ESPN analyst Adam Schefter is a busy man.
The Michigan alum and current ESPN NFL Insider appears on SportsCenter, NFL Live, Sunday NFL Countdown, Monday Night Countdown and ESPNEWS throughout the year while contributing frequently to other platforms, including ESPN.com, ESPN Radio and on Twitter (@AdamSchefter).
Schefter, 46, began working at ESPN in August 2009 following five years as a reporter and analyst for the NFL Network. He has previously worked at the Denever Post covering the Denver Broncos for 15 years. Schefter has experience working for the Rocky Mountain News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
He is a graduate of Michigan and alum of The Michigan Daily. Schefter was the Managing sports editor from 1988 to 1989 during which he covered football. He is also a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism following his time as a Wolverine.
Schefter spoke with the Michigan Daily over the phone recently to talk about his time at school, his work on Twitter and whether he gets a vacation.
The Michigan Daily: How do you manage to balance time and keep up to date with sources in the fast-paced NFL world?
Adam Schefter: It’s a tough thing. I think you could probably say that to anybody in any job. How does a stockbroker know when to trade a stock, hold a stock, buy a stock? That’s his job. How does a doctor know when to operate, when not to operate? How does an author know how to start a chapter, how to weave in certain narratives and how to end the chapter? That’s their job. My job is just to track NFL news and information.
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t always do it right. I try hard, and you hope that it works out. It’s that type of thing that you develop a feel and an instinct for. You hope that it’s right. Sometimes it’s not. You just do the best job that you can and hope that it’s right more often than not.
TMD: You do a lot of work keeping up to date and working on TV at ESPN. Do you ever miss working in print journalism?
AS: Well, there’s no question that’s the foundation. When young writers come to me and ask for advice, in fact I spoke to one who asked me about getting into TV, I said it’s most important to me to concentrate on basic writing skills, basic reporting skills. Because no matter what field you go into, even outside of journalism, those are really important skills and traits to have.
If you’re going to go anywhere in this business, how are you not going to know how to write? How can you not know how to report? It’s just imperative that you do. I always tell people the more you can read, the more you can write, the better off you’ll be. That’s what people told me when I was at Michigan.
At the Michigan Daily, my favorite writers and reporters came back, and seeking career advice they said, ‘Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write.’ And that’s what I try to do.
You see people on TV. Josh Elliot and Robin Roberts on Good Morning America, or Matt Lauer or Savannah Guthrie on the Today show. You say, ‘I want to do that. I want to be on TV.’ And you shouldn’t be thinking about wanting to be on TV. You should be thinking about learning to write and report as well as you can. Then, maybe, those other opportunities like TV come along. I think it’s incorrect to aspire to be on television, as much as it is correct to aspire to become a better writer and reporter, to me.
TMD: Was that transition to TV tough for you?
AS: Back when I was in Denver as a young cut reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, I used to literally go into the NBC affiliate there, on Sundays after (the NFL’s Denver) Broncos games. They needed somebody to talk about the Broncos, that understood the team, and I didn’t even know what I was doing. I just kind of did it because I had nothing else to do. I was new in Denver and young in the business. I didn’t aspire to be in television, I just thought this would be kind of fun to try. I did it. I tried it. It worked for them because they didn’t have to pay me. I was providing free labor. I got TV experience by accident.
It’s funny because I tell people that are trying to get into the business, ‘Just go do whatever, even if you’re not getting paid. Try something.’ You don’t know what’s going to come out of that.
When a television opportunity came along for myself in 2004, which was essentially about 14 years after I moved to Denver, I had been dabbling in TV and doing radio interviews without any idea those very experiences would somehow help me out later on. Again, purely accidental. Didn’t plan it. Didn’t think of it. Just did it. It’s what happened.
Any young person starting out, I think the best thing they could do is go try things, go volunteer to do things, experience things. You just don’t know what person you’re going to connect with, what skills you’re going to have, what talents you’re going to demonstrate, what you may come to like or not like. It’s one big adventure and you have to give yourself a chance to go in as many directions as possible.
TMD: What or who inspired you to go out and experiment? Was that something you picked up at Michigan, or have you been doing this since a young age?
AS: Last year, my high school, Bellmore JFK in Bellmore, Long Island, invited me and Steve Levy — a SportsCenter anchor — back to high school. We went to the same high school; he’s two years ahead of me. We sat down and I listened to his story and he knew back in high school he wanted to be a sports anchor, he wanted to be on TV, he wanted to go into sports journalism. He was doing internships during the summer for WFAN, in New York, the radio station, and he was working for sports agents and he was going out and trying these things.
