A People with Passion series
December 6, 2011: Jon Greenberg
In the 17th installment of Jack M Silverstein's Chicago journalism People With Passion series, ESPN Chicago columnist Jon Greenberg discusses his path to ESPN, and why "don't write for free" is faulty advice.
At what point did you know that ESPN Chicago was going to be something getting under way?
I think I read it like everyone else did. And I don’t remember where I read it first, but it hit the wire local, and I looked at the story and the only guy quoted was some guy in Bristol. I waited and didn’t do anything, and then I thought, Man, I should really just apply. I mean, I applied late.
I was talking with a buddy of mine. His girlfriend knew someone at the radio station, and he and I were talking about it. He’s like, “Dude, you gotta apply for this.” He was already part of ESPN at this point, but he didn’t even know. Nobody knew what was going on with this. She gave me just a random sales guy she knew there. She e-mailed him for me, which was awesome. That really helped.
He just gave me the name. If I emailed the guy at ESPN, maybe he passes it along, maybe he doesn’t. I didn’t know anybody there but a couple of reporters. So I email the contacts I get. I send my resume, cover letter. I just did links to clips. I almost think that’s easier nowadays. Just in an email. I didn’t mail this huge package.
I was doing columns for the Huffington Post too – I forgot to say that. In 2008, I’m like, I’m not doing enough. A.P., you’re doing game stories. MLB.com, same thing. Daily Herald I think had petered out at that point. Their freelance budget was down. So I emailed the Trib, the Sun-Times, and the Huffington Post Chicago with ideas. Like, “We need to do maybe more of a deadspin-type thing for your site. Like a fun blog for your sports site.” McGrath didn’t email me back, but I think that was around the end of his time. The Sun-Times didn’t email me back, although I noticed they started something. I don’t know if they did it at the same time or if it was after I wrote it. (Laughs.) But they did do one exactly like I said.
And then the Huffington Post guy emailed me back. He works for the News Cooperative now. Ben Goldberger. He’s like, “Yeah, I like it, let’s do it.” I was writing like – man, I’m not saying they’re that great, but Huffington Post you can write whatever you want. I think at one point about the Cubs, I said, “Even Sarah Palin would want to abort this team.” I mean, can you believe that got in? That was during the ’08 playoffs after they lost Game 2.
Anyway, what I was saying was I didn’t know I was applying to be a columnist [at ESPN]. They were like, “Do you have any column clips?” I sent them column clips and they were like, “We really like these.”
That’s a lesson, and I’ve said this before to kids and other people. People say, “Don’t write for free.” Well that’s b.s. Don’t get taken advantage of, but writing is writing. And it’s not writing for free. If you’re getting something out of it, it’s not free. My wife even used to kid me. She’s like, “Why are you working so hard on these Huffington Post columns when you’re not getting paid?” “Well, I’m working on my writing.” I’d love to be getting paid. But that helped me get this job. I wouldn’t have gotten this columnist job I don’t think without it.
Enjoy this interview? Click here for a longer version as Jon discusses Chicago literature, the life of a sportswriter, and the most horrific day of his Pittsburgh fandom.
PREVIOUSLY IN THE SERIES:
(NOTE: The dates below refer to the date of the interview. The order is the date they were run.)
October 21, 2011: William Lee, Chicago Tribune breaking news crime reporter
November 4, 2011: Elaine Coorens, Our Urban Times founder
November 4, 2011: Andrew Barber, Fake Shore Drive founder
October 21, 2011: Jane Hirt, Chicago Tribune, managing editor
September 19, 2011: Andrew Huff, Gapers Block founder
September 21, 2011: Chris Cascarano, Chicago News Cooperative, video producer
September 30, 2011: Christie Hefner, Playboy, former CEO
September 15, 2011: Alden Loury, Chicago Reporter, publisher
August 17, 2011: Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune, editorial board and columnist
September 13, 2011: Kimbriell Kelly, Chicago Reporter, editor
August 26, 2011: Chuck Sudo, Chicagoist, editor
August 17, 2011: Clayton Hauck, photographer
December 12, 2008: Alex Kotlowitz (re-edited August 15, 2011)
August 10, 2011: Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune, columnist