Matt Craig: You Have To Love The Work

BY MASON PLUMMER | Lead Writer | Ball State Sports Link

Ball State Sports Link alum Matt Craig recently met with current students (virtually) to talk about what he is doing in his career now after Ball State.

Craig is a graduate of Ball State with his Master’s from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, and is also a former student of Sports Link senior director Chris Taylor.

“Finding the story is the most important thing,” Craig said. “We’re telling true stories. If there’s a goal and an obstacle, then you have a story.”

Craig is currently an active writer living in Los Angeles, with writing credits for Basketball Times, The Athletic, The Washington Post, Esquire, Mid-Major Madness and other sports outlets.

Craig shared the process of feature stories he has written recently, including The Ballad of Wild Bill: The rise, fall, and rise of Utah State’s iconic superfan.

“I was assigned to go to Logan, Utah to write a story about the Utah State basketball team,” Craig said. “As I’m researching the team, I found out the most famous person on campus wasn’t a basketball player, but was Bill Sproat. Being curious is your biggest tool as a storyteller.”

At the moment, he is currently working for the New York Times on an investigative series about COVID.  In addition, Craig has worked with various national book authors, including Seth Davis.  

In the Zoom call, Craig spoke about his time at Ball State, how he got to where he is now and everything in-between. 

“Coming in as a freshman, I knew I wanted to be a storyteller,” Craig explained. “The video space was awesome, but there is a much higher barrier for entry compared to writing. You have to have all of the technical skills. Writing came to me much more naturally.”

The current students seemed to resonate with Craig, as he is a recent graduate in the industry.

He provided guidance and motivation for everyone, letting the students know that with hard work and dedication to their craft, they too can do what he is doing. 

Craig put a major emphasis on the idea of ‘taking your chances’ and running with any opportunity given to him. Craig’s big break came when a friend of Taylor’s, The Athletic writer and CBS basketball host Seth Davis, needed someone to complete a favor for him and Craig jumped at the opportunity.

“Seth was working on this story for Sports Illustrated at the time and he needed someone to transcribe an interview,” Craig said. “This was an important story and I wanted to make a good impression. It was right before Thanksgiving, so he couldn’t just give the interview to a transcription service because it would take a least a week to get back to him.

“I turned it around and got it back to him in 24 hours. It was a three-hour interview and I had never transcribed before. It took me at least 12 hours, but I made that first impression with him and he kept me doing things for him from there.”

Davis is widely known as one of the more respected journalists in sports and Craig jumped at the opportunity to help him out even with something as small as a transcription and it has led him to now writing alongside Davis at The Athletic. 

Craig does a variety of things in his journalism career outside of sports as well.

He talked at length about his project covering COVID-19 with the New York Times, where he is investigating virus outbreak clusters in congregate settings.

“For the New York Times, what I am doing is obviously a result of the pandemic because they created a team in March to help track all of the data,” Craig said.

“At the beginning of the pandemic it was watching a bunch of local city press conferences which was so something that was definitely new for me. You’re part of a team that is on the front lines of service journalism and they do some incredible things.”

He was adamant to tell the Ball State students to be versatile in the stories they cover and to never be afraid to put yourself out there.

Craig wrapped up his presentation by taking questions from the students who were excited to pick his brain about any and all things storytelling.

“You have to love the work,” Craig said. “For me, it’s being curious and loving the power of story.”