His colleagues describe him as having a really good work ethic. They see him as a nice guy who is genuine about the field he is in and has been covering high school sports ever since he was in high school himself. He is Mike Clark, the assistant preps editor at the Chicago Sun-Times. For Clark, it was all he ever really wanted to do.
“When I was in college, I did some radio work, but it’s the only profession I’ve ever been in, basically,” Clark said. “I was working part time when I was still in high school and college at the Kankakee Journal and when I graduated from the University of Illinois in 1980, they offered me a full-time job. I was working there covering high school sports, editing stories, designing pages and I was there for six years.”
Clark spent time working in places like Macomb, Ill., Champaign, Ill., Port Arthur, TX, Memphis, Tenn., Riverside, Calif., Lexington, KY and has been with the Sun-Times since November 2007. He has written about sports such as football, basketball and track, to name a few. Clark has found himself putting in more time than most do in the average work week.
“It’s a not a 9-5, that’s for sure,” Clark said. “I would say probably the average week is 50 hours or so. Some weeks, maybe even a little bit more than that…It’s not like working in a factory where the bell rings and you start working and you work for eight hours and you stop. You work until the work’s done. Sometimes the work gets done sooner and sometimes it gets done later.”
Spencer Bonne is one of Clark’s co-workers at the Sun-Times. He said you always have to be prepared and that is what Clark expects of someone. Bonne said Clark is always on top of his game and said he virtually doesn’t have to edit Clark’s stories because they’re on point. He said that Clark’s work ethic is quite good.
“He virtually never calls in sick,” Bonne said. “He’s always where he’s supposed to be, always on top of things. He’s respectful of people…You can tell he really loves journalism and loves sports.”
Michael Wojtychiw has served as a writer for the Sun-Times preps section and arrived not too long after Clark did. Wojtychiu picked up a good impression of Clark and is willing to give younger people an opportunity to write.
“My first impression was he came off as a really nice guy,” Wojtychiw said. “He would help you out if you had questions. He was one that would always give people chances to cover stuff. He wanted younger people to be able to do things because he started out when he was younger, so he knew exactly how hard it was to start.”
Wojtychiw said Clark gives tips to become better writers and everybody has something they can work on. He also said that Clark can guide someone and give them advice, but the writers have to go do it themselves. Wojtychiw also appreciates the experience Clark has had from many different locations in his career. According to him, when Clark starts something, he finishes it.
Former Daily Herald reporter Chris Pellizzari has worked at the Sun-Times for the past four years. He describes Clark as a good guy and a very good writer. Pellizzari said Clark is laid back and fun to talk to, but also agrees with his colleagues on the kind of work he brings to the table.
“He’s a first-class journalist,” Pellizzari said. “He’s been doing this for a long time and he just knows his stuff. He seems like he’s here all the time. He obviously puts in more than eight-hour days. He’s a first-class writer. His stuff is always clean and on time and he’s obviously really good at what he does, otherwise he wouldn’t be doing this for as long as he has.”
Clark usually goes out into the field Saturday mornings, performing his craft as an interviewer and journalist. He showed up to the Homewood-Flossmoor Girls Track meet April 12. He wasn’t sure what to expect and arrived roughly a half-hour before the event started.
The event was windy and he wasn’t sure right away what the story would be, but he found himself frequently asking participants from different events what it was like competing against the winds and what someone could take out of competing in the weather. He said at the event that track usually starts off in bad weather before finally getting nice out, but regardless, many meets go on.
“A lot of meets aren’t canceled just because of the cold,” Clark said.
His interview skills are conversational and he is poised and relaxed as he asks his questions. Instead of always firing and asking questions, Clark sometimes would talk and make conversation with the participants. He showed a level of comfort when talking to the kids.
“That’s what you have to do,” he said.
While at the meet, he walked around toward the different events. He found himself his share of downtime, not focusing on every event. Some of the ones he did pay attention to included the 100 meters and 100 hurdles. He would get tape on girls from different events, such as the Long jump, 200 and 400 meters and the 300 hurdles. He wouldn’t always necessarily talk to the winner of the event, as it would vary according to school and which schools the Sun-Times were focusing on. Clark seemed to enjoy working at the event location.
“It’s a good place,” he said. “I know the people here…I got Glenbard [West] next week, which isn’t close to home.”
Where is home?
“Highland, Indiana,” Clark said.
He also has his own favorite event that he likes to cover.
“The sprints are probably the most exciting just because you get good finishes more often,” he said. “Some of the distance ones are pretty good, too. You get some interesting battles. I mean the 100, 200 are kind of the marquee events. Then the 1600 and 3200, you got some interesting battles. You’ll often get a lot of close finishes. Hurdles can be entertaining, too. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”
On hand with Clark was also photographer Patrick Gleason, 22, a 2013 DePaul University graduate. The two are no strangers to working together. Clark is someone whom Gleason enjoys working with.
“We work well together. We understand each other,” Gleason said of working alongside Clark. “He’s a nice guy to talk to…He’s a good casual guy to be around…He’s good about telling me when I don’t do things well and complimenting me when I do do things well…He has great discipline. He’s a very hard worker. I would never doubt for a second that he wasn’t working 100 percent every day.”
According to Clark, he isn’t sure what he could improve on as a reporter or what his one weakness is.
“I guess you could always get better at interviewing people,” he said. “You can always try to listen better, ask better questions. I don’t like to think of myself as having a weak point, especially after being in the business for a long time.”
Clark said there is not one specific thing he has learned as a reporter. He did stress the value of developing relationships with people and treating people right. Clark said you should be prepared when going out to do a story and be a good listener as well. He said he has evolved as a writer because his style was to try to come up with a catchy lead. Clark said he was too concerned with stats and strategy, whereas now he tries to write about people and trends. He has tips for those aspiring to go into his field, but if there is one piece of advice he does have, he gave it without hesitation.
“That’s easy, read,” Clark said. “Read as much as you can. Read the good people, figure out how the good people are doing good work. Don’t copy them, but figure out what they’re doing and figure out how it can form your own style…Don’t copy anybody else’s style. You have to find your own voice.”