I dreamed of becoming a sports writer one day, but I really, truly, never thought it could happen. I just kind of went about my way — I would collect courts at the local Food Town, I was a bus boy at the Chinese restaurant. While Steve Levy was doing jobs that would actually benefit him, I was just doing jobs that would put money in my pocket to have spending money on the weekend to hang out with my friends. I didn’t have any idea that I could make a living as much as I thought about.
When I went to Michigan, I actually tried out for the school newspaper, and spoke to some people like Thomas George, who at the time was writing for the Detroit Free Press, and Mitch Albom, who was writing for the Detroit Free Press. I was kind enough to come into contact with those individuals, and again, I tried it. I liked it and I was involved in it. The more I was involved in it, the more it appealed to me and the more time I invested in it, the luckier I got over time.
TMD: Did you begin working at the Daily in your freshman year, or did you wait before you decided to start sports writing?
AS: My freshman year I rushed a fraternity and didn’t get in. There were about 70-80 guys going for 10-11 spots. I wasn’t good enough and got rejected. So, I went down to the football office to see if they needed somebody to pick up water bottles and jock straps. They didn’t. I went down to the basketball office to see if they needed someone to pick up jock straps and hand out water bottles and they didn’t.
I was like, ‘I have to do something, but what am I going to do? Well, let me try the student newspaper.’ It was literally the fourth alternative after not getting into the fraternity, not getting a job with the football team and not getting a job with the basketball team.
I think to this day, had I gotten into the fraternity the first semester of my freshman year, I truly don’t believe I ever would have gone to the student newspaper and joined because I would have been so involved in the fraternity.
TMD: You’re now working with Twitter all the time, do you think your experience in print journalism helped you with conveying messages in 140 characters?
AS: I spent almost 15 years in newspapers, and when you work for a newspaper, you grind away every single day. I did so much writing that I was trained to write short, succinct ledes. That’s really what Twitter is: a lead sentence. I did that for years.
I never envisioned that it would transition to writing 140 characters on Twitter. Never thought about and just did it. It was unintentional and accidental training for what is now a huge part of our culture.
TMD: Are you surprised at how Twitter has become a huge part of our culture?
AS: Frankly, I’m really astounded our industry has changed in the last few years. It’s really unbelievable to think about how messages are delivered. The news cycle used to be 24 hours. It’s now 24 seconds. There’s something else coming out every single minute of the day it seems like. It’s hard to keep up.
It’s just such a fast-moving world out there. It’s so different than the world I grew up in in Michigan, the world that I was trained in in Denver. But all those stops helped as training grounds for what I am doing today.
TMD: What’s the experience like of working with some of the greatest anchors or other great reporters turned TV stars?
AS: The talent at ESPN is first class. The people here are tremendous in what they do. I feel blessed to be surrounded by people who are so good at their jobs.
It’s not just the people in front of the cameras. It’s the people behind the cameras, the producers. People who come up with many of the ideas we’re talking about. People on TV just execute it. But there are so many more people that people don’t see on a daily basis, and it’s a shame that their names are not in lights. But the work that they do to make these shows run and work and operate is invaluable and instrumental.
TMD: You’re working so often. Do you ever get time for a vacation?
AS: I wish I did. I do get some slower time. If I wanted to take a vacation I would, but the truth of the matter is that my wife — we have two children and four dogs — doesn’t like to leave anybody behind.
So, we don’t go on vacations. I wish we did, but we don’t. It’s where we are at in life right now. Maybe one day when the kids are all grown up and maybe if we had fewer dogs, but right now, we don’t get to go on vacation.
TMD: So when was the last time you got to return to campus and see the Big House?
AS: I’ve been back here each of the last two years for the Brian Griese/Charles Woodson/Steve Hutchinson fundraiser. We visited and toured Mott Children’s Hospital and met with some of the patients there — some of the incredibly inspiring children.
I was back to be a Mock Rock judge one year. But I have not been back to the Big House in a very long, long time. It’s tough to go there and make it back to ESPN for the pregame show. The flight schedule is not exactly great from Detroit to New York.
I know Michigan plays in Connecticut this fall, and I do plan to go to that.
TMD: Do you miss the university?
AS: Well, I love it. Anybody that went to school there, and has Michigan in his or her blood knows what we’re talking about. But I can’t say I miss it. But I do love it.