Betsy Helfand is a beat reporter for the Minnesota Twins through the Pioneer Press, with her work found on twincities.com.
She has been working in this capacity since December of last year, and attended last year’s Winter Meetings in Paradise, Nevada.
Previously, she has worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and with MLB.com. The former involved her largely covering the Las Vegas 51s, who were the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets up until this season.
Betsy is in the midst of her first season as a beat reporter for the Minnesota Twins and I, thankfully, got the change to speak with her while she was in Toronto last week.
Josh: When did you realize you wanted to work in sports?
Betsy: When I was in eighth grade we had to choose elective classes for high school and dad suggested photography and my mom suggested journalism. So, I took both of those my freshman year and once I started with journalism, I knew I wanted to work in sports journalism as opposed to more news stuff. That being said, I wanted to work in some capacity in sports from a younger age. For a while, I really thought I wanted to work for a team.
Josh: Were you ever intimidated or uncomfortable with the idea of working in a largely male-dominated industry and how did you get past it if you did?
Betsy: It wasn’t necessarily like me feeling uncomfortable, it was more like hearing stories from like other women in the industry that made me kind of nervous and I still hear some of those stories to this day. I heard one even yesterday about a player who clearly doesn’t like talking to women and he tries to make sure they’re not in the clubhouse. So, I’ve heard a lot of them, but I haven’t had any bad experiences at all. It was something to get used to, though, just because there aren’t many female reporters around. So, when there are female reporters present, I try to gravitate towards them and pick their brain about their experiences and look to them for mentorship.
Josh: I definitely think that’s important because there definitely needs to be more women in the field and be more encouraged to join the field.
Betsy: Yeah, and I think you’re starting to see more of that, but still, there are not that many around. As far as beat reporters for print outlets, I think I’m the only one, but for TV outlets they have like one woman that comes to every game so, I’m not totally alone. You definitely don’t see a lot of it and I want to see more of it.
Josh: Yeah, I definitely agree. Like I notice as a sport management major that there are not many women in my classes and that they tend to stick together because there aren’t many others around them.
Betsy: I think outlets are starting to be more cognizant of that in trying to diversify when they hire people. So, I think you will see them more and more get involved in doing whatever job they want to do. Once you start seeing someone like you doing something, it becomes easier to envision yourself doing the same.
Josh: Was baseball always the sport you wanted to work in? And if so, was there a point where it became clear that was the sport you wanted to work in?
Betsy. Oh yeah, definitely always baseball. My dad has had White Sox season tickets for like 38 years so I grew up going to like to 40 or 50 games a year. Baseball was always the primary sport I followed.
Josh: How does he feel that you cover the Minnesota Twins now?
Betsy: I think he’s just happy for me that I got a job because there just aren’t that many of them out there to be bad. I think my parents are happy too because since they live in Chicago, Minneapolis is much closer to Chicago than Las Vegas so if anything that brings me closer to them.
Josh: That’s true. Going off that, was there any sort of learning curve you dealt with when covering minor league baseball? Like it’s easy to know the major league roster, but there’s more research that has to go into it when covering a minor league team. Am I right to say that?
Betsy: Yes, you’re definitely right about that. When I first started covering the team there was a Mets reporter that reached out to me on Twitter and was like if you ever need anything or have any questions, that I could come to him. I guess there were just some things that I didn’t know a ton about such as minor league contract structures and other little things that go on in the minor leagues. The structure of a minor league team is certainly different. They have a President and GM, but they don’t really do anything with player personnel.
Josh: Exactly, because those decisions are made by the major league team largely.
Betsy: Yeah and it’s interesting because so many people will be like “oh, just go ask the GM about it” and I’m like “no, no.” They either work for the Mets or like they don’t have any say on that type of stuff.
Josh: Can you give me a little insight about how your day as a beat reporter goes?
Betsy: It kind of depends on the day, but I usually wind up getting to the ballpark around 2:30 or 3 p.m. for a night game. They open the clubhouse about 3 1/2 hours before the game. So, whoever you want to talk to, you just wait around to talk to. Sometimes the players are right there and you can get exactly what you need when you need it and then other times they’re out taking grounders or doing something else. There also is a set time every day for manager pre-game availability and then I usually head back up to the press box and write a pre-game notebook based on what has just come out of the clubhouse.
Then, I go grab some food and have an article ready to publish online by the end of the game. Afterward, the manager will become available again and I’ll head into the clubhouse. Usually, the starting pitcher will talk every day and everybody will gravitate towards him and then everyone will go looking to see who else is willing to talk about the game. After that, I’ll finish up my story and probably leave the ballpark around 11:30 or 12.
