Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Isaac Berky: Full-Circle


Story by Matt D'Ambrosi
Photo via www.kfyrtv.com

SYRACUSE, N.Y.  It appears that the tables have turned on Isaac Berky - and for good reason. 

It wasn’t too long ago that he was a graduate student at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications having to conduct an interview with a sports-media professional as part of a class assignment.

Now? Berky is one of the professionals.

He earned his master’s degree in Broadcast and Digital Journalism from Syracuse in 2014, and currently works as a Sports Reporter/Anchor at KFYR-TV in Bismarck, N.D. 

In conversing with Berky via telephone about some of his experiences, there seemed to be a common theme: that the professors and alumni at Syracuse are a tremendous resource for students. 

"My advice to anybody is try to make as many connections as you can with the people around you at Syracuse, but also with other Syracuse grads," Berky said. 


He said such efforts to reach out and expand one's network will be well worth it. 

"Most people from Syracuse are going to do what they can to help you out in any way possible," Berky said.  

To listen to my entire phone conversation with Berky, click here. A written transcription of that same conversation follows below.

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Matt: First and foremost I just wanted to say thanks for taking time out of your day to, to chat. I really appreciate it.

Isaac: Yeah, no problem. I’ve been in your position before – a couple years ago. So, I know how it goes.

Matt: Yeah. So, I’m going to try and start, at least, chronologically. I saw online that you graduated from Syracuse in, in 2014 for your master’s. I don’t know if the structure of the program was the same but I’m currently in the “boot camp” phase. Does that sound familiar?

Isaac: Oh, yeah.

Matt: So, yeah. I’m, I’m three weeks in, so, just kind of getting my feet under me and everything. Were you in the Sports Communication Emphasis?

Isaac: Yup,

Matt: Okay.

Isaac: I was.

Matt: Okay. So, you had Professor Nicholson?

Isaac: Yup, I sure did. So.

Matt: It’s a lot of hard work. But, it’s, it’s fun. So, I’ll get into it. First, do you mind if I record this?

Isaac: No. Go for it.

Matt: Alright. Perfect. I appreciate it. So, I, I keep hearing that the program flies by and I really want to make sure I get the most out of it. What were some of the things you did during your time in Syracuse that really helped you professionally?

Isaac: Well, first, it does fly by. I’ll just go head and say it, it flies by really fast. But, it’s a lot, you know, it’s a lot of hard work. But, when you’re done, you’ll look back and you’ll be really thankful for everything that you were able to do and all the time you put in. Now, to your question. For me, I think one of the biggest things that I was able to do was, I interned with the Crunch in Syracuse - the American League Hockey team.

Matt: Right.

Isaac: And that, for me, because hockey has kind of been – hockey has been my thing. I played in college. It’s been my sport forever. Hockey play-by-play has kind of been my long-term, term goal. So, being able to work in that organization and do that was something that really helped me, that I, I was able to learn a lot from. But, the other thing that I think Syracuse provides you with a great chance with to do, and especially with the Sports Comm Emphasis, is the ability to network with other people and work hard. But, also you’ll get to learn from some of the best. You’ll have people coming in all the time. So, it’s, you know, it’s one of those things where you just got to just take advantage of every opportunity that is presented to you whether it’s going to listen to Sean McDonough talk about, you know, talk, before he calls a Syracuse-Duke basketball game or, you know, if it’s just some, if it’s a writer who’s in town talking about a new book. It’s those things where you just kind got of, I don’t want to say you have to say “yes” to everything because then you kind of, if you do, you get swamped. But, you want to take as many, you want to take advantage of as many opportunities as you can while you’re there.

Matt: Absolutely. Yeah. That seems to be a big theme I keep hearing is a lot of people come during the year and speak. We actually already had Anish Shroff. I don’t know if you’re familiar with him. He does play-by-play for ESPN.

Isaac: Oh, yeah.

Matt: He was here. And you know, it’s 11 days in so that’s definitely something that I’m going to try and continue to do. I know you’re in Bismarck. Is that correct?

