The evolution of The Football Sack Internship Program

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It may have started off as just a blog between two football-obsessed mates, yet ten years on The Football Sack has evolved into one of the most successful pathways for aspiring journalists to fulfil their dreams.

The Football Sack is turning ten on Friday 8 May 2020, and we’re publishing a series of articles to celebrate.

Over the last decade co-founders Christian Layland and Matthew Greenlaw have transformed The Football Sack into an internship program offering students access to the inner workings of A-League and W-League match days and allowing them to follow in the footsteps of the founders and find careers in the media industry.

“Originally we were using The Football Sack to try and progress our careers into the industry, and when we made it we thought we could use it to progress other people’s careers too,” said Layland.

“There’s so many people that want to get into sports media we thought we could use The Football Sack so that the entire premise of it’s existence is to help people follow the same path we did.”

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Every year a crop of interns are accredited with an official media pass that allows them to attend press conferences, interact with players, and network with the wider football media.

They are designated an A-League and/or W-League club and are tasked with covering the team for the entire season.

Each week they are assigned articles relevant to match-day and also the broader football landscape, enabling them to develop their writing skills across a variety of styles. These articles then get published on The Football Sack website, allowing interns to develop an industry-level portfolio.

While it was a trailblazing program at the time, Layland reflects on the early days as an “experiment” – one that may have been lacking in structure but one that still provided that unique hands on experience.

“It gave people an opportunity to write, it gave people an opportunity to be accredited and it gave people the opportunity to be at football stadiums in press boxes”, he said.

Halfway through the decade, The Football Sack evolved so that the mission of the organisation changed from typical media goals, and became one of pure development.

“We decided that our main objective was no longer hits, reach and views: our main objective was to become the best pathway for up-and-coming media professionals.

“We researched the best methods of development, we created a structured program with outcomes and we created relationships with universities to create a legal placement program.”

To this day there is no other program that rivals the access The Football Sack Internship Program offers nor the continual feedback and development opportunities.

One of the first graduates out of the program was Tyson Scott, now a member of FIFA’s Master Program and previously Digital, Media & Communications Manager of Central Coast Mariners for five years. Scott covered the Mariners for The Football Sack in the 2011/12 season.

“At the time the program was really unknown”, said Scott.

“I had no idea who they were or what they did, but quickly after doing some research and speaking to Christian and Matt it was really clear that they had really big plans, they were really dedicated to making sure that they gave every team in the A-League coverage.

“My expectations were unknown, but from day one going to the first match at Central Coast Stadium I was pleasantly surprised with the professionalism, the access and the experience that I gained whilst I was with The Football Sack.”

Scott recalls the community atmosphere The Football Sack provides and their emphasis on providing feedback to interns.

“The thing that jumped out at me really early was the positivity and the support in The Football Sack community,” he said.

“The set up they had for supporting writers and the feedback that I received on my writing was invaluable. I couldn’t have asked for a better learning experience and first taste into working in sport”.

Another graduate from the 2011/12 intake Melanie Dinjaski, now an online sports journalist with the Nine Network, recalls the unprecedented access The Football Sack provides interns.

“As a sports journalist today I can get accredited to most sporting events but there are still some sporting leagues that are selective about who they give accreditation too,” said Dinjaski.

“So that was something as an intern and student, and not yet having that journalism degree that was amazing – to be in that match-day experience as a member of the media covering a national sporting league in our country.

“I got to meet other journalists that were full time, you got to know who could get more experience from, perhaps get job opportunities down the track, or even just a friendly face you could bounce ideas off or soak up knowledge from.

Furthermore, The Football Sack was the first outlet to offer live Twitter commentary of A-League, W-League, Socceroos and Matildas matches – which has now become a staple of a modern football broadcast with past interns taking up these positions in the wider football media.

“We would have to organise who would live tweet the games for the social media account,” said Dinjaski.

“That throws you in the deep end with live coverage and social media. The Football Sack was one of the first outlets to really embrace the concept of live tweeting.”

These skills also help the transition to the digital sphere for aspiring journalists.

Over the years the program has continued to reinvent itself. Each year the program is reviewed, interns are surveyed and research is conducted into the required skill set of modern journalists. The program adjusts accordingly, ensuring that interns have all the tools in their arsenal to find paid work in the industry.

