Philadelphia Eagles beat writer Zach Berman detailed his journey from fan to reporter during this week’s “Pizza With the Pros.”
The Philadelphia native currently covers the Eagles for The Athletic but had bounced around the North East before landing his dream job. Whether it be Berman’s time at Syracuse University, the Washington Post, or the Star-Ledger as a New York Giants beat reporter, his time prior to landing in Philadelphia brought forth valuable lessons that he shared with students in attendance.
Relationship making was a major discussion point for Berman, noting how influential it was to his success in the sports journalism field.
“The time to make a friend is before you need one,” Berman said. “If there’s news, and it’s the first time you are reaching out to someone, why are they going to help you?”
Employing this mentality was essential to him developing a more versatile skill set. Having built connections with everyone possible, from owner to equipment manager, the reporting scene became easier for Berman — and he implored students to do the same.
As an example, he recalled that his first encounter meeting former Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins was not at Super Bowl LII, but in his childhood home after they signed him in 2014.
The importance of a reporter being seen, “not just in good times and not just in bad times, but all those times in between,” cannot be understated according to Berman.
Throughout his career track, Berman made it a point of emphasis to position himself for whatever opportunity comes next, believing a linear path will open the door for him at each step.
Although an ambitious frame of mind, Berman admitted ignorance when discussing further, “The place I am working at did not exist 10 years ago.”
The Athletic, founded in 2016, has grown to be one of the most prominent sports coverage outlets in the world but was not a place Berman ever expected to end up — as it hadn’t existed for more than a decade. He detailed the importance of students staying prepared for their dream job, as they will never know when it will become available, and in what manner. For Berman, the switch to The Athletic was beneficial for his writing style, but the consistent tunnel-vision focus on the Eagles for over seven years at the Philadelphia Inquirer made him aware of the need for work-life stability.
“Balance is hard to achieve, it is more of a trade-off,” Berman said, although it appears to be an in-season/offseason job, reporting for the Eagles is a year-round process, and it requires sacrifice on the personal level, “every day I’m thinking about the team.”
Most recently, Berman has had to study nearly 300 prospects in preparation for the late-April NFL Draft. He gladly gave his prediction for the Eagles’ two first-round selections; the first going to a big-bodied defensive lineman, and the second to a skill position player. Being on the beat, it is a requirement for Berman to be knowledgeable of the first-round prospects, but those the Eagles might pick in the later rounds as well, with prospects that have less publicity.
The NFL draft is one of the most grueling parts of the NFL season for media, although it occurs over two months after the Super Bowl. Ironically, he explained how the three hours the Eagles play on Sunday are the hours he is least valuable.
“I’m seeing the same thing everyone else does,” Berman jokingly said, citing the only notable difference during games is that he gets to relax in the press box.
Being a beat writer for a professional football team is no simple job, Berman emphasized, especially for that of a fanbase like Philadelphia. The intensity of the fandom has not only kept Berman’s credibility in check but has forced Berman to adapt to new circumstances.
More specifically, Berman highlighted the newfound importance of Twitter for journalists. When first joining in 2008, he was shocked to see the possibility of articles being shown without passing through the original website beforehand. Nowadays, the barrier to entry has changed, as anyone with access to Twitter is now accessible to view your article.
“Lifespan of news lasts thirty seconds,’ Berman said of today’s media.
On Twitter, it could be even less, but the inflated sense of pressure only increases. He pointed out to students that he has had to adapt to that feeling, and to remember that the loud minority of people that are on social media are just a fraction of the faithful fanbase of which Philadelphia is comprised.
“If you were to put a poll up on Twitter of Philly’s favorite sportswriter, they would say Ray Didinger — someone who does not even have an account,” Berman joked, but this helped him understand the sporadic nature of Philly sports fans.
To conclude his discussion, Berman detailed the importance of internships for students looking for careers in sports media.
“There’s no way into it, but when the door cracks open you better push it through,” Berman said, advising students to get involved in any manner possible, as it can prove beneficial for an unforeseen opportunity.
Pizza With the Pros returns next week as public relations executive and Rowan graduate Greg Casterioto speaks.
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