Isaac: Yeah.

Matt: For KFYR.

Isaac: Yeah.

Matt: Walk me through the timeline starting with graduating from Syracuse to, to where you are now.

Isaac: Well, so, when you finish this, when you finish classes you have to do a capstone internship. I’m not sure how much they’ve talked to you about that and if they’ve even changed it at all. But, for me, my capstone was, I had my capstone internship at the NBC station in Minneapolis. There’s a, their weekend sports director, or their weekend sports anchor, sorry, is a Syracuse grad by the name of Dave Schwartz – great guy. So, I ended up interning for him, during the, I guess it would’ve been, it was after newscast class. So, it would have been July and into August out there. So, I guess that would’ve been July, August, of 2014. So, when I finished up with that, I kind of moved back into my parents’ basement, you know, had my reel put together, and just kind of started sending out stuff to every possible sports job that was open. It didn’t really, you know, it didn’t really matter where it was. It was, you know, you got to throw, you got to kind of use what I call the “monkey-crap approach” where you just gotta fling your stuff at the wall, and something’s gonna stick somewhere. And it kind of just ended up that Bismarck was – now Professor Nicholson would probably kill me for saying this – but Bismarck, Bismarck was actually not the first job offer I got. I actually turned down the first job-offer I got. I wouldn’t always recommend that. But, for me, I, I did. Because, it was, it was a – like I mentioned I’m a hockey guy – and it was an offer in a super small market in west Texas where the closest rink was I think four hours away and the pay was almost non-existent. As in, it, I, it almost wouldn’t have been able to live off of what they were offering as far as pay-wise. So, I turned that down and then, I want to say late, mid-October of 2014, I interviewed with the station in Bismarck and got offered the job. And so, moved up there a couple weeks later, and started working there. So, it was kind of, you know, it’s, it took a lot of patience to wait to finally get a job offer but it finally came.

Matt: You had mentioned that kind of what led to all this was the internship in Minneapolis. Was that something, how did you go about pursuing that while you were in Syracuse?

Isaac: Well, you, everyone will have to do a capstone internship or at least everyone in our program did. It had to be outside of, outside of Syracuse. So, we couldn’t stay in. We had to go to a station or something else or a media outlet somewhere outside of Syracuse while all the news people go to DC. And for me, it actually worked out that because Dave is a Syracuse grad, I think Professor Nicholson got in touch with him or he got in touch with Professor Nicholson, and told him, you know, “Hey we’re looking for, we’re looking for interns. If you have any people that need to, need internships, you know, have them send me their stuff and we’ll go from there.” And so, myself, and actually two other Syracuse guys from my grad class, ended up interning out there. And all three of us actually ended up getting jobs in the Upper Midwest. So, it just kind of happened, you know, it was one of those things where the, you’re, you’re gonna hear the term the “Newhouse Mafia” a lot over the next year, and it, truly, the “Newhouse Mafia” helped out because that led to my internship and then my internship there, my bosses knew the sports director at KFYR in Bismarck. And so, you know, when I sent my stuff there my boss in Bismarck called the guys in the cities and asked them about me and it kind of, one led to the other and I ended up getting a job up there.

Matt: I saw online that you’re from Tennessee. Is that correct?

Isaac: Yup.

Matt: That’s obviously, I could, I haven’t been to either place but I imagine that’s a lot different than Bismarck. You had mentioned that you turned down the first job offer. I’m assuming there’s hockey in Bismarck. That’s kind of what led you there, as well?

Isaac: Yeah, there is. You know, there’s, there’s a lot of high sch-, there’s a lot of high school hockey as well as University of North Dakota hockey is king up there.

Matt: Right.

Isaac: And, you know, I got to, I, actually my station sent me down to Tampa for the Frozen Four when UND won the national title this last year. So, yeah, it was kind of one of those things where I knew there was hockey up there and UND hockey is, UND hockey is king and it just makes for some great opportunity.

