Scott Barboza: Interviewed on May 7, 2011
Position: Co-Editor, ESPNBoston.com High Schools
Born: 1984, Fall River, Mass.
Education: Emerson College, Bachelor of Science, Broadcast Journalism
Career: Taunton Daily Gazette, 2005-07; New England Patriots (Media Relations), 2007-10; ESPNBoston.com, 2010-present.
Personal: “I live with my wonderful girlfriend, Jenna, who is my best friend, my muse and my personal editor. She’s a features writer at the Providence Journal and is the best writer in the household, as far as I’m concerned.”
Favorite restaurant (home): “You really opened up a can of worms there. And Jenna’s big on “exploring” new places to eat for her job, so we eat out quite a bit. We live in Pawtucket, R.I. and I must say that the Providence area has a good food scene for a city its size. But I’m going to have to go with Persimmon in Bristol, R.I. It’s a hidden jewel.”
Favorite restaurant (away): “I’ll break this one down. I know this is a cop-out, but any chance I have to indulge in my inner-foodie, I take. In Boston, it’s L’Espalier and Craigie on Main, with a special mention to Barbara’s Lynch’s Drink for cocktails. In New York, you can’t go wrong with Jean George, classic French comfort. Most recent addition to the list is Eric Ripert’s Blue on Grand Cayman, which we got to last week. It was an unparalleled dining experience, practically theatrical.
Favorite hotel: “When I was working for the Patriots, we stayed at the Hilton La Jolla and the room overlooked Torrey Pines and the Pacific. My one regret is that it was a work trip and didn’t have my clubs.”
Q. Describe a typical week in your job?
A. The one thing I’d say that I’ve learned and have adapted to when moving to ESPN Boston is that the online news cycle truly doesn’t end. Dealing mostly with high schools sports, things tend to have a more established pace, with games held in the afternoon or at night. But it’s sometimes hard to settle into a consistent sleep schedule. We’re posting items as soon as we have them ready, so whether it’s 8 a.m. or midnight, we’re still on the clock.
With that being said, I probably allocate about 40 percent of my work week to writing. I’d say about 40 percent of the time is spent researching for our various polls, looking at feature story ideas, setting our budget and assignments for our freelancers. The other 20 percent, that comes with the managerial side of the job, is paperwork. You need to make sure everybody’s getting paid for their work at the end of the day. The one thing I can usually count on is a somewhat restful Sunday. There usually are no games, so that’s when I rest up, run errands and plan for the week ahead.
Q. Social media requirements?
A. I maintain the official ESPNBostonHS Twitter page. Mostly, we use it to link to our stories as they’re posted. Sometimes, particularly in the postseason tournaments, when people are looking for score updates, we’ll live tweet from games.
Q. How did you land your job?
A. I’m a firm believer in that things happen for a reason — not in the fatalistic sense, but more in the sense that there’s a unifying order to the chaos of the universe. I was working in my first full-time job at the Gazette when the paper was sold and there were a few jobs that were lost during the acquisition. That was a real-life reminder of what’s happened to many talented people in the business and it put the fear of God into me while thinking about my long-term career outlook. At that time, I was looking for another way to make writing my living and started looking at working for a pro sports team. My friend had been the season-long intern in the Patriots Media Relations department during the 2006 season and suggested I’d think about applying, given my mindset at the time. That eventually parlayed into a full-time gig with the Patriots and it was through that job that I made the connections to jump into ESPN Boston.
I can honestly say that this is the job I would have envisioned myself doing, coming out of college, with the ability to work in multimedia while writing. It was the right fit at the right time.
Q. What are the boundaries in covering high school sports that perhaps don’t exist for covering college or pro sports?
A. If anything, there are fewer boundaries. That obviously begins with access. It’s not as though you’re dealing with SIDs or PR people to set up interviews, etc. Most of the time when we cover a game, we still get the “Ooh, it’s ESPN” treatment, which makes the job a whole lot of fun.
Now, with that being said, I don’t think high school athletics is today what it was in my parents’ generation. I’m going to speak in a broad brush stroke saying that I think there are a good number of parents out there who view their child’s athletic abilities with rose-tinted glasses. That may have always been, but what I’m fairly sure hasn’t always been is the money that now surrounds high school aged athletes. Whether it’s the AAU coach painting a false image of a basketball recruit’s future or parents paying for private golf swing coaches, things have gotten a little out of whack and money is usually at the heart of it in one way or another. Where there’s money, there’s politics. And where there’s politics … well, you know how that goes.
