It’s playoff time in the NHL, and with coverage ramping up in anticipation of some great matchups, The Hockey News’ breaking news will be in the hands of a stock boy.
Well, a former stock boy.
Jared Clinton, 25, is now a reporter for The Hockey News’ website, but he’s only a few years removed from working in a Manitoba grocery store.
“I spent a few years working there, not knowing what the hell I wanted to do,” says the bearded and bespectacled Clinton. “I always loved hockey, so I wanted to find a way to get into hockey. I just didn’t know what that way was.”
Clinton was between schools, having logged four months of an undergrad in history at the University of Manitoba before dropping out. After the grocery gig, he thought sports business was the way to go. Clinton enrolled in a business program at the University of Winnipeg, but about 10 months in he found his calling and dropped out.
That calling was journalism.
“I always had strong skills in English classes growing up so I thought what the hell,” says Clinton.
He started a blog covering the American Hockey League – a league where young NHL prospects go to develop. This blog was Clinton’s journalistic version of the American Hockey League, where he developed the skills necessary for the demands of reporting on hockey at The Hockey News.
Clinton then attended Humber College’s journalism program, where learned the craft. He also was set up with an internship at The Hockey News. Clinton says his knowledge of online communities like Reddit, Mashable, and other social networks gave him an advantage in the field.
“I’m not sure of the specific ages of my coworkers,” he says. “But I’m pretty sure I’m the youngest person there. Generationally, I became more a part of [online communities] growing up . . . I am frequenting them not just because I’m a hockey fan, but because I grew up in the age where this is the way to get quick information and it’s the best.
“Whether or not they hired me because I had the ability to do that, or because of my performance during my internship there, I can’t be certain.”
Clinton was one of the few interns at The Hockey News in recent years to turn his position into a regular job. He began his days back then just as he does now: scouring social media sites, looking for quick visual stories on social media and turning them into posts for the site.
Managing editor Edward Fraser says Clinton’s hiring was at least partly due to his ability to churn out a lot of quality content in a short amount of time,
“He can bang out stories – well-written and well-thought-out stories – very quickly which is a very important trait for online journalism,” said Fraser. “Jared’s got an excellent feel for what people want to see as well as what will do well on a very large-scale basis. He knows how to get people attracted to the game.”
And this is an important time of year for attracting mass audiences to the game. Playoffs bring a different level of hockey, and it’s always in the NHL’s hope to bring in new audiences as the stakes become higher.
It’s also The Hockey News’ hope that new audiences are brought into the website by a combination of the playoffs, social media and oddity articles. Then those newcomers eventually buy magazine subscriptions.
Roping in the general audience is Clinton’s responsibility.
“The posts we’re looking for out of Jared is what we call ‘look at the cat’ posts,” says Fraser. “Those are the fun posts – fantastic plays or oddities – things that are of interest to the more general fan that might do well on social media.
“Some people will, and have, accused [Clinton] of using a lot of click bait headlines,” he continues. “But I have to laugh at that because as one of our other writers points out, is a picture of food on a menu called ‘eat bait?’ It’s kind of silly because in the end, what you want is people to read the work you’ve done, and that’s what all headlines have done since the beginning of time.”
And that’s what audiences do as the day moves on. Clinton’s articles later in the day change gears, moving away from the “look at the cat” style, and focus on his other strengths.
“On top of just drawing traffic, you’ve got to put out incredibly high quality of work,” says Clinton. “You’ve got to build a readership that trusts you, and wants to read what you’re putting out. Part of that is connecting through social media to start growing that readership, but the other part is about being unique.”
Clinton’s afternoon articles focus on his unique hockey knowledge– the American Hockey League, advanced statistics, and teams around his hometown of Winnipeg.
“That’s basically how it works for journalism these days,” says Clinton. “There’s a big focus on specializations in any field . . . It’s not unique to sports journalism, but it’s certainly prominent.”
Niches like these are what makes a journalist unique, and are vital in keeping an audience attentive, says Clinton.
“You’ve got to find a way to do something different,” says Clinton. “Do things that other people aren’t doing yet, and hopefully that catches the audience’s eye.”
Or the eyes of employers. Clinton’s finally found a job around the sport he loves, reaching mass audiences – both general and hardcore – in five to six articles a day.
Not bad for a former grocery clerk.