Matt: Can I ask what a normal day is like? Just, and I, I, you know, I’m just, there’s no normal day. But,

Isaac: Yeah.

Matt: A shift, kind of like, the hours you work, at least.

Isaac: Right. So, there, I’ll give, I’ll give you two answers to that question because for us, the school year is completely different than the summer. So, for me, during, during the school year, I’ll usually get into the office anywhere from – Monday through Thursday – well, my, my days off are Tuesday-Wednesday. So, let me backtrack here. So, really during the school year there’s weekdays, there’s Mondays and Thursdays for me which are kind of, I get in probably 1:30-2:00 o’clock and then from there it’s putting together sound-bites to use for the 6 o’clock show, or, you know, going out to interview high school teams, high school kids because in Bismarck, we don’t have any pro teams. You know, people are fans of the Twins and the Vikings, but we don’t have pro teams in Bismarck. So, all our coverage is really high school sports. That’s what, that’s what we focus on. We have a Division II college in town that we do a lot with. But, other than that, it’s all high school sports. So, it’s, I mean, my days usually consist of, whether it’s, going out, talking to coaches, high school coaches, high school players, or if it’s a game day going out to shooting highlights of high school games, coming back, editing them together and getting them ready for the 10 o’clock show. So, a normal, I guess, sorry, I’m trying to answer your question all in one here. So, normal hours, for me? During the week? Could be anywhere from, you know, ‘bout 2:00 to 10:00, 2:00 PM to 10:00 PM. On the weekends it’s completely different because it’s kind of a, you gotta get, you know, you gotta get everything. So, weekends, I can work anywhere from, you know, I’ll go in anywhere from 10:00 AM to noon and I’m always there until after our 10 o’clock newscast, at about 10:35, I guess, is when we go off air.

Matt: Yeah it’s long days. One thing that I’m, I’m adjusting to is, I guess during undergrad, it was kind of like, once you finished your assignments, it was, that was kind of over with. You didn’t really take it with you to the next one. But, a theme I’m seeing is, you know, news, I guess, doesn’t sleep for lack of a better way to put it. So, you know, kind of just constantly catching up on everything. What are some things you do outside of the normal work day that, like, help you to stay competitive in the industry? And just I guess, simply put, good at your job, good at what you do.

Isaac: I think for me, a lot of it is just kinda of staying aware, and making contacts, you know. You, when you get to a market you kind of learn quickly who the people to follow on Twitter are. I know they’re going to hammer Twitter into you. But, it really is a huge, it’s a huge tool. Because it’s one of those things where you’ll learn, you know, who to follow, things like that. So, I’m, if I’m at home, just sitting in my apartment, I’m kind of scrolling through Twitter seeing what’s going on. But, it’s also something where, when you get to, if you’re in a small market you get to know the coaches you work with. And I’ve kind of developed relationships with some of the, some of the high school and college coaches. So, for instance, we had a kid from the Division II school, Division II college in town, basketball player, who got invited to the College Slam Dunk Contest. So, you know, I was just sitting at home.  And I got a text from their head coach who I’d gotten to know and developed a relationship with. He trusted me. And he just texted me, and said, “Hey, you’re going to want to keep a head out  – or a look out because, I’m not telling you this, but Devan’s going to be announced to the College Slam Dunk Contest in the next 20 minutes.” So, you know, it’s things like that where those relationships will help you because you’ll get the tips. Or you’ll have high school coaches who will, you know, will shoot you a text and say, “Hey, you know, I just heard about, you know, this kid from this school. I think this would be a really cool story.” Things like that. But, ultimately it comes down to, you know, like I said, it comes down to, for me, it’s Twitter and it’s the relationships. Having coaches know that they can trust me, telling me things without me immediately blabbing them or posting them on air. If that makes sense?

Matt: Absolutely. I guess just kind of quickly to close it up, you know, is there any other advice? Just generally speaking, or specifically, that you’d give to your former self, considering it seems like we were in somewhat of a similar situation.

Isaac: Right.

