by Nicholas Creegan
When students are given the opportunity to be an intern at the company of their dreams, they have two options. They can sit back and let the summer pass them by while doing the bare minimum, or they can rise above mediocrity and propose novel story ideas.
I decided to be that rare intern, in the latter group.
When I started at ESPN in Bristol, Conn., I was excited, and nervous. I knew that the 39 other interns were more experienced and had attended more prestigious journalism schools than I.
But there was one thing I was sure of: Nobody wanted to succeed as badly as I did. That is a generalized statement, but it served my purpose. I knew the humble beginnings I represented, and I was determined to do everything necessary to be that intern the higher-ups would be reluctant to forget.
I was assigned to ESPN’s digital media department, which is basically ESPN.com. As the only intern in the department, I was the youngest person by 10 years and had no peers to talk with about “young people” things.
That was a blessing in disguise because it meant that my older colleagues could hear my insightful comments about subjects ranging from sports to attracting the younger urban demographic to ESPN’s shows and publications.
For my first assignments I followed the strategic planner to meetings. She took notes and I listened. The meetings were important for the ESPN brand but had nothing to do with hands-on journalism.
I learned a lot from her, however, and appreciated the clearance I had while accompanying her. During that week, I shook hands with ESPN broadcasters and saw how the inner web of the business side worked. But I dreamed of actually doing an interview. I was sure my 10 weeks could be better spent.
I decided to write a proposal. The worst that could happen was that my supervisor would say no, right? I wrote down every goal I had set for myself, such as interviewing athletes, covering a major sporting event and landing a travel assignment.
The next day, as my supervisor read my proposal, I said, “With all due respect, Mr. King (Rob King, senior vice president of ESPN.com), I didn’t come here to sit around. I came here to prove that even though I am not from a traditional journalism school, I can work hard and give you great results.”
King smiled and said that he was impressed. In granting my wishes, he said he was interested in seeing just what I could do.
The next work day, I found a project briefing in my email. It said that Cedric the Entertainer would be on the ESPN campus and that I would interview him about his love of sports as well as his new show “The Soul Man” for the entertainment section of ESPN.com. I couldn’t wait. I prepared by watching his show, researching his background and interests and reading what other journalists had to say about him.
When I sat down with Cedric, it felt like we were having a conversation rather than an interview. We laughed, debated sports and talked about life. My article was well received, and I got more opportunities to interview celebrities and athletes, including Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies and the inspiring auto-racing driver Danica Patrick – yes, she looks that good in person.
My supervisors also sent me to the NBA draft to interview the top draft prospects. I had an all-access pass to the events. It was a dream come true. My summer was becoming the best I’d ever had.
During the second-to-last week of my internship I was getting my hair cut and noted to myself that I hadn’t done any video work. The barbers were discussing the NFL season outlook. The conversation was getting heated to where I felt like I was watching an episode of the ESPN morning talk show “First Take.”
That’s when I decided to write one final proposal. I wanted to do a barbershop fan-speak episode in New York City. King loved the idea and contacted ESPN New York. Because of this string-pulling, I became known as “The Envy of the Interns.”
I went to Levels barbershop in Harlem to chop it up about the Jets and Giants. It was the most fun I had all summer. The guys were super-animated and the conversation went well.
The 10 weeks of my internship were grueling, and the writing intensive, but I didn’t feel like I was “working.” I enjoyed every moment I spent in Bristol. Interning at ESPN inspired me to keep honing my skills as a digital journalist. As long as we keep the right mindset and attitude, no dream is too big.
Nicholas Creegan is a senior communications and journalism major at the University at Albany. He was a Summer 2012 Chips Quinn Scholar for ESPN. Creegan has been a field reporter for Albany Student Television and a host-panelist for UA Overtime, a campus sports debate show. In the summer of 2009, he completed the Lead America Journalism and Mass Communications Summit at Columbia University. He is a member of XAE National Honor Society.