One summer day in the dugout of Columbia College Chicago’s baseball team, Midway Madness creators Mackinley Salk and Chris Gasper saw the writing on the wall. If they wanted to do what they loved and cover sports, they were going to have to take things into their own hands.
“Not wanting to get paid nothing for years while not covering the teams we wanted to, we decided to do our own thing on our own terms,” says Salk. “We saw the sports journalism world was starting to change, so we jumped on the opportunity to do it our way. ”
They started working on the site in 2008 and finally launched MidwayMadness.com nearly three years later, a website that covers Chicago sports and offers an opportunity for young aspiring writers to hone their craft and get real-world experience writing about sports.
But it was a challenging road for Salk, who had wanted to be a baseball player coming out of Hinsdale Central High School. He spent two years at Western Michigan University. When a back injury kept him from being able to continue to play, he found broadcasting as an extracurricular activity that allowed him to follow his passion for sports. Even though this was a big transition for Salk he was no stranger to sports journalism.
“My father owns a bar (Justin’s at Southport and Roscoe) in Chicago. When I was a kid, I would be there and many sports writers hung out in there. I became friends with these people and eventually many of them encouraged me to get into the field. ”
After graduating from Columbia, he worked for WCRX, Columbia’s on-campus radio station, and lined himself up with a few broadcasting internships. But it became apparent to Salk that it was going to be a struggle making a living and also covering the teams he loved.
“Starting my own business in this field was tough. Trying to separate ourselves from the “blogs” of the world was tough. Also, dealing with media relations directors who don’t allow a level playing field was a battle. The biggest thing was just getting people to take us seriously. ”
And they did. Midway Madness was covering everything from the pro teams to Northwestern sports and the website was putting out content at an increasing rate.
But the workload and the competitive field was starting to take its toll on Salk, Gasper and the others running the site. They started to realize that it was becoming more about fighting to post recaps first than it was about their love of covering sports.
On Jan. 16, 2014, Gasper passed away after losing control of his car in Ohio on his way back from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Before he died, Gasper expressed to the group that he wanted the site to give students the same opportunity it gave him and the Midway Madness staff, to cover sports and learn how to do it right.
“Since Chris passed away, we have changed some things. It’s not about our love for sports journalism. It’s about showing young students how to do this the right way. The game is changing and with it, journalists are getting lazy. We want to make sure our students get it right and move on into the working world with a clue. ”
Since then, Midway Madness has seen a lot of its writers go on to paying jobs and careers in the industry, including Lauren Comitor, another Columbia graduate who is now the digital news editor at the Chicago Tribune.
Lauren was raised in a Chicago sports family and found her passion for journalism in high school. She started her career with an internship with TribLocal and heard about Midway Madness from the internship coordinator at Columbia. She covered Northwestern football and basketball for Midway Madness, and wrote columns on some of the pro teams as she prepared herself for a job in the real world.
“Through my experience at Midway, I focused a lot on networking,” Comitor said. “Going out and covering games and events gave me the opportunity to meet, interact with and get advice from many reporters I admired. Some of these reporters were nice enough to let me shadow them, read my stuff and even tweet it out from their accounts.”
Now Salk runs and oversees the site with fellow contributors Pat Sheehan, Jamie Bradley and Ryan Miesch, but he has transitioned into the role of “mentor”.
“It’s the coach in me,” said Salk.
The world of journalism is always changing, but Midway Madness continues to fulfill the vision Salk and Gasper hoped for – a platform for young journalists to write about the teams they love and learn the skills needed to pursue their careers.
“You really have to love it,” Salk said.
As the person who is seeing the site he created bringing so many opportunities to his writers, it’s obvious that he does.