Fred Mitchell is known as being one of the most respected sports reporters in the business, but that is only the tip of the iceberg of accomplishments he has made in his career. After working as a coach and English teacher at Grove City High School, the former semi-pro football player decided he wanted to change his environment and left his job to pursuing his career in reporting.
“Bill Lawry assisted in getting me more interviews for writer, public relations, those sorts of things,” Mitchell said. “I told him I would like to be a sports reporter, so he made a contact and I got started in an entry level position as copyeditor. I had to put in long hours of learning the profession. Three years later I was doing sports; I was fortunate and in this business time is everything.”
Besides being an award winning journalist he is also the first African American to write for the Chicago Tribune. He was always known as the tech guy around the office with all the gadgets he uses as backups to get the job done. He says that what is different from today’s journalism is he no longer has to get through the noise of phones and typewriters.
“One of the changes in the 20 to 25 years is we used to be in the office on a regular basis. We would be at a desk in the office and be in our cubicles. Nowadays anyone hardly goes in these offices. I have embraced new gadgets and I was the first one to use the fly cam. I used to get teased about it, now everyone is required to do it.”
As the Cubs were about to play game two against the New York Mets, Mitchell begins talking about his life, goals, and how the cubs might have a chance at the World Series.
DePaul– Tell me a little bit more about you personal success
Fred- I have been writing for the Tribune for about 41 plus years. I started there in July 1974, and I have done everything from copyeditor to covering high school sports. I covered the Chicago Bulls in the 80s for three seasons; then from 83-88 I covered the Cubs; and from 88-95 I covered the Bears. I started writing columns that used to be called The Odds and Ends, but it’s now called Around Town. For the last 4-5 years I’ve been covering every sport from college football, to Northwestern basketball. I’ve done a lot of television for Comcast, WTTW, and other programs. I am the only reporter that has covered every sport.
DePaul– How does it feel to be the only reporter to handle the three major sports (Cubs, Bulls, and Bears)?
Fred– I learned immediately the paper business is gratifying, but there is an accurate sense of urgency, you have to be quick. It’s like having a term paper due every day. I had to have a plan A, B, C, and D just in case. I had to develop a sense of patience. When I go to the Tribune the noise was extraordinary, I had to cradle the phone on my shoulder while typing over the noise on the typewriter. Copy editor is important because we have to look over the grammatical and create the headlines, so yeah…
DePaul– What kind of gadgets do you own?
Fred– I have my personal cell, which I am talking to you on now; I have another cell phone issued by the Tribune. I have an LG tablet, everything on my computer for creating stills, audio, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I also have a backup tablet; my last one got soaked in the Cubs locker room when they beat the Cardinals. Champagne was everywhere, and it must’ve soaked through it. So I have my backup that I used to cover the Iowa game; there are a lot of benefits to it.
DePaul– What is your view on the Cubs and the two superstitions of the goat and the Back to the Future prediction?
Fred– Superstitions are made to devote the attention away from human failures. Look at the Bartman game, they were quick to blame him, but not focus on the short stop Alex Gonzales double play mark that fell apart. It’s easier to blame others like Bartman, but superstitions make for a great story line.
DePaul– Do you see sports reporting is making the transition from newspaper to tabloid?
Fred– Absolutely, we’re seeing a lot of this now. The quality of the story is down, and some sites do it for the clicks no matter how well it’s reported. The amount of attention it’s getting is a concern, the attention span has changed. They use shorter stories, pics, and graphics to grab attention even if it is not the best written. Nowadays the best ways to getting in through blogs, tweets, , social media, and then from print. These are the five stages of news, and we have an advantage, because we can update stories as more facts come in.
DePaul– What are some techniques you can share with students who are looking to break into the sports reporting field?
Fred– Good question. A lot of things changed in the past seven decades, some better others not so much. The thing is anyone with a cell phone can report with less credibility. Good writing with good ethical manners is always respected. Being a good listener; me personally I think sometimes it’s a detriment, and it shouldn’t be about the person who is louder or outrages. Chase facts and information so they’re respected and trusted, some don’t even care if they’re right or wrong. Again, I am the first African American to work there and I am proud of that. There are greater representation, but not so much for minorities, even gender, but don’t let that be an impediment . All news organization are important whether it’s print, radio, or online.