By MELISA FINK ’14
Journalist Mike Chiappetta has carved out a successful career niche covering the full contact combat sport of mixed martial arts, specifically the UFC. He currently works as a senior writer for FOXSports.com.
Chiappetta earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Connecticut in 1995. “Fun fact: my diploma is signed by former Connecticut governor and convicted felon John Rowland,” Chiappetta wrote in an email interview.
Here are more of Chiappetta’s thoughts about his experience at UConn and the trajectory of his journalism career.
What does your job entail?
I travel around the world going to events. I work the phones looking for news. I write features and columns. I occasionally appear as an analyst on shows, podcasts and radio. And I tweet a lot, too. [Chiappetta has 25,000+ followers on Twitter]
What were some of your previous jobs before landing at FOXSports.com?
I’m proud of all of my stops. Most notably though, I was a staff writer for outlets including NBCSports.com, SBNation.com and AOL’s FanHouse, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the newspaper that began my career, The Advocate of Stamford, Conn.
How have your UConn education and connections helped you in your career?
I met my wife, Colleen, at UConn. While that may not sound important in relation to my life as a journalist, it most certainly is. News never stops. It’s late nights, weekends and holidays. In other words, you need an understanding partner. So the importance of meeting her cannot be understated. She’s always supported me and believed in me, even when I chose to jump in and cover a sport that was not yet widely mainstream. Best connection I’ve ever made.
Beyond that, the experience UConn gave me was crucial. Through the school, I experienced a bit of the profession while writing for The Daily Campus.
There aren’t too many other professions you can essentially try out at the college level. Accounting majors don’t start businesses for fun and hope their books add up at the end. Psychology majors can’t open an amateur practice and find clients. But journalism majors can work for a school paper and get experience that is very close to the real thing. Because of that, I felt I was ready to be a working journalist upon graduating. In addition, the school helped me procure an internship that led to my first job. UConn set me on my way.
Why did you choose to major in journalism?
To be honest, I was just beginning my junior year and I hadn’t picked a major yet. The university told me I had to pick something and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I figured it better be something that is dynamic, changing and wouldn’t anchor me to a desk. I loved watching sports, so I figured if I could get someone to pay me for it, I was golden. Not the greatest rationale, but hey, I was 19. In retrospect though, it was an obvious choice for me. From the time I was 7 or 8, I had always been a voracious news reader, I loved to write and I was always interested in others’ lives.
Do you remember your sudden death story in Newswriting I?
If I recall correctly (and I may have my assignments mixed up), my sudden death story was about a sudden death. A student committed suicide and I reported on it. I remember going to the student’s dorm and people had written messages of love on her door, and I started the piece off with that, because I was struck by how sad it was that someone would take their own life despite so many people who cared. I also remember that I was able to speak with the school police and confirm the death before it appeared in the local news, so I rushed to the Arjona building to drop off my story so they would know my reporting was completely original.
Did you have a favorite UConn journalism professor?
I liked Professor John Breen’s easy style and storytelling. I learn best when lessons are disguised as entertainment, and he was never a by-the-book lecturer, which I appreciated. Beyond that, he also gave good, solid practical advice about the craft and career progression. I appreciated that all of my professors had field experience and could offer useful real-world advice.
What was the most valuable skill you gained from UConn?
I wish I could remember which of my professors told me this, but I can’t. It stuck with me when one of them told us to be forward thinkers, both in regards to our reporting and our careers. It sounds obvious, but when you’re in the endless grind of the news cycle, it can be hard to look past what’s directly in front of you.
Is there anything you wish you did while you were still at UConn?
I’ve never been a person who has regrets. Life is hard enough without spending time focusing over what you could have or should have done differently. If you’re busy looking backward, you may miss what’s in front of you, which in our field, is far more important. That said, I should have probably eaten a few more Ted’s cheeseburger grinders and drank a few less Busch Lights.
Any advice for current UConn journalism students?
To keep with my theme, always keep an eye on the future. Not only is it important to your job as a journalist, but it’s also important for your own continued existence and success. The media landscape is constantly shifting underneath your feet, so pay attention to trends so you can learn to forecast them. For example, when I was a freshman in college, the sport that I cover now literally did not exist. It was in 1993 when the UFC launched mixed martial arts, and it faced plenty of opposition from the outset. Still, I realized the potential, always kept an eye on it and recognized the tipping point when mainstream acceptance was coming, and that opportunities that would follow. Forecasting trends in your chosen beat should be a focus for every journalist. Also, easy on the Busch Lights.
Follow Mike Chiappetta on Twitter: @MikeChiappetta