Robert Klemko ’10

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Robert Klemko ’10
Feb 11, 2013

Robert Klemko ’10 graduated from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism in the spring of 2010, and has already embarked on a successful career at USA Today, where he covers the Redskins and the Ravens. Klemko has covered a variety of worldwide events, including the Super Bowl and the US women’s soccer team’s run to gold in the 2012 London Olympic Games. The Povich Center sat down with the young reporter  to talk about his fast rise and his advice for aspiring journalists.

On covering the women’s soccer team at the Olympic Games…

“It was great, you know I went into it thinking I was going to spend the whole time in London, but then I realized the women’s soccer team wouldn’t play there until the last week of the games. So I went to Scotland and Newcastle and Manchester and it was just incredible to see all of the UK and then to see the impact that women’s soccer was having. Every place they played, they set an attendance record, so it was like you were watching a sport but it was also like you were watching some sort of progress.”

On Super Bowl XLVI, his first as a reporter…

“That was great. I really liked the Super Bowl for the fact that the NFL is my favorite league, my favorite thing to write about. It’s draining because you’re talking for seven days about eventually three hours of football. So it’s like how many times can we do an article about Gronkowski and whether his foot is going to affect the Patriots? But it was an incredible opportunity to be my age and to get to go do that. It also felt like a great responsibility to prove that I belonged in that setting.”

On his history at USA Today

“I started in 2009 as an intern, and so I interned as a reporter and then I interned as a digital editor, and then I came back for a part-time job as a digital editor, and they asked, after I graduated, if I wanted a full-time job. I wanted to be a reporter but when I first got there I realized that all of the reporters that were there were a lot better than I was at writing and had a lot more experience in reporting in general.

“And so I figured there was this gap between the technology and the applications that were available to us in our computer network and everyone’s knowledge of those computer applications, and I realized that my only way to really get in and eventually become a reporter was to figure out how to, for instance, make photo galleries, and video, and program the website and things like that. So that’s what I learned how to do during my internship, and I was able to get a full-time job out of it, and then I spent about a year and a

half doing 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. shifts publishing stuff to the website, reading and editing AP stories and things like that, which was kind of miserable. It was valuable experience, it was really humbling, and I don’t know if I would be able to write and report like I can now if I hadn’t done any of that. I wouldn’t have the sense of desperation that I have now.”

On how he got the Ravens and Redskins beat…

“So I was doing the 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. stuff, and then I would go home and take a nap for a few hours and get up at like 9 and come to the office and just kind of offer my services to whomever, and I was working sort of off the clock and trying to build relationships with the editors and make allies in the newsroom and really trying to learn how to be a reporter on the level that some of those people are, and doing that just for a couple of years and showing interest and knowledge about the NFL. Then when the opportunity came, I applied for the NFL job and I was really surprised when I got it.”

On learning how to do multimedia work at USA Today…

“A lot of it was intuitive, like you learn how to play a video game. A lot of the stuff that I was doing in the beginning at USA Today reminded me of the things we were doing in Chris Harvey’s class. The one thing Chris Harvey’s class didn’t prepare me for was the repetition of it, doing it over and over again every day. It was nice to just come in to class for an hour and just do that and not have to think about it for the rest of the week. There’s people that enjoy it, and I’m definitely not one of those people, I want to go out and see games and meet people and things like that and not just sit in front of a computer. That’s why I really wanted to get into journalism in the first place, to kind of see something different every day, and to, in the end, draw parallels between different experiences.”

On his time at Maryland…

“I think the coolest thing about being at Maryland was how many opportunities there were to do what I wanted to do. Even when I didn’t know what I wanted to do, there was always stuff to try. I played rugby, that was a lot of fun, I played ice hockey up at Laurel on the club team, and then I got really serious about interning and journalism and things like that and there are always people to write for if you’re willing to put in the work. Not everybody that comes out of Maryland that has success wrote at the Diamondback. I wrote at the Gazette, almost the entire time I was here, and I did it for free, and I was lucky enough that my parents would help me work at a place for free and spend all that time basically just

giving it away. There was no shortage of opportunities of things to write about and sports in this area, and I thought about it, and if I had gone to some of the other schools that I considered I don’t know if that would have been the case.”

On what he learned at Merrill College…

“I think some of the most important stuff I learned in class was the copy editing, just learning all the rules of AP Style and things like that. Those little things are invaluable. The other thing that I think about almost every day is the Ethics class that I took. I had an Ethics class, and I had a Law in Journalism class, and both of those, when you’re sitting in there, you don’t think you’re going to be dealing with this stuff later, you think it’s going to be really cut and dry when you get out, but a lot of that stuff that I learned there helped me figure out how to deal with public relations people in my job and just different situations that you get put in. You have to figure out the right thing and I always learned that you really just have to tell the truth and trust the people that are your mentors and be able to talk about stuff and not try to figure out everything on your own, and that’s what we did in class, we talked it out with our professors.”

On a specific example of him using what he learned in Ethics Class…

“I went down to Texas, and we were doing a story on Torii Hunter’s son, who had supposedly sexually assaulted a girl, one of his high school classmates. We were dealing a lot with source stuff and off the record stuff, and talking with students who had different motives and stuff like that. I remembered that in college we had weighed sources and when it was appropriate to source and how many is good enough to have and put a story out, and every person I talked to there I was asking them questions and interviewing them in the way that I remembered my ethics teacher telling us to. It’s valuable.”

On his advice to young journalists…

“You can’t be stuck in what you want to do, so you want to do something, and the opportunity may not be there, but every newspaper publication needs something, everyone has a gap that they need to fill, maybe a TV station doesn’t have the best writers and you want to be on camera – well you’ve got to figure out how to write. So you’ve got to be willing and ready to learn things that are different but related to what you want to do, and I think you’ll find, even though it’s not exactly what you want to do, that what you’re doing to get in the door is actually helping you become better at the one thing that you really wanted to do.”

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