Ever since he was a kid, Rob Biertempfel has always loved writing. Luckily for Biertempfel, he was able to turn his passion for writing into a career that he loves. Biertempfel currently works for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and is the paper’s main beat writer for the city’s Major League Baseball team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Biertempfel is fond of this position and he had to work hard to get to where he is today.
Biertempfel believes his career started when he decided to join his college newspaper at Penn State University. When asked if he always wanted to be a sports journalist, Biertempfel says that he did not. All he knew was that he wanted to be part of the school newspaper and they had an opening in sports. His career took off from there. Biertempfel got his first full time job as a writer in Maryland. This is where Biertempfel got his first taste of how hard being a journalist really is. He was assigned to cover an entire county in Maryland, just himself and one other reporter. Because of this, Biertempfel did everything. He wrote stories, took pictures and interviewed. He worked his way up the ranks in Maryland before Biertempfel finally landed at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He started as the paper’s college football reporter and did that for 11 years before becoming the beat writer for the Pittsburgh Pirates and has been on that beat for eight years now.
Being the beat writer for the Pirates is the hardest job Biertempfel has ever had.
“Major League Baseball beat is one of those things that if you can do that, you can do any job on the paper,” says Biertempfel.
He believes this because he’s always on a deadline. He also does both feature writing and news reporting. Furthermore, he has to know medical issues, finances, how to relate to people and he has to cover different levels. There are so many things going on at once that he feels it is hard to keep up with. This is one of the reasons why he believes that you have to enjoy writing and reporting to do the job.
After describing his job he explained some of the hardest aspects of being a journalist. One of the hardest things Biertempfel has to do is get his reports done by his deadline. His main deadline is usually at 10:15 p.m. Eastern Standard Time but that can change because of holidays, weather and more. Sometimes Pirates games go on longer than that but he still has to have his story in by 10:15 p.m. This forces him to start writing his pieces around the second or third inning of a game instead of waiting until it is over. Because of this, most of Biertempfel’s work does not get read and he’s OK with this.
He says, “You gotta live with doing a lot of work and only a fraction of that gets read by anybody and sometimes you just gotta rip stuff up and throw it away.”
This also means that he is not turning his best stories in every night but this does not bother Biertempfel either.
He always says, “The paper costs 50 cents. We’re gonna make another one tomorrow.”
So he suggests not getting upset if a story isn’t your best work.
Another issue Biertempfel tackles daily is the use of sources. Although the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review does not require a certain number of sources to publish a story, Biertempfel tells me that he likes to get at least two named sources. When asked about using anonymous sources, Biertempfel says he does not like to use them but sometimes he needs to.
“They’re a necessary evil,” he says, “You just have to use people anonymously.”
The final issue that Biertempfel discusses is one of bias. He says he used to be a fan of the Pirates but no longer is because it affects his job too much.
“The longer you do this job, you’re definitely not a fan of the team you cover,” according to Biertempfel, “You’ll always feel a tug of something.”
His suggestion is to find an outlet separate from the team you report on. For example, he is a fan of Everton, a soccer team in the Premier League.
After a serious discussion about journalism, the mood got lighter and Biertempfel answered some personal questions. When asked what his favorite part of journalism is he chose what he has enjoyed since his college days, writing. When asked about his least favorite part of journalism, he surprisingly said traveling. He justified his answer saying he hates living hotel to hotel and ballpark to ballpark, never being able to get acclimated to one place. He was asked about a story he would always remember and said it was a story he did on John Woodruff, an Olympic gold medalist in the 1936 Summer Olympics. He found the story amazing how he won a gold medal but lived a basic life afterwards because he was African-American. Unlike most reporters, Biertempfel does not have a crazy interview moment so he concluded that it just hasn’t happened yet. And his favorite person to interview was Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington because he understood the process and always had a good quote.
To end the interview Biertempfel offered a few tips to young, aspiring journalists. He says to only go into sports journalism if you like writing, not because you’re a fan. He also suggests to approach athletes like ordinary people.
He says, “A lot of them [athletes], maybe 60 to 70 percent, want to be dealt with as regular people. They just make more money and work in front of 37,000 people.”
This was the best advice he could give. Rob Biertempfel is an interesting man and great reporter. If you would like to read some of his work, all of his stories are printed in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and can be seen on the paper’s website.