J-school grad well-prepared for digital job

Kaitlyn McGrath sits in her place at the National Post sports desk, pondering the headline for the story she’s about to publish. Eugenie Bouchard, Canada’s tennis darling, has just lost at the Miami Open, and McGrath needs to get the article online.

“I got it,” McGrath says after a few aborted attempts, and types out the winner into the headline field: “Eugenie Bouchard eliminated from Miami Open in stunning loss to qualifier Tatjana Maria.”

It’s mid-afternoon on a Saturday, and McGrath has just started her shift in the nearly-empty National Post newsroom. There are only a few other people here: three people at the web desk halfway across the room, and sports reporter Sean Fitz-Gerald sitting at his desk opposite Kaitlyn on the other side of a divider.

This is busy for a Saturday, McGrath says. The paper doesn’t publish on Sundays, she explains, so she’s typically one of the only ones at the office. It’s her responsibility to edit incoming sports stories — of which there are many on Saturdays — and post them on the website with headlines and photos, and to share those posts on social media.

McGrath, 25, is dressed casually — it’s Saturday after all — in jeans, leather boots and an un-tucked blouse. She started her job as an online sports editor at the National Post in September 2014, her first full-time job after graduating from journalism school at Western University last spring. Before that, she worked at the CBC as a chase producer for the summer, did a six-week internship as a reporter at The Globe and Mail, and spent three years as an editor at Western’s student newspaper, The Gazette (full disclosure: I worked with Kaitlyn at The Gazette for most of that time).

Because of her varied experience, McGrath said she felt prepared when she started at the Post — although she did have to improve her web skills on the fly.

“Working here in an online environment can definitely be a lot more fast-paced than other jobs I’ve had, but I like working fast and somewhat enjoy the pressure,” she explains. “Also the flexibility of my job — being able to write, edit, pitch, design — also makes it really enjoyable and also constantly-changing so you don’t get bored.”

McGrath does most of her work from her desk, rather than the press box. Though she isn’t a reporter, she does pitch and write stories for the web once or twice a week.

Most of what she writes is determined by what she thinks will perform well online — in other words, goofy or offbeat stories that are likely to generate a lot of traffic and shares on social media.

“It’s hard to define what those stories are, but you kind of just recognize them when they happen,” she says.

As a result, the stories she writes tend to be stories related to sports as opposed to straight game recaps — such as a story about Ottawa Senators goalie Andrew “The Hamburglar” Hammond inspiring fans to throw hamburgers on the ice, or a recurring blog about the new reality show Hockey Wives.

The job of covering sports themselves is left to the sports reporters who actually attend the games.

“This was written by someone in Miami right now,” McGrath says of the Bouchard story. “Someone luckier than me gets to be in hot weather.”

She does, however, attend the odd home game in Toronto if no one else is available.

“I’m on the bench — I get called in sometimes,” she laughs. At that, Sean Fitz-Gerald pipes up from the other side of the divider.

“I wouldn’t say you’re on the bench — not that I’m eavesdropping,” he says. “She’s short-selling herself. She’s absolutely invaluable. Don’t listen to her modesty.”

Fitz-Gerald, who has been a sports reporter at the Post for about 15 years, says he’s impressed by McGrath’s ability to juggle multiple responsibilities.

“She does a whole bunch of things in a very short period of time. Multitasking is a huge responsibility, especially on the weekend, because a lot of sports happen on the weekend,” he says.

“She’s writing, she’s generating her own content, and she’s basically driving the ship of a national newspaper website in sports.”

McGrath takes the praise humbly, and adds that she doesn’t resent not being sent to more games — in fact, she thinks her job is just right.

“I think when you’re young and you are aspiring to be a reporter and a writer, it’s actually really beneficial that I get to read everybody’s stories,” she says. “One of the best ways to become a great journalist is to read good journalism, and to read journalism all the time.”

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