This includes the development of skills such as ‘angle identification’ and ‘interview/press conference technique’, both of which are industry-requisites.

The nature of articles assigned to interns has also evolved. For example the ‘listicle’ was added to the program when it became an industry staple, furthering exposure for journalists while also improving their research skills.

This coupled with weekly match reports, follow-up features, research articles and opinion pieces amongst others, fosters an annual crop of industry-level interns.

Weekly feedback is tailored to the individual, allowing interns to develop over the course of the season.

“You get to see just how much everyone improves, I think sometimes they don’t even notice it themselves,” said Layland.

“Every year people who come through our program are constantly getting jobs. They are able to deliver on what employers in the industry want.”

This had led to multiple interns being nominated for the Young Football Writer of the Year Award while interning for The Football Sack.

When it existed the award recognised outstanding talent amongst young writers and has been won by two past interns: Josh Bennett in 2014 and Jessica Csaszar in 2015, both of whom went on to work in football media at FFA and the Western Sydney Wanderers respectively.

Over the past decade a whopping 72 graduates have gone on to find paid employment in the industry.

Nowadays interns get published on a respected platform, with proud a track record of accurate and fair reporting.

One of the most recent graduates, Chris Curulli, now a journalist with the Manly Warringah Football Association remembers being excited to join a program with a track record of success.

“I was excited, it was something that I’d been looking at for a few years before I got the chance to do it and reading through the list of graduates that had gone on to bigger and better things from it really excited me, and I thought the opportunity to do that would be invaluable”, he said.

He recalls the experience as one that pushed him out of his comfort zone but one that also offered the skills and experience necessary to succeed in the industry.

“I think when you interact with other journalists and start reading other stuff and comparing it to the works that we’re producing as part of the program, I think it’s a really good way of growing that self-confidence,” Curulli said.

“With the feedback we receive as well throughout this whole internship, you start to put together a portfolio of works that you are proud of. It helps you notice that you can indeed produce works that you can make a career out of”.

“It’s clear the program is something that has developed immensely over time and you can’t really argue with its methods.

“I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed the way the staff are always there to support you in whatever ways and the personable approach they provide.”

This spawns from an editorial staff composed entirely of past interns, including the current editor Isobel Cootes who covered the Newcastle Jets in the 2016/17 season and is now a journalist with The Examiner in Launceston.

“I remember when I went to my first game and I was just in shock about how much access I had and how I was treated straight away as a journalist and also how The Football Sack gave you direction without holding your hand too much – it was thrilling. I just wanted to give back and make sure that it’s still happening,” Cootes said.

“One of the most important things for young journalists is getting that feedback and seeing where those things are to improve. I think it so important to show interns why we make changes and explain them as much as we can, so you aren’t just getting this copy back that you don’t see”.

This lends itself towards seeing marked improvements in the quality of writing interns produce.

“To see the interns improve over the season has been really inspiring,” said Cootes.

“You can see just how much tighter the writing is getting and everything improves ten-fold by the end of the season.

As The Football Sack is about to enter its second decade, its next aspiration is to remove barriers of entry for people lower socio-economic background so that everyone in Australia can have access to the program.

“We want to give as much opportunity to everyone as possible but the reality is that is you’re from an underprivileged background, it’s tough for you to do the placement because if you’re living near the poverty line or on a really low student budget can you afford to give away a full day every week?” said Layland.

The organisation aims to be in a position where they can offer a ‘Football Sack Scholarship’, to a person who would otherwise be unable to participate in the program and pay for the days they work.

“Even if it’s just for one person a year, the most needing person can have this scholarship and therefore they can go in this program and get the advantages other people are getting,” said Layland.

“In a perfect world we want to be able to say no matter what your background, no matter what your circumstance, if you have the potential to become a great writer or media person, a place at The Football Sack is perfect for you”.

The Football Sack is currently investigating models as to how this can be achieved.

From blog, to experiment, to a football media factory, the evolution of The Football Sack Internship Program over the past ten years has been profound.

Yet as much as it has and will continue to change, one aspect that remains the same is the joy that comes when an intern finds a job in the industry.

“It’s like one of your own children have gone and got the job they wanted”, said Layland.

“It’s genuine pride and genuine excitement. It’s why we exist”.

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Michael Patane
Student at Monash University and lover of all things football covering Melbourne City in 2019/20.