Ty Wenger is deputy editor of ESPN The Magazine.
Deputy editor is what we call a top editor in the magazine business. You work with writers, you assign stories. The deputy editor is basically the quality control. You work above the story editors, and it’s your job to help them craft the story ideas and be that second layer. Basically, you are the more experienced version of a story editor.
Do you have an accomplishment that you are most proud of?
I would say the piece on Yasiel Puig and his escape from Cuba that ran about 18 months ago. It was nominated for an ASME, a national magazine award, and was one of the finalists in reporting. The reason why I am so proud of that piece is because it was a story that hadn’t been told. It shed a new light on the plight of what Cuban athletes go through to get off the island. The writer, Scott Eden, declared to me when he filed the piece that his intent with the piece was to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba. The absurdity of the policy was such that to him, this story brought to light the human impact of that. Within a year, the U.S. embargo on Cuba was over. Whether that’s coincidental, I don’t want to confuse correlation with causality. I would say of all the pieces, that is what I’m most proud of because that actually ended up having real-life implications.
Is most of your work dedicated toward editing or writing?
Mostly I’m editing now. I don’t do much writing. I definitely think editors should continue to write because I think it’s very important to be able to understand both sides of the equation and empathize with writers. Sometimes the only way to do that is to actually write yourself. I think it is a mistake when people just go down the editing track because they can lose the connection with the reality of what it’s like to be a writer.
How do you break through the organizational walls to tell the hard, truthful stories about sports?
First of all, don’t be afraid to write around it. Most of our great profiles and features have been about subjects who have never cooperated with us. You don’t need the source at the heart of your story to tell a great story about that source. In truth, there are dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people around those people who know the narrative. The other thing, research the hell out of your subject.
What advice do you have for students coming out of college and looking to break into the field of journalism?
I could have answered this question better 20 years ago because the Internet didn’t exist, and there were very codified entry points. I think so many people ignore the old school ways, which is calling up [an editor] and sending a pitch traditionally. Nobody ever pitches me anymore. Fifteen years ago I would receive two or three pitches a day from writers I had never heard of.
Here’s the answer: Go and find the people at the magazines. There are books. Buy the book, find out who the editors are and go the traditional way. Put yourself in front of them and just keep throwing yourself out there, and eventually you will find an opportunity. If you don’t throw yourself out there to be rejected 17 times out of 20, then you’re not going to find that one time that you’re accepted. I think that’s the honest answer. It’s a lot of banging your head against the wall for the first couple of years. Getting in is the hard part, but once you’re in, you have the opportunity to prove what you can do. You learn, you get better, you grow, and then you potentially have a career.
What advice do you have for those interested in working for ESPN?
ESPN absolutely loves to raise homegrown talent. It is a slow process, but it absolutely exists. There are ladders built within this company to allow people to enter early and ascend up through the company. You have to run the risk of potentially being annoying, but also understand that people will get that you’re trying to make a career. It’s a hard thing to get into journalism these days, really hard. But when you have that foot in the door, make sure you follow that foot up by sticking your whole lower leg in, then the knee, before trying to wedge the whole body inside.
Interested in climbing the ladder at ESPN? Explore possibilities with ESPN The Magazine and other avenues of the company here.
—Sarah Panetta ’16