Friday, August 4, 2017

Amy Johnson: Producing Stories that Matter

Story by Katie Benoit
Photo Courtesy of Amy Johnson

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Amy Johnson went to her first New England Patriots game at the age of nine and after that she says she was set on having a career in television.

"Ever since then I just I wanted to be Bonnie Bernstein and that’s what got me into it," Johnson said, laughing over the phone.

Johnson grew up in Lisbon, N.H. and graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in 2010. Now she is a producer for NESN which covers the very teams she grew up rooting for. She has worked on multiple shows for the network and is producing graphics for Red Sox games this season.

One might expect Johnson's proudest moment as a producer to be a story about the Red Sox or Patriots. After taking some time to think, Johnson reveals her favorite story actually isn't about sports at all.

Every year, NESN sponsors an event along with the Red Sox called the Jimmy Fund Telethon. The Jimmy Fund supports Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and helps to improve the life of cancer patients. Johnson has had the opportunity to produce some of the stories that went on air about those affected by the disease.

"It's emotional and something we don’t get to do a lot in sports, but it's something I've always really enjoyed doing," Johnson said. 

Johnson also says these pieces are a bit different than a normal sports story. 

"I think it’s a really unique skill set to go and kind of talk to these people who aren't used to being interviewed, who aren't professional athletes used to being in front of the camera and getting them to kind of share their story," she said. 

(The recorded interview can be found here

Q: What inspired you to get into this business?

Oh, good question I don’t really remember I’ve kind of always wanted to work in sports since I was little. My family had Patriots season tickets and I was a huge Pats fan. I went to my first game in ’97 when I was nine and ever since then I just I wanted to be Bonnie Bernstein and that’s what got me into it. I remember watching the Nagano Olympics and they did some story on Louie Zamperini and I just remember thinking uh people get to tell stories like this for a job. So I guess I’ve always wanted to do it since I was really young and I didn’t really know how to do that until I went to a summer camp for public school kids when I was a junior in high school and that kind of set me on the path to Syracuse. They told me that was the best broadcast school, so that’s where I wanted to be. And uh so that’s kind of how I got into it.

Q: So did you always kind of think when you were younger that’s what you wanted to do or did it definitely take you until like high school to realize when you like when went to that summer camp that’s what your calling was?

“Um It was in the back of my mind like a chef or a lawyer whatever but I always kind of came back to sports and it was pretty obvious from early on that I was not going to be playing them. So that was um kind how I kinda got to still be part of sports with out actually playing them. “

Q: So what do you think is your greatest achievement that you’ve felt you’ve accomplished so far?

“Oh god, um I don’t know I don’t think I have had a great great achievement yet.  I’ve done a lot of cool things and I’ve gotten to tell some really cool stories. Um as far as great achievements, I don’t have one that I am particularly proud of right now but probably what I’ve enjoyed doing the most and felt the most proud of was um I don’t know if you know growing up in New England but every summer at NESN we do the Jimmy Fund Telethon and for a couple years I got to help produce the stories about the patients that we air and those are probably the things that I’m most of proud of. I think it’s a really unique skill set to go and kind of talk to these people who aren’t used to being interviewed who aren’t professional athletes used to being in front of the camera and getting them to kind of share their story and it’s emotional and something we don’t get to do a lot in sports but its something I’ve always really enjoyed doing. So I probably say those. I guess when you meet really cool people and tell their stories in creative ways. So I guess I would go with that.”

Q: So you’re a Red Sox fan correct? So do you ever feel like since you work at NESN now its hard to be like just a Red Sox fan, do you feel like it’s a little bit different since you like started working there?

“It’s kind of funny and this is gonna sound terrible because I am still a Red Sox fan, I still love the team. But I would say I’m bigger fan of short rain delay free games. One of our camera guys was saying the other day was saying that I’m a fan till the 8th inning. Once you get to the 8th inning can someone win that game.”

Q: So what do you feel like do you feel like there is a challenge being a female in the business?

You know I feel like I always get asked that question and for me personally I have been incredibly lucky from my time at Syracuse where I had really supportive classmates and then my first job at WSYR, where the sports director was awesome and even my time here at NESN. I have had a lot really supportive mentors and you know I’ve never felt like I wasn’t getting opportunities because I was a woman. But at the same time I’ve always put a little extra pressure on myself to make sure me being a women would never be an excuse for anything.  You know worked really hard to take that equation you know being a woman has noting to do with it. I want to be the best I possibly can be and do the best possible work and work as hard as I possibly can, just cause that’s the person I am and also in the back of my mind I don’t want anyone to make that kinda excuse for me or kinda use that as a reason to not give me an opportunity. Um the way things have worked out in my career I’ve had to go head to head with guys for jobs and in the first part of my career I wasn’t getting the jobs which was kind of frustrating but I knew that was because I wasn’t as good of a candidate and you know in the last couple years I’ve beat out guys with more time at NESN than me and I truly believe that’s because I know I was better. So I don think its harder being a women, I just think its different you know?  I would say I have experienced sexism but I think that’s because I’ve always put the pressure on my self and not let it become a factor.

