that's more of SI.com's power than my power.

Which blog would you consider the model by which others would be best served emulating and why?

I think there are a lot of good blogs out there and there are different ones to emulate depending on what you want to do. The key is figuring out exactly what you want to be. Do you want to focus on one specialty a la Awful Announcing, which covers the media, or do you want to cover the entire sports landscape, a la Deadspin. Once you narrow that down, I'd say, just use a simple, basic, plain layout that doesn't shove tons of ads into the readers face. I'm a big fan of With Leather's layout because they really draw you in with a big, eye-catching photo. The Big Lead also has a simple, yet eye-appealing layout. And I'm still a fan of blogs that use the simple Blogger format, a la Mac G's World and The Big Picture.

When compiling Hot Clicks, is there anything specific that you look for in terms of content and/or format?

I'm just looking for things I think the readers will enjoy. I have to appeal to the regular SI.com reader and the blog audience, so things that have a broad appeal work best for me. The funny thing is that I think bloggers think they have a better chance to get picked up in Hot Clicks if they send me something chick related, but the truth of the matter is it's much harder for me to find good sports links that T&A links. Now, don't get me wrong, I appreciate the links that have to do with eye-candy. But I have the SI Swimsuit collection at my disposal, so I always have that in my back pocket. But unique sports pieces are harder to find on a day-to-day basis. I can't really say that there's anything *specific* I'm looking for. I know what I'm not looking for, though -- anything that's just straight analysis.

Do you take the time to read all of your email? Or do you have an intern to weed through all this daily armchair babble?

I definitely read all my email. I try to replay to all of it, too -- and I used to up until recently. But I'd say I still respond to about 90% of it. I don't have an intern but I want one -- badly. I want to do some sort of Hot Clicks contest where I find an intern, but I don't think the powers that be at SI.com would go for it.

While there is an (unnecessary) riff between new and old media, SI has gone as far as to list best team blogs in its print editions. Other sports news sites, and most papers, have brought on their own authors and set up blogging features on their respective websites. Your position is unique in that you deal with both factions very intimately. What is your take on the simultaneous adoption of blogging platforms by the MSM and their vocal displeasure with many independent blogs?

I am in a unique position because I work for an MSM site but the main part of my job is dealing with blogs. The ironic thing is that I'm not a blogger and I don't really consider myself part of the MSM, so the whole thing is screwed up from my perspective. I'll just say this: I think sports fans *need* MSM sites AND blogs. MSM sites can't do or say what blogs can say or do. And blogs aren't gonna break as much news as MSM sites. So I think both have an important role in today's sports media landscape. In my opinion, blogs are the voice of the fans. The MSM can't be that (although there are plenty of MSM members who are clearly fans of teams and players, though they'd like you to think otherwise), so blogs are only gonna gain in popularity. But the MSM still has access that most blogs will never get. So they'll always have that advantage. I say everybody should just get along and love each other.

How long do you foresee staying with SI, and what would your ultimate career goals be?

I don't know and I don't know. Hot Clicks has only been around for a year and a half so I've been completely focused on that and haven't really thought about the future too much.

Do the big wigs at SI purposely put teams they want to fail on the cover or do they deny the curse exists?

Ha. Good question. I don't think they do, but who knows.

You seem to have an affinity for old school wrestling.

Greatest tag team ever and why?

Oh man. I think I'd have to go with the Road Warriors. I used to be legitimately scared of them when I was kid. The face paint, the spikes on their shoulder pads, the vicious way they wrestled... I was in awe but petrified at the same time.

Better 1980's Champion: Hogan or Flair?

Ric Flair, hands down. I never ever got the whole Hulk Hogan thing. Even as a kid, I always wanted the bad guy to beat him. I always thought he was incredibly boring. Flair, on the other hand was anything but. From the robes to the hair to the Four Horseman and all the hysterical sayings (Space Mountain, to be the man, you gotta beat the man, etc) Flair, was a billion times more entertaining than Hogan.

Let's play a little word association:

Vince McMahon: He is wrestling.

James E. Cornett:
I loved it when he used the tennis racket.

Sweet Saphire:
How did Dusty Rhodes allow Vince McMahon to have her be part of his gimmick?

The Bushwhackers:
I was always grossed out by them licking people.

The Fabulous Freebirds:
Very underrated tag team. Great entrance music. But I didn't like when stragglers came into the Freebirds. To me, the Freebirds is Michael Hayes and Terry Gordy and that's it.


What's the most rewarding part of your current job?


Getting emails every day from readers who say they love Hot Clicks. I also love getting emails from people who respond to something I write or from people who react to something in Hot Clicks and send me follow up links. The readers will often drive Hot Clicks in the direction they want it to go in and it's awesome. Recently, I had a video in Hot Clicks of some amazing catch. The next thing I know, I have tons of emails from people sending me more amazing catches. I love that. The other rewarding part is knowing that Hot Clicks is always one of the most-read pieces on SI.com.

Biggest perks?

I've gotten a couple of free T shirts. That's about it. Honestly. More free shit would be nice, but oh well.

Biggest hassles or obstacles?

I can't use about a billion photos that I'd like to use because SI.com doesn't have rights to them. I get killed with photos every single day. Blogs just use whatever they want and I'm beyond jealous for that -- and that's another reason why blogs are important for sports fans. I also can't curse on SI.com, which sucks. Prime example was this past Monday. I featured the video of the referee forearming the South Carolina player. I had to write "What the hell?" What I really wanted to write was "What the fuck?"

Anything you would have changed during college to better prepare you?

I would've focused more on English, grammar and writing classes.

Relevant courses or internships you'd recommend?

Like I said above, take as many writing classes as possible. No matter what form of media you get into, writing is vital. And I'd recommend doing as many internships as humanely possible. That's how you make connections and that's how you end up in this business.

What advice would you offer those looking to follow in your footsteps?

Like I said, do as many internships as you can, make as many connections as you can, and if you can get a job -- ANY kind of job -- in the industry, take it and do it. Just get your foot in the door. Once that happens, anything is possible.

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See all our "So You Want to Work in Sports?" Features Here.

4 comments:

Ethanator1088 said...

Awesome interview. I recently contacted Jimmy through email, and he is very nice.

I love that yall had a little wrestling flashback. I was so lost, but I enjoyed it. I know about the bash brothers, but "The Fabulous Freebirds" is beyond me.

Thanks for doing this HHR.

Docksquad said...

Great interview man. Definitely love both your sites. Keep up the great work.

BlueWorkhorse said...

Great interview. That's some great stuff that has led me to read all of the remaining interviews. As an aspiring journalist, I really appreciate this series HHR!

MMayes said...

I love it that he's a fan of the LOD and The Nature Boy.

And when you're talking about Fabulous Freebird entrance music, it's got to only be "Freebird" and not "Badstreet USA." The further down the song you went the badder it got.