Aspiring sports writers Mackinley Salk and Chris Gasper were in the dugout of Columbia College Chicago’s club baseball team, The Renegades, when they realized that to continue writing about sports after graduating was going to require they take matters into their own hands.
“We saw the sports journalism world was starting to change, so we jumped on the opportunity to do it our way.”
So after three years of work and development, in 2011 Salk and Gasper launched MidwayMadness.com, a website that covers Chicago sports and offers opportunities for young aspiring writers to hone their craft and get real-world experience writing about sports.
For Salk, his path began on the field. Coming out of Hinsdale Central High School, he planned on playing baseball, not writing about it. He spent two years playing at Western Michigan University before a back injury knocked him from the game.
Salk turned to broadcasting as an extracurricular activity and found it allowed him to follow his passion for sports even if he couldn’t participate. His upbringing helped with the transition.
“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,” Salk said.
After graduating from Columbia, Salk became a broadcasting intern and also worked for WCRX, Columbia’s on-campus radio station but it became apparent he was going to struggle making a living while also trying to cover the teams he loved. So he decided to employ himself.
“Starting my own business in this field was tough,” Salk said. “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.”
Eventually getting taken seriously was no longer a problem. Midway Madness was covering everything from Chicago’s pro teams to Northwestern sports and the website was producing content at an increasing rate.
But as the website grew, the workload and the competitive field started 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.
Then, on Jan. 16, 2014, while driving back from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Gasper lost control of his car and was killed. Gasper had previously expressed to the Midway Madness group that he wanted the site to give other students the same opportunity it gave him: the opportunity 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,” Salk said. “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.”
Midway Madness has since 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,” Salk said.
The world of journalism is always changing, but Midway Madness continues to fulfill the vision Salk and Gasper hoped for — being 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.