September 23rd, 2010
This editorial is written by FasterSkier Associate Editor Nat Herz.
In the past year, I have reported on cross-country ski races in the U.S., Canada, and Germany. I have been to the Olympics. I have played poker with Petter Northug.
My boss’s idea of a performance evaluation is telling me when my classic technique could use some improvement. In the winter, a tough day in the office means that I needed handwarmers. In short, I have an awesome job.
I got into journalism after high school, when somehow one of my teachers conned Bill McKibben into reading a bunch of essays I’d written for my senior project. Much to my amazement, he liked them, but he also said that my skills would be much enhanced if I found a way to engage in some “conventional journalism—working for the local paper, or some such.”
When Bill McKibben dispenses advice, you listen. So I did the obvious thing: As a freshman at Bowdoin College, I applied for the school paper. After an initial rejection—“there were many very qualified applicants, and not enough spots to hire them all”—I ended up working there for four years, publishing a grand total of 63 articles with headlines like “Hawthorne-Longfellow [Library] to reduce spending on hard copy journals,” “Sculptor replicates deteriorated gargoyle,” and “Sushi kick starts Asian Week.”
Laugh if you must, but those articles—combined with a few key blog entries—were enough to convince Topher Sabot that he should hire me to work for FasterSkier. And while the cross-country ski community arguably had never had a full-time beat reporter in the sport before, my work was immediately welcomed and accepted. Athletes have let down their guard, revealed their hopes, dreams, and fears. Coaches have welcomed me into their wax trailers. Andy Newell let me help demolish his outhouse.
All of this has been fun—I’m confident that my next job is going to be a big letdown. But I’m pretty sure that the cross-country ski community has also benefited from FasterSkier’s big push in the last few years. Who doesn’t like to read about Kikkan Randall’s latest exploits? Who doesn’t want to know the reasons behind those U.S. Ski Team cuts?
I believe that an independent source of news is crucial in nourishing a vibrant cross-country ski community in North America. Skiing needs, and deserves, professional journalism. And just like the U.S. and Canada could always use more athletes training full-time, so could the ski media use more journalists to cover the sport. More than anything, when I’m done working for FasterSkier, I hope to be in heated competition for stories with reporters for SkiTrax, SkinnySki, and maybe, if the sport gets big enough, The Boston Globe or the New York Times. (One can always dream.)
How do we get there? In my opinion, we need more people in the ski world to make a bigger commitment to writing and reporting. Because FasterSkier isn’t going to have the money to hire away journalists from the New York Times any time soon—not that they’d be able to tell you the difference between klister and hard wax, anyway—we’re going to have to create them ourselves. If you’re a college student who wants to stay involved with the sport, but you know you’re not going to be able to ski for CXC when you graduate, try writing an article about your team for the school newspaper. If you can start in high school, even better. It doesn’t have to be official—start with a race report for your team’s blog.
Don’t worry if your writing isn’t good at first—even Andy Newell sucked the first few times he strapped on skis. Just keep at it. The reason that I’ve done all right over the past year is not because I’m smart or talented. It’s because I practice a lot. It took all 63 of those articles in college—even “Sushi kick starts Asian Week”—to bring my skills up to the level where I wouldn’t embarrass myself when I started working for FasterSkier. And now, I treat my work for FasterSkier as my job, and I work at it as hard as I can—to borrow a phrase, I’m “All In.”
After seeing the e-mails pour in in response to our advertisements for summer and fall interns, I know that there are likely dozens of potential huge baller ski journalists out there. While we’ve hired a few, we’ve also had to turn many away, and the primary reason was because of a lack of experience. I’m not saying that you have to have written for the New York Times in order to write for FasterSkier. But I do think that there’s a misconception among people in the ski community that writing and reporting is something that can be picked up immediately. In one sense, it seems reasonable—anyone can sit down at a computer and type out a story. But to do it well takes practice. Just like it takes hours and hours of training to make a good cross-country skier, so, too, does it take sentence after sentence to create a good reporter.
There are so many amazing stories in the world of cross-country skiing. The challenge of the sport—the numbing overdistance sessions, the brutal pain of racing—lends itself to great narrative. My goal is to tell these stories with the same passion that their characters possess. And my hope is that my work inspires at least a few others to do the same.
– Nat Herz