Q: That makes sense. So do you have any advice for someone going into the business?

“Oh yeah, a couple of things. Probably the best piece of advice I ever got was. I don’t know do you have any classes with Professor Nicolson?”

I do, yes this class is actually with him but he’s retiring so.

“Oh consider yourself lucky for getting in there. I think my sophomore year he had Bob Costas come in a talk to us and I think actually this is the best piece of advice I have ever gotten and he said, “Put yourself in the best position to get lucky” and that is so incredibly true because so much of where I am today because I worked really hard and then I got really lucky. You know for my first job I did sideline for the Chiefs right out of school and the whole reason I got that job was because I happened to do sidelines for ESPN for a game and so the owner of the Chiefs saw me and that was total luck but I got that job working for ESPN because I worked really hard. You know that not only goes for I don’t know if you wanna be on air if you wanna produce or what you wanna do but the more well rounded you can be too. You know you never know what’s gonna get your foot in the door. I was originally hired at SYR as sports photog that worked really hard my last few years at Syracuse on being able to shoot. I did graphics at Citrus TV forever and now I’m still working on it on the job I have today. And my understanding of it has been huge especially on the road. So if you work really hard and you’re prepared for when you get lucky you’re gonna take that opportunity and run with it so that’s probably what I’d say is the most important thing. Um the second is not so much as advice it’s something that I wish I’d pay more attention to at Syracuse and that’s the business side of television. Um just because being at smaller RSN I think I get more exposed to the business side of things and I wish I just had a better understating of you know ratings wheels and cable deals and just enough so that I’m in a meeting with someone a couple levels above me that I can talk confidently about the business side of things. So that kind of what I would say.”

Ok, um so who had that biggest impact on you while you were at Newhouse?

“At Newhouse? Definitely Professor Nicholson. I think that I took almost every class with him after I took my very first class with Professor Brown. Yeah I would defiantly say him. It was a lot of tough love but it was definitely needed. He kept me on my toes and really pushed me. And yeah I owe a lot to him and you’re very lucky you’re getting to take a class with him before he retires.”

Q: So did you cover a lot of the sporting events while you were here?

“Yeah I did, you guys probably don’t have access to citrus TV but I spent a lot of time at the student TV station and we had press passes to all the games so I produced or I ap our pre and post game show my sophomore and junior year so I didn’t go to a ton of games but I covered all of them and then I produced kind of like a weekly sports center show my junior and senior year. And then my senior year, I spent a lot of time driving down to Manley and covering football media availability. So k that’s actually how I think I got my first job was just that I was constantly covering the football team for with all the local media so they knew I could shoot and they knew what I was shooting looked good and had audio on it. So, I didn’t actually cover as many games as would I have liked at SU but I worked in Capacity in almost all of them.”

Q: So did you work for ESPN, where you still in undergrad when did a broadcast for them or did you work for them before you got you’re sideling job with the Chiefs?

“No I was, I don’t know if they do it anymore they used to do this thing called ESPN on campus I think it was called and they used to set up little bureaus of different students on campuses around the country. So we would do, there was a group of us that would cover stories for ESPN and send it to them and they would either use it online or in their broadcast. And then they had one week they did like this on campus week and every game they did they a had a student either sideline reporter or broadcaster or some sort of student element so that’s what I did it was a one time thing. I was a runner a couple of time which was an interesting good experience but I didn’t do a ton of work for them.”

Q: So I think I read in your bio you’re from NH, is that correct?

“Yes, I’m from northern New Hampshire”

Q: And what town did are you from?

Q: And you grew up there and went to school there before you went Syracuse
“Yeah. “

Q: I think that’s about do you have anything else you would want to add or talk about?

“Um no I don’t, other than you know I think it’s a great time to be in sports particular to be a women in sports and there’s a lot of really incredible women doing a lot of incredible things right now. And it would be nice some day if one of the questions in sports isn’t you know have you experienced sexism in your time covering sports so.”

Q: So for NESN do you produce part of the Red Sox games or the sports shows or?

“This season I am producing graphics for the Red Sox games and the hoping to move into game producing someday. For the past two seasons I’ve produced the pre game show and the post game show. I’ve produced every show we have, including the kids show which I still do every couple of days. But that kind of goes with “putting yourself in the best position to get lucky”. I always known I wanted to get back into game producing and I’ve have had to taken this long and winding road back to getting in the truck.”

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