Black, White and Maize all over

by azaleon

If you ever get the chance, take a look at Tim Rohan’s class ring.

“MICHIGAN DAILY” is engraved in the space on the side normally reserved for a major.

Rohan came to the University of Michigan thinking he was going to leave with a degree in engineering, just as his mother had. But on his graduation day in 2012, Rohan had earned a diploma in sports management.

“(Sports management) was a little less rigorous and allowed me to spend more time at the newspaper,” he said.

Rohan covers the Mets for The New York Times, his first full-time job out of college.

A year before Rohan graduated, Ryan Kartje finished his bachelor’s in American Cultural Studies.

“If you can tell me what that is, good for you,” Kartje said with a laugh.

He is the UCLA beat reporter for the Orange County Register and an on-camera contributor for Fox Sports 1.

Nicole Auerbach, another 2011 grad, came to Ann Arbor considering a future in business or economics. During her freshman year, the best friend of the student living across the hall introduced Auerbach to the Daily.

“Had I known I was going to go into sports journalism, I would have applied to Syracuse, Northwestern and those journalism schools,” she said. “But I wouldn’t trade this for the world. If I didn’t go to Michigan, I wouldn’t have made the connections I have. I think everything, including running into that girl at my dorm, happened for a reason.”

She is a national college basketball reporter for USA Today, her first full-time job out of college.

All three went to Michigan, which neither has a school of journalism nor offers a journalism degree program. Yet, their success, and the success of other sports journalists coming out of The Michigan Daily, proves a formal education in journalism is not needed to succeed and brings into question whether students are better off without it.

“I preferred not going to a journalism school,” said Rohan, who wrote “Beyond the Finish Line,” arguably one of the best sports stories of 2013. “If I was sitting in class, listening to a lecture, maybe I wouldn’t have had as much time to work at the Daily and that’s really where I grew up.”

It’s not just the trio of Auerbach, Rohan and Kartje.

Chantel Jennings, Class of 2011, covers the Pac-12 for ESPN.com

Chris Herring, Class of 2009, covers the Knicks and NBA for the Wall Street Journal.

Scott Bell, Class of 2008, is an assistant sports editor at the Dallas Morning News.

Stephen Nesbitt, Class of 2012, covers West Virginia football and Duquesne basketball for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Michael Florek, Class of 2012, writes for the Dallas Morning News.

“We all have the same experience,” Auerbach said. “Since we don’t have a journalism school, it’s sort of us against the world. We’re figuring it out as we go and I think that’s a source of pride.”

Breeding Success

What was going on within the walls of the Daily that produced some of the brightest rising stars in the industry?

Part of it was an awkward marriage of competition and camaraderie akin to a journalistic Hunger Games. Part of it was being entrusted with a sports section noted for excellence and the expectation to leave it better than you found it.

Part of it was being in the right place at the right time.

Kartje said that when the Ann Arbor News stopped printing in 2009, the Daily was happy to fill a void that had been created in the community.

“For a while, the Daily was one of the most trafficked news sites in Ann Arbor,” Kartje said. “I think it started before us, where there was that window of opportunity. People started working harder. We weren’t scared to go up against AnnArbor.com.”

The expectation was to cover one of the most high-profile athletic departments in the country as well as –if not better than- professional news outlets. That included breaking news and writing features with an added layer of depth. Just as Kartje had written his Denard Robinson profile from reporting done in Deerfield Beach, Florida, AnnArbor.com came out with its Robinson story from reporting done in Deerfield Beach -albeit three weeks later.

“What we do in the real world is the same stuff we did in college, but on a bigger scale,” Rohan said.

High expectations extended to life outside of the school year.

“When you see people around you applying for internships after freshman or sophomore year, you’re more likely to do the same,” Auerbach said.

The Daily kids created pipelines for each other at certain papers.

Following her sophomore year, Auerbach interned at the Cape Cod Times. A year later, Rohan (who is a year younger than Auerbach) was at the Cape Cod Times as a summer intern. He followed that up with an internship at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Rohan said that since his summer at the Inquirer, the paper has hired interns from the Daily on two separate occasions.

Following her junior year, Auerbach interned at USA Today. Kartje was at the same internship a year later.

“I followed the people who were ahead of me and they followed the people who were ahead of them,” Rohan said. “When you come to the Daily, everybody is getting internships.”

Auerbach noted that every fall, Daily writers would return to campus better than the previous year thanks to those internships. Each member of the staff was bringing their own experiences from the summer into the paper’s student-run newsroom and collectively implementing what they had learned.

The sports staff tinkered with new ideas that came with…mixed results.

“At the Daily you were free to experiment,” Rohan said. “My senior year I wrote an 11,000-word feature, which is absurd. That would never be printed unless I was the editor and I was.”

Lessons from within the newsroom also came in the form of guest lectures from alumni like Sports Illustrated’s Mike Rosenberg, as well as Knight-Wallace Fellows based at the University.

The finished product consumed by readers across campus was a result of dedication, pride and learning experiences. But Daily alumni agree that one of the biggest driving forces behind their work was competition from each other.

“We’re all super competitive,” Kartje said. “Nicole (Auerbach) and I had a bit of a rivalry and she pushed me more than I could ever push myself. Everybody wanted to write that big story.”

Competition was contagious and bred higher standards.

“If you’re around other people who want to do this for a living, they’re going to make it a priority and try their hardest,” Auerbach said. “And that rubs off.”

Learn by Doing

By graduation, Auerbach had amassed a resume that included an internship at USA Today, as well as bylines in the Detroit Free Press, SI.com, ESPN.com and Wall Street Journal.

She weighed the option of graduate school, but ultimately stuck with what worked.

“Around graduation some people asked if I was going to grad school,” Auerbach said. “I told them I wasn’t. I was going to try and do this. I had an internship at the Boston Globe that summer. I was going to go there, get the most experience I could writing and reporting. That’s the education I was looking for. You can go to graduate school, that’s fine, but I wanted to do it the way we did it at the Daily, where you learn by doing.”

She called working at the Daily an unofficial double major. Rohan’s class ring took that definition to another level. Kartje said his time spent at the Daily outnumbered his time doing anything schoolwork-related by at least a three-to-one margin.

“(Prior to college) I had heard you didn’t need a degree in journalism. I had a few freak-outs about that initially, but then I went through everything and realized the whole process of having a journalism school is completely unnecessary,” Kartje said. “It doesn’t hurt to have one, but as long as you’re spending the type of time I did at the student newspaper –I was probably there 50 hours per week, at least- that time is more valuable than any class. I tell people I majored in The Michigan Daily. Anything I did in school was probably less valuable than the time I spent at the newspaper.”

Their journalism degree is a series of clips from major publications across the country.

Their journalism school was a newsroom located at 420 Maynard St. in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Their results speak for themselves.

“People just assume that you majored in journalism when you’re in this field,” Auerbach said. “I have to explain it’s not a major at Michigan and there is no journalism school. In this profession, we all know it’s about what you’re doing. Clips get you jobs.”

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