Matt: Moving forward.

Isaac: Well, let me ask you this real quick. What, tell me a little bit about your background and what your, what your goals are. I’m going to flip the script on you here kind of like my interview on this assignment did to me. 

Matt: Oh, you did this exact assignment?

Isaac: Oh, yeah.

Matt: That’s fair, I guess. Yeah, I, my background is rather limited in terms of experience. That’s why I’m here. And I’m trying to really hone in on exactly what I want to do. But kind of how you mentioned hockey, I would say, for me, it’s basketball, is my main interest. I, I love basketball, at all levels, especially college, but the NBA, as well. So, in my mind, I kind of, I’d really like to work for a franchise one day. I know that’s different than, I guess, just general sports news, working at a station. That’s definitely something I’m open to. But, I’d really like to get my foot in the door at a franchise somewhere. Ideally, I guess, long-term, I don’t know how exactly I would get there off top. But, in basketball, and ultimately working for an NBA franchise.

Isaac: Okay. Well my advice to you then is gonna be to try to make, well, my advice to anybody, would be, is try to make as many as connections as you can, with the people around you at Syracuse, but also with other Syracuse grads. Because the one thing that, you know, I know you’re professors are going to tell you this because they told me this. And they kind of, I kind of blew it off at first a little bit. You know, wasn’t really sure how true it would be. But, the great thing about having gone to Syracuse is, you know, if you reach out to another Syracuse grad and, you know, most of the time, you know, you say, “Hey I’m going to Syracuse. I was hoping to pick your brain about how you got to where you are,” or you know, “I wanted to learn a little bit more about the business,” things like that, most people from Syracuse are going to do what they can to help you out in any way possible. And, you know, in this industry a lot of it comes down to who you know in addition to what you know. As bad as it is, if you, knowing people really helps you get your foot in the door places and in the long run can be the difference between getting a job over someone who is as equally qualified as you are. So, make it, you know, take, take advantage of the connections and the time that you have at Syracuse but also, you know, ask, ask questions all the time. Wherever you are. Whether it’s in class, don’t be afraid to ask Professor Nicholson or, you know, swing by his office after class and talk to him about things. Because those are, those are the resources that you have in front of you that you might not necessarily realize are going to be some of the best resources you have there. And even if it’s, you know, talk to your news professors too and say, “Hey, this, I’m interested, I’m interested in working in basketball. I would love to, in the long-run, you know, make it to an NBA franchise.” Or something like that. “Do you know any former grads who are doing this? Or working in the D-League?” Or something like that. Because chances are they do. Because I know I had Professor Lysak, who was there because my goal is hockey-play-by-play. I mentioned that to her and, “Oh yeah I know this person and this person and this person. Let me put ‘em in touch, let me reach out to them and see if I can give you their number,” things like that, and that, in the long-run, it ended up helping me a lot. So, you know, take advantage of opportunities. Make as many connections as you can. And, you know, a lot of people are more than happy, more willing if you reach out say, “Hey I want to hear about you. I want to know what you’ve learned,” than if you say, “Hey, I‘m, you know, I’m trying to do this. Can you help me?” If that makes sense?

Matt: Yeah, absolutely. No, that’s, that’s great advice and I think that’s, that’s absolutely a theme is, is everybody, you know, they’ve been saying, “Don’t be afraid to reach out,” and, and then they’ve been saying, you know, “You should reach out,” and I guess take those chances. Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

Isaac: Yeah. No problem. If you got any other questions or ever need anything you got my cell-phone number and my e-mail so feel free to reach out to me.

Matt: I gave you a follow on Twitter as well, so.

Isaac: Sounds good. Well, yeah. Like I said, if you ever need anything, feel free to reach out I’d be more than happy to help out.

Matt: I appreciate it. And just so I make sure I have you’re last name correctly, it’s pronounced Berky?

Isaac: Yup.

Matt: Okay. Perfect. Thank you so much Isaac.

Isaac: Alright. Take care.

Matt: Take care.