When on the road, it’s a little different. Like today, for example, I had to wake up at 5 a.m. and when I get there I’ll check into the team hotel and might explore whatever city I’m in for a little bit and then go through the previous routine.
Josh: I see you covered other sports besides baseball too, is there any sport you covered besides baseball that you either really like covering also or found difficult to cover?
Betsy: I’d say the sport I like covering the second most is hockey just because that’s the sport I like the second-most after baseball. I haven’t covered a ton of football. I’ve done a fair share of basketball covering the UNLV women’s basketball. I liked doing that a lot just because the people there were really good to me.
The ones that were harder were the sports that I didn’t know anything about. So, there was the pro bull rider world final and the national final rodeo in Vegas every year and that was a little harder because, first of all, I don’t really know a ton about it and second of all, and it’s basically the most important event of the year and so it’s a pretty big deal and I haven’t necessarily been following it. So, that was difficult, same as NASCAR because I don’t know a ton about that.
Josh: Do you try to keep the piece more generic in instances like that or do you try to just gather as much research as you can and write it from there?
Betsy: There’s one time where I went to another person at my paper that knew a ton about what I was covering so I got a lot from him. Also, a lot of times you can get background from PR people and ask them what they think is important. Talking to people with that can always help and every sport has some sort of bio or media guide so you can get ideas from that too.
Josh: I have to imagine you go through a different process at the Winter Meetings than you do normally, how did that go for you?
Betsy: They were interesting because that was like my first day on the job. I technically started on December 9th and so I was just trying to learn anything I could on the Twins. Definitely, next year when I’m more settled in it will be more of a different experience.
Josh: How much do you think your social media presence plays a role in your career?
Betsy: I think it’s becoming more and more important. Different outlets place a different premium on certain things, but I think being able to build a social media presence and people who follow you on Twitter are more likely to read what you write. It’s a little different with newspapers because some people have been reading newspapers for 40-50 years. But, I definitely think building your brand in that way is important and something I could improve on.
Josh: Well my other website, Metsmerized Online, definitely liked your content and always went to you for 51’s news and thought you did a phenomenal job with it.
Betsy: That makes me happy to hear and I appreciate that. And it’s interesting because my newspaper was like one of the only ones that covered minor league baseball at the time. I would think that more of the readership came from New York rather than Las Vegas so that was kind of interesting, but I’m not sure that many outlets send out reporters to cover minor league games.
Josh: I know it’s a little bit different since you’ve been covering minor league baseball, but I know they’ve been talking about having a team move to Las Vegas for years now, in your opinion, do you think there is a market for it?
Betsy: That’s an interesting question. I wrote a story on it of people who are trying to do it. I don’t know that they are necessarily close. Las Vegas is an interesting place just because there is so much going on there competing for your entertainment dollar.
Another thing is that if you’re going to put a team in Vegas you’re going to have to put a dome, preferably retractable, there as well just because of the weather. After the Raiders deal, there isn’t really much of an appetite for them to put public money towards another stadium. So, it would have to be a privately funded stadium with a retractable roof. It would also have to be near enough to attract people away from out-of-town teams.
But, when thinking about how much the stadium will cost and the acquisition of the land will cost, it adds up. I think there are people that would want to do it, but I’m just not sure who it is and who is going to fund it, but what happened with the Golden Knights and what I expect will happen with the Raiders is that it was recognized that there definitely is an appetite for it.
Josh: Definitely, it might just take time and someone with a lot of money to make it work, especially in baseball.
Betsy: Yeah, and they just put a Triple-A stadium there too. I’m not sure they would have done that if they were under the impression that a major league team was going to move there anytime soon. It’s interesting, I would like to see it, but I’m not sure.
Josh: I also have seen that you’ve been to all 30 major league ballparks, do you have a favorite and least favorite?
Betsy: I definitely loved PNC Park. I wish I went there more I’ve probably gone there about once every six years. I didn’t like Tropicana Field, which is probably a pretty common answer you here.
Josh: I agree with both of those choices too. Lastly, what is one piece of advice you would give to people who want to break into sport media?
Betsy: I would say, jump on any internship you can. Obviously, it has to be the right situation, but internships were tremendously helpful for me. My last job started out with an internship and I had already done three internships so I was somewhat stuck after college and was thinking like “I don’t want to do another one,” but I decided to go for it and move to Vegas and that turned into a job and the job I have here is the same paper I interned with while in college.
So, having that connection out of college is definitely what helped me land the job I have now. Just network with as many people as possible. Building relationships with people in any industry is really important. You never know who knows somebody else that might be able to help.
Josh: Thank you very much, I think it will be very helpful for many of my peers.
Betsy: No problem, I hope it is!