In Depth

Q&A: ESPN's John Anderson

As co-anchor of ESPN’s flagship edition of SportsCenter at 11 p.m., John Anderson is one of the nation’s most prominent sportscasters. He joined ESPN in 1999 after a long career in local broadcasting that began in Columbia, Mo., and included stops in Tulsa, Okla., and Phoenix.

A Green Bay, Wis., native, Anderson has won awards from local chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Associated Press. What follows is an edited transcript of an interview with NewsPro contributor Jon Lafayette.

NewsPro: What’s the best part of the job?

Anderson: I tell my friends in local news my favorite part is that we never lose time to the weatherman. It doesn’t matter if it snows, it doesn’t matter if there are floodwaters, we still get to do a whole hour of sports

I also like the fact that that as a kid from Wisconsin I on occasion get to interrupt the Yankee-Red Sox dynasty with a Brewers game in the newsroom, which is always sort of refreshing for me.
But mostly it’s a great job. If you’re a sportscaster, in most cases, most nights, it’s a pretty good subject to revolve your life around. Everyday you get to do something that, literally, you have liked since you were 6 or 7 years old.

NewsPro: Was there a moment when you realized that you were over the hump and really a professional at doing this?

Anderson: I would say thanks for the compliment there. I actually remember distinctly thinking when I got here at ESPN in 1999 that I was actually an anchor. That was a professional mindset change because, like most people who have come up through sports, you do a little bit of everything at all times coming up through the ranks. Now suddenly this is your one job. There should be no excuse for not being good at it because you don’t have any other responsibilities.

NewsPro: Were there any valuable experiences that you picked up working at local stations?

Anderson: Oh my gosh, yeah. I worked with great people who I learned a lot from. You talk about being professional. I learned the business inside and out from there. When you’re an anchor you write your stuff, but the video sort of pops up in front of you, where in local you’re shooting it, you’re editing it, and you’re writing it, and you’re producing the shows, and it’s a much more wide-ranging job description.

NewsPro: What challenges do you see facing the industry or you personally?

Anderson: The challenge right now is rising above the noise. The business isn’t about throwing spaghetti against the refrigerator and seeing if it sticks and it’s done. All the fine principles that I had preached at me from Missouri journalism school or from watching Walter Cronkite or anybody else, all those things are in play. It’s just harder I think to sometimes get them recognized because there’s so much out there.

The second one is that pretty soon your product is not always going to be in television. It’s going to be on the Internet, and it’s going to be on a mobile phone, and it’s going to be on this new iPad thing. I think that is going to take some getting used to for people in my profession. I don’t know if that relates to vanity or ego, but you just have to realize that you’re going to show up in a lot of other places, and it might not always be the magic talking box that people are enamored with.

NewsPro: Did being a high jumper help your career?

Anderson: I learned really quick that there was not going to be any way to make money on that end. I was not going to parlay some Dwight Stones-like career into a media deal. You were going to have to write it better and ask good questions and cover details when you need it. And more seriously, any time you’re with a team you learn the value of teamwork. That will translate into any job you have. Scott Van Pelt and I are the people out front, but there are 150 people that make sure we get on there and don’t look stupid. So we’re the last line of defense. Gosh, yes I want to serve the viewer, but I don’t want to ruin it for a bunch of other people who’ve invested their entire day [in the show] and then make it look bad.

If you’ve run enough and passed out enough and thrown up in enough garbage cans, when you have a long night here waiting for some 22 inning baseball game, you can go, ‘At least I’m sitting down and I’m watching baseball and I’m not logging mile 28, or running 24 quarter miles.’ That physical part of it makes me feel I’m justifiably lazy at this point.