Q. What sort of stories get the most hits? Least?
A. I’m not speaking from a statistical standpoint, but from a comment-based standpoint, it’s always features. I think the best way to gauge audience reception to our product is through their participation and, nine times out of ten, that will happen with a well thought-out feature over anything else. I think any audience gravitates to the human element of any story you can tell. At the end of the day, game stories are centric to the representing communities or people with interest in those sports. A good feature told well transects all demographics.
Q. The story you are most proud of at ESPN Boston and why?
A. I’d have to go with my first. We spent a lot of time and gumption in lifting the site off the ground last year, but it was a lot of fun, too. There was a lot of excitement seeing the final product in its digital “flesh” for the first time. I spent one early morning in Gloucester. The town has been a traditional power in football and part of the success has been this summer training program
. There was something very “Chariots of Fire” about the whole thing, watching the kids running through the surf. It was a lot of fun to report and it felt like the culmination to the beginning of something special.
I also have to give a shout out to my co-editor Brendan Hall, to whom I owe much gratitude and couldn’t do the job without. There was the great story of Mike Slonina, who decided to shoot baskets for 24 hours straight to benefit cancer research. Brendan stayed up all day and all night to follow the story and wrote this
. It was a true testament to his commitment to his craft.
Q. What sort of stories are you drawn to and why?
A. Mostly narratives. Life is just a long, continuous chain of conversation. And I find the stories that I enjoy reporting the most and are the best in quality are typically stories I’ve found by just talking to people. Those stories are out there in the ether and it’s just about asking the right questions to channel into them.
Q. What sports media do you consume and how do you keep up with sports?
A. Let’s start with ESPNBoston.com and ESPN.com on the internet. I do a lot of driving going out to games and whatnot, so I listen to a good amount of sports talk radio, too, for better or for worse. And then there’s the iPhone. Between podcasts and the apps, it makes the act of aggregating news so much easier with the benefit of taking it on the go. Smart phones are the next news platform.
Q. Who were your influences?
A. I don’t mean to be sappy, but I have to first mention my parents and my grandparents. From taking the time to read to me as a kid, they rounded me into the person that I am. Not to mention, they are the greatest people I know.
My high school English teacher, Dr. Sullivan, too, who first made me believe I could do this for a living.
In the literary canon, Hemingway and Joyce. I’d throw Vonnegut in there, too. Studs Terkel’s “Working” is probably the greatest thing anyone on this planet will ever write. Howard Zinn for his courage in making history accessible, relevant and telling it through the people — David Halberstam, as well. Michael Lewis, goes without saying. Steve Coll, for his reportage. I read everything of Charlie Pierce, Chuck Klosterman and Chris Jones. I’ll throw Stephen Hawking in there for the nerd in me. In television, Peter Jennings was the reason I wanted to get into journalism in the first place.
In working the pro sports beats, Mike Reiss is about as good as it gets and it’s a privilege to call him a co-worker now. While we’re at it, Gordon Edes is a real bard who even volunteered to cover a Thanksgiving Day game for us this year.
And, of course, there’s film with Federico Fellini, Terrence Malick, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson. If I’d never heard Radiohead’s “Kid A,” life would be empty.
Q. Advice for making a career in sports media?
A. I think if I’ve learned anything from my short experience is that there’s no one way to do it. There are many paths you can take to find the end. The one thing I do suggest is to always make yourself available. Once you have your foot in the door somewhere, anywhere, you’ll probably end up OK. The landscape seems a lot bigger and daunting than it actually is, but the truth is that pretty much everybody knows everybody else.
Also, ask questions. I was a know-it-all as a kid, then I grew up and found it’s much better to ask people who are older than you what they think. They’ve been there, they’ve done that. And that’s invaluable. More often than not, people are willing to help; that is just as long as you willing to help yourself.
Q. Career goals?
A. I can honestly say that I’m very happy where I am right now. I enjoy working with kids and the job is satisfying creatively. I don’t know if it’s so much a goal as it is an ambition, but I’d hope to write at least one book in my life. Actually, make that two — one non-fiction and one fiction. And I’ve always wanted to get into the director’s chair, so let’s add a documentary to that list, too.
(SMG thanks Scott Barboza for his cooperation)