By Mujtaba Syed
Originally Published in The Heights: Wednesday, February 27, 2013
“I’ve only worked at one paper for 45 years,” said Bob Ryan, sports correspondent at The Boston Globe and BC ’68. “I promise you, you could parade in here the next 10,000 columnists in America and not one of them would say they’ve only worked at one paper.” Ryan spoke to a crowd of faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students interested in sports journalism on Tuesday in Gasson Hall. He was invited back to his alma mater to be the latest speaker in the “Career Conversations” program, sponsored by the Boston College Career Center.
Arriving at BC in 1964, Ryan began his collegiate career as an English major and a play-by-play commentator for WVBC, the original campus radio station. He joked about his initial thoughts about The Heights, indicating that he steered clear of the student newspaper because he knew he would not be able to cover his favorite sports during his freshman year. He went on to explain, however, how both his course of study and his primary extracurricular activity changed as his BC career progressed. Ryan would graduate a history major and a three-year writer for The Heights.
“The second year, I did go to The Heights,” he said. “One of my best friends had become an editor and I knew he would let me cover what I wanted.”
After discussing parts of his academic career, Ryan proceeded to focus on his career trajectory. While working in the sports information department at BC, he built powerful professional relationships with prominent BC athletics employees. Drawing on these relationships as he graduated BC, Ryan was able to secure an internship with The Boston Globe—which would prove to be the final destination in his job search.
“If it weren’t through that connection through sports information, I frankly have no idea what would have happened,” he said. “It was very simple—my path was utterly atypical.”
Using his personal experience as a backdrop, Ryan went on to highlight perhaps his most sincere advice concerning careers: each individual’s career is so unpredictable that students should never get lost in planning their every move.
“People always ask me what they should be doing to get a job with a big newspaper,” he said. “This is the question I dread. I don’t know how anyone does it. I just know how I did it.”
After joining The Boston Globe in 1969, Ryan went on to work as the beat writer for the Boston Celtics throughout the 1980s. Moving on to a role as general sports columnist, he covered all four major Boston sports teams through championship seasons and reported on 11 Olympics and 20 NCAA Final Four tournaments.
Moving on from the discussion of his career, Ryan turned the focus of the discussion to contemporary issues in sports journalism, changes over time in his work, and his outlook for the future of printed press. He first focused on the art behind the work that has defined his career.
“‘Sports writing’ consists of two words,” he said. “The second word is much more important than the first. Writing is distinct and separate from sports—it is the hard part. Pride in writing was what got me in the business.” He continued, highlighting the necessity of sports journalists to possess a natural aptitude and affinity for the art of writing in addition to their passion for sports.
Transitioning to a slightly bitter note as a question geared the conversation toward the writer-player relationship’s change over time in sports, Ryan admitted that certain positive aspects of his early career could never be enjoyed again.
“In those days there was no feeling of an adversarial relationship,” he said. “Now, players take to social media to get their name out to the public instead of the press. We’ll never have as much fun as we did.”
Finally, Ryan provided analysis on the future of print media. Signaling a large-scale move to digital news services, he indicated his belief that within 10 to 15 years, the last newspaper will have printed. While some of the audience present may have been appalled at the prediction, Ryan accompanied it with positive sentiments about the breadth of talent in journalism that continues to grow.
“There’s never been so much good writing going on as there is now,” he said. “The writing aspect will never change.”
Amidst the predictions, analyses, and memories, Ryan provided a lasting reminder of what drives powerful sports writing—a demonstration to the aspiring writers sitting in Gasson Hall of the inspiration behind the man who had once been in the same position.
“I soaked up every minute I was covering sports,” he said. “I love the games, the competition, watching people winning and losing. I love the stories. And that transcends everything.