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Q&A; with Sandy Malcolm

VP of Programming and Production, PlayON Sports

An Inside Look at Being a Sports TV Executive

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After 15 years of hiring television production staff Sandy Malcolm knows what she is looking for in an employee.

“I look for people who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and work. I want smart, capable people who can make decisions in the absence of detailed instructions” says Malcolm, VP of Programming and Production for PlayON sports. “They need to have a good head on their shoulders and show that they have worked to gain some experience and insight into what it takes to succeed. They need to show that they are the kind of person that goes above and beyond what is asked.”

When did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career in Sports TV?

I actually knew at a very early age that I wanted to be in sports TV. I wrote a paper in middle school on my future career in which I said I wanted to be a sports broadcaster. I remember I had cut out all these pictures including Dick Enberg, Brent Musberger and Phyliss George who had her much talked about debut with the NFL Today on CBS a couple of years earlier. They took a lot of flak for hiring a former Miss America, but for girls who wanted to go into sports broadcasting she was all we had at the time.

Sandy Malcolm’s Sports TV “Stats”

sandy malcolm sports tv executiveEducation: University of Maryland

Production Jobs held:, Writer, Field Producer, Producer, Senior Producer, Coordinating producer, Executive producer, VP of Programming and Production

Stations: Newsfeed (Washington D.C.), ABC News (Washington D.C.), CNN Headline News CNN International, CNN, CNN/Sports Illustrated, CNN.com (all in Atlanta, GA), PlayON Sports

Best piece of advice:. It is very important to establish contacts and to work hard to leave a good impression. Word of mouth definitely can help you get in the door. Then it is up to you to land the job.

What was it about a career in Sports TV that originally lured you?

I’ve always loved news and sports. I watched, played and talked a lot of sports with my dad as a kid. And I loved news, current events and history. Even as a child, I read the paper (yes the actual pulpy substance that they used to deliver to your door step) every day.

Where did you go to school and how much did it help you in your Sports TV career?

I was fortunate to grow up in Maryland near the Nation’s Capitol and one of the biggest news markets in the country. I attended the University of Maryland where I majored in Journalism. At the time you could pick an "emphasis" area in print, broadcast or PR. I chose broadcast and minored in History.

My education at Maryland was extremely helpful. Even though the equipment wasn’t the best in those days we did have cameras and editing equipment. For our first broadcast journalism class we all were assigned a local "beat" and where all expected to go out and write, report and produce pkgs as well as help fellow students with theirs by acting as camera person.

We also had a weekly 15 minute news show that helped teach us about studio production. I also wrote some sports stories for the college newspaper for a semester and I DJ’d at the college radio station.

capital hill newsfeedWhat was most helpful though was my broadcast teacher recommending me for an internship with a small news gathering organization on Capitol Hill called "Newsfeed." I had the chance to go out and gather soundbites and video from around DC for local stations throughout the country who wanted the news from Washington that specifically affected their area.

I learned so much and got to do so much that the hands on experience was invaluable. I had a chance to intern with one of the big local TV news stations in the DC market which is a top 20 market. But it just really wasn’t for me. You were expected to sit on the desk and answer phones. I switched to the internship with Newsfeed and never looked back. It may have not have been as big a name but it was all about getting the experience and the work. It also lead to my first and second full-time jobs in the media out of college.

Was your education geared toward technical produciton, or more towards theory, writing and ethics?

My education was a mix of technical, theory and writing with more emphasis probably on the theory and writing. I think that was helpful. You can learn a lot of the technical things you need to know on the job. But for everything you do you really need to have a really good solid, foundation in how to write a basic news story.

It is also good to have a background in how the profession has evolved and what are the basic theories and fundamentals of journalism. I also think that an understanding of history, current events and politics is important so you know what’s going on in the world and have some historical perspective on the events of the day.

Where did you land your first Media job?

I got a radio job all the way back in high school by walking in the door of the station one day and asking for a job. I had no experience. But it was a good first lesson in the idea that you never know until you ask.

