By: Adam White, @FOSAdam
Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Brian Fitzsimmons, Sports Editor for AOL.com. From athletic communications at Sacred Heart, to running the AOL Sports page, Brian has seen his career take a meteoric rise in under 10 years. An award-winning author for his work on Celtic Pride: How Coach Kevin Boyle Took St. Patrick to the Top of High School Basketball, Brian has felt all the ups and downs and faced all the adversity of a young writer. After spending four great years at MSG Varsity, Brian moved into his new position at AOL where he couldn't wait to face the challenges his new role would present. With great excitement and enthusiasm, he took a few minutes out of his day and graciously offered up his time and insight into what his journey has been like, how to succeed in the sports journalism world, and why being patient and having a good listening ability is key.
From working in athletic communications at Sacred Heart, to your current position as the Sports Editor for AOL.com, you have come a long way. What has your journey been like?
I can’t believe it has been such a short amount of time since I graduated. So much of my journey has been filled with a lot of fun, a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of help. There have been numerous occasions where people have reached out to me and gave me a hand when they didn’t have to and that has always stuck with me. It took a lot of work to get where I am today, but I understand the help I had. For me, the only way to be successful is to help as many people as possible without asking for anything in return.
What was your inspiration behind Celtic Pride? How did the success of that book help your career?
Getting to the point of committing to write the book was a perfect storm. When I was younger, my biggest goal in life was to write a book. I never lost that passion. When I was the Managing Editor for MSG Varsity and I was covering all the top tier high school sports, I was around St. Patrick and the great New Jersey basketball scene all the time. While immersed in that environment, I realized that no one told Kevin Boyle’s story and that it was one that needed to be told. It came about when I mixed finding the right story, with the passion I had for writing and the desire to write a book.
You have been the Sports Editor for AOL.com, for just over a year now. What is your day-to-day life like and what are your goals for the site in terms of creative and fresh content?
It is impossible to dissect my day-to-day, as no day is the same. When I accepted the position, I was staring at an up hill battle. I was given a blank page in which I had to build a huge mansion on. It has been quite a sprint. Each day has been compelling and the people have been so inspiring. Every day I learn something new and I am able to teach someone something new. We have been able to grow our content tremendously, grow our video capabilities and reach; as well as creating the most seamless possible user experience. We started the year with a blank canvas, and we ended it by being the cover story on Ad Week.
So many students today want to get into the field of sports journalism. What would be your words of advice when it comes to those wanting to work in that industry?
For me, the best tool is networking. Being able to forge relationships with people is probably the biggest and most important ingredient to success. There are a lot of little things that people can do as well. You have to get on LinkedIn and connect with people that you look up to. There is nothing wrong with asking them for advice or asking if they want to go for coffee. If you forge a relationship with people, they will be able to help you in more ways than one.
What is the biggest mistake you see students pursuing a career in this field make?
Not pursuing enough internships and not broadening their horizons. Too many kids stick to opportunities on campus. Not that they are bad opportunities, but there are so many more out there. If you allow yourself to broaden your horizons, you will learn so much more. There is a whole world out there where you can grow your personal brand. It’s something I wish I had done better as an undergrad.
When hiring new writers what is the one thing you look for on the resume and in the interview process?
You want a resume that is clean, well organized and without grammatical errors. Take advantage of the career development programs in your college. They have such great resources at their disposal.
During the interview, I look for someone who is going to be a good teammate. I want something that is enthusiastic and truly loves what they do.
Be patient. You don’t need to stress about getting a job as much as you think you do. I have been there and I was scared, but I chose to have faith in myself and be patient and, in the end, I was rewarded. Along with patience, you have to be able to trust the process and trust your journey. Make sure at all levels you listen. Without good listening skills, you won’t make it very far.
In the year since he has been there, Brian has been instrumental in revitalizing AOL's sports content with features such as the College Contributor Network and 2 Point Lead. Judging by his leadership abilities and excitement for his position, it is evident that AOL has found the man to help lead their sports division into the future. We would like to thank Brian for his time and insight and wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors. You can follow him on Twitter here or connect with him on LinkedIn here!
A year ago, AOL.com launched the College Contributor Network. The CCN is a new initiative that has become the go to place for aspiring sports journalism students to hone their journalism skills. It allows students to produce engaging content for one of the largest outlets in the U.S. All students have an unprecedented experience through editorial freedom and networking. You can check it out and apply to become a college contributor at http://www.aol.com/article/2014/09/25/welcome-to-the-college-contributor-network/20967738/