Career Shift: From Sports Journalist to Construction Storyteller
This is the seventh in a series of posts featuring insights from professionals who work in the architecture, engineering and construction (A/E/C) industry.
Many folks may be tempted to retire after an incredible career, but Norm Sanders wasn’t one of them. After 32 years with the Belleville News-Democrat — where he covered everything from St. Louis Cardinals World Series and playoff victories to the St. Louis Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf — Sanders left his job as a sports writer and signed on as a senior writer at McCarthy Holdings, Inc.
“When you leap to a completely different kind of job and setting, covering something you’ve never covered before, it takes a little bit of thought, preparation and trepidation,” he says. “I wondered exactly what was going to happen, but the transition has gone really well. I am very happy that I switched to this job and I am really enjoying the new work. McCarthy is a great company and the switch has reenergized my career.”
Looking back at his journalistic career, Sanders says it was always a challenge to cover a topic he didn’t know much about. But he thinks that should never prevent a skilled writer from getting the job done.
“Do your homework, get out to talk to as many people as possible and then get to work,” Sanders says. “If you’re a good writer, your job is to tell stories. It doesn’t matter if it’s a quarterback on a football field or a project manager on a job site, if you’re a good writer you should be able to tell their stories either way.”
One of his favorite recent stories involves McCarthy’s current redevelopment project at Washington University in St. Louis. He wrote about two employee crossing guards who were known for their exceptional work and unmistakable personalities. He also captured photos and video to complement the story.
“These women are at a really busy intersection right at the main campus,” says Sanders. “They’re smiling, laughing, doing a little bit of dancing at times, just having a lot of fun with it, all while making sure everybody is safe. It’s not really a construction story, per se. It's about what the women are doing and how much everybody is appreciative of how they do their jobs. And it’s about what they’re doing for their company to promote safety.”
Embracing Social Media
Like every journalist, Sanders has had to adapt to the Internet and the rise of social media, which have allowed consumers to get and share the news faster than ever before.
“If you look at newspapers and other news organizations, most of them are doing their job with a lot fewer people than they employed 10 or 20 years ago and in some cases, five years ago,” says Sanders, who discovered the vast potential of Twitter to sports and media platforms early on. “You’ve got fewer people trying to do more on a greater number of platforms, including social media and video. Using Twitter to post story links, videos and photos is a powerful tool that quickly became commonplace for myself and most other sportswriters.”
Sanders believes today’s news consumers value timeliness above everything else.
“Consumers want the information right now,” he says. “To some of them, finding out what’s happening at a particular sports game or news event — this very second — is more important than having this deep analysis and quotes from coaches and players the next day. They can always come back for that and many appreciate it, too.”
Though Sanders is fond of his days as a sports writer, he is extremely excited about the newest chapter in his career. As a member of McCarthy’s corporate communications group, he’s particularly inspired by the level of teamwork he’s witnessed.
“McCarthy doesn’t rely on any one person to carry the department,” he says. “The way everyone works together is almost seamless. It might be two or three of us — or every one of us in the entire department working on a project at once. You hear a lot of people say that about their companies, but here it’s a real thing. I’ve seen great teamwork in action.”
McCarthy Building Companies is a current Plotlines client.
Previous A/E/C Stories posts:
Top 5 Marketing Dos and Dont's
Discovering the 3D World of Experiential Graphic Design
3 Essential Tips for Launching a Successful Communications Career
Fate Led This Aspiring Architect Toward a Career in Photography
Detroit Native Returns Home to Accelerate the City's Revival
Reflections on Three Decades of Architectural Recruiting