In college I worked for a few semesters at the newspaper and radio station. It didn’t pay but it definitely help me gain the experience needed to land my first job. I can’t say enough how important it is to get real world experience when ever and where ever you can as soon as you can.

I interned at an affiliate news service called Newsfeed in college. It was a non paying internship as were almost all internships in media at that time. That lead to my first professional job in TV. They hired me right after I graduated to be a field producer. From there I moved to ABC News in Washington as a desk assistant in the ABC News radio group on the recommendation of someone who I worked with at Newsfeed.

One of the first very important things I learned about the business. That it is very important to establish contacts and to work hard to leave a good impression. Word of mouth definitely can help you get in the door. Then it is up to you to land the job.

After your first few months did you know you made the right career choice, or were there concerns?

I really loved my job at Newsfeed. As I said, they let me do a little of everything. And for a kid right out of college working in a major news market like DC that just didn’t happen all the time. I moved to ABC when it looked like Newsfeeds future was a bit uncertain.

They were eventually bought out by Ted Turner and combined with his Newsource operation which was part of the fledging CNN operation. Little did I know that that organization would factor prominently in the majority of my professional life.

What is the most difficult thing about working in Television?

You have to be ready for the very long and at times odd hours and the very low starting pay. But I really enjoyed it so much that all of that didn’t bother me too much. But if you aren’t prepared for that and are looking for the quick road to big money TV IS NOT IT.

How has your career developed in titles, responsibilities and locations?

Newsfeed – Field Producer gathered soundbites and video from Congress, White House and other government entities for an affiliate news service
ABC News – Desk Assistant Assisted radio anchors and newsgathering personnel, edited soundbites for air

From ABC News in Washington I moved to Atlanta to work for CNN. I was growing restless at ABC. It was very much a Union shop at the time (as where all the TV networks) and there were very strict rules about what you could and couldn’t do and what equipment you could touch. I wanted to do more. So, I took a leap of faith and moved to Atlanta to work for CNN which was still a relatively young and unproven network at the time. I know some questioned my decision. But I never looked back. It was a great move for me. Lesson there… Don’t be afraid to take chances! I moved around among several of CNN’s networks and was able to get a diverse and well rounded experience.

Here are some of the positions I held:

Headline News – Video Journalist – CNN’s entry level program where you do everything from run camera, teleprompter to run tape playback.cnn front door
Associate Producer & Writer – wrote scripts for air and produced news shows also helped produce content for the newly started Airport Network.
CNN International – Producer & Writer – Produced a variety of shows and specials for the network; wrote, copyedited and pkg produced as well.
CNN – Producer – Produced for a variety of different shows including the morning news show.
CNN/Sports Illustrated – Senior Producer & Coordinating Producer – supervised various production personnel, developed and oversaw various shows and programming initiatives.
CNN.com – Executive Producer for Video – oversight of all of CNN.com’s video entities including all their on demand video clips on the website, Pipeline/CNN.com Live- CNN’s web exclusive live streaming network; both live and on demand mobile video; Cable Video on Demand
PlayON Sports – VP of Programming and Production – oversee all aspects of production and programming for a start-up media company that specializes in low cost production alternatives for the streaming and telecast of high school sports events.

Do you have any advice for someone considering a career in Sports TV?

Make sure you are in it for the right reasons. It is rarely glamorous! The days are long and it can be stressful. The hours can also be all over the place from days to nights to weekends. The starting pay is also very low. It needs to be something you want to do. Once you decide it is something you really want pursue go out and get all the experience you can with whatever media outlet you can to see if you like and to build your resume and range of skills.

Do you have a memorable story – whether funny, sad or just interesting – that you’d like to share?

I have a lot of great memories through the years and have worked with some amazing people. I’ve met some famous people and have witnessed firsthand some historic news and sports events.

I’ve also been through some tough times. I’ve had two of the networks that I’ve worked for shut down and as a result I’ve seen a lot of really good people laid off. Even I haven’t been immune from that. It is important to remember at the end of the day that it is a business. You should always give it your best and do everything you can to get ahead. But you also need to look out for yourself and your own career and maintain a healthy work/life balance. If you don’t look out for yourself no one else will do that for you.

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