Walking off the cold, wet turf of Memorial Stadium after yet another losing season for the Huskers, Omaha World-Herald sports reporter Sam McKewon knew that Nebraska sports had not been this low in quite some time.
“The football program is struggling right now. The basketball program is struggling. The baseball program is OK,” McKewon said. “A lot of programs just aren’t as good as they’ve been.”
For McKewon, who has spent the last nine years with the World-Herald covering Nebraska athletics with a main focus in football, this hard time has been interesting to watch.
“Nebraska used to be the Boston Red Sox of the Midwest in everything,” he said. “They still are in volleyball, but they used to be that in everything … Now they’re not. And I think it’s hard.”
McKewon has become the go-to guy for the World-Herald when it comes to football, and he also has a place in the AP Poll for NCAA Division I Football. This means that he is a part of a group of 64 people across the nation who vote each week for the top 25 NCAA football teams. To be a part of this group, he had to be voted for by other sports journalists in the area.
Although he has now built up a following of over 42,000 on Twitter, McKewon didn’t always know that sports reporting was his calling. In fact, from a young age, he was not sure what he wanted to do. He enjoyed writing and was on his high school newspaper staff at Millard North High School in Omaha. He was also a part of debate and even thought about pursuing law after high school. After choosing to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to major in broadcasting, he also took a job at The Daily Nebraskan where he started to truly enjoy writing.
“The experience I had at The Daily Nebraskan, which this is 1996, very different newspaper then, and a great one. My experience there was just different than the UNL broadcasting college,” McKewon said. “I was like, ‘This seems like a lot more fun, it seems like a lot more energy, it seems more exciting, I’m gonna do this.'”
Although McKewon knew he truly enjoyed writing while in college, he did not immediately pursue it after college. Instead, he worked many smaller jobs that were not in the journalism world before finding his way back to journalism.
“You learn something outside of journalism that is actually hard to learn in journalism,” McKewon said. “When you’re a journalist, almost all of your life is invested in other people telling you about their lives.”
In 2001, McKewon worked for the State Paper website where he began to get back into journalism, and more importantly, sports. After years of working, in 2007, McKewon reached out to the owner and asked if he could cover Nebraska football to make some extra money. This is where his sports reporting career kicked off, because he covered the final season of Bill Callahan when things changed.
“The advantage that I had in working for that website at that time is that I could write whatever the hell I wanted,” McKewon said. “I did, and people were drawn to it.”
Everything fell into place at the right time for McKewon, and he took advantage of that. He was one of the frontrunners with online sports news in Nebraska, which allowed him to move from State Paper to a website called Husker Locker, then finally to the World-Herald in 2011.
After nine years of working for the World-Herald, McKewon has found himself at a new chapter in his career. McKewon and his wife have a daughter 12, and a son 6, and in that time of them growing up, life has changed for McKewon.
“Part of what happens when you start having kids is your career goals change to their life goals,” McKewon said. “My hope is that my kids grow up and are productive citizens in the world and are kind to people and find people they love and people who love them.”
While having kids has changed McKewon’s future goals, it also changes the plan he has set out for himself. The goals that he had when he was younger are no longer the same goals that he has now, because he has a family with him.
“What begins to happen is you begin to think about, you know, career maintenance versus career climbing,” McKewon said. “This is something that happens when you get in your 40s, which I am.”
McKewon said that he has been able to spend more time with his family through the lockdown, however, it has also affected his work. With everyone stuck inside, writers have little to write about besides the coronavirus, and sports writers have no sports to write about, but the World-Herald hasn’t stopped putting out new work.
“The World-Herald has been putting out a paper every day, and there’s been stories, and we’ve had some good stuff, but it’s still a journey,” McKewon said. “I think it’s fair to say that this has been an adjustment and will continue to be an adjustment so long as the social distancing and economic shutdown continues.”
And, while the newspaper has seen a decrease in advertising due to the economy shut down, there is a positive.
“Our website has more traffic than it’s had in a long time because people want to read about the coronavirus,” he said.
While this is not quite what they would want to see, McKewon says that he can’t be mad at the advertisers because they are doing what they have to do. However, for him, it is clearly not ideal. He has had to find a new way to write about Nebraska athletics while there are no athletic events taking place.
“We’re kind of going back and looking at some of the things that used to give us joy or thrill us in the past,” McKewon said. “We had sort of a big list of Husker games that you could watch while you’re at home and that was extremely popular, unusually popular, how many people looked at that.”
McKewon was quick to think with the past games idea, and they found success with those articles. However, this is not something that can last forever.
“There isn’t any question that this is going to have a significant impact if we don’t play the college football season,” McKewon said. “Jobs will be gone. Sports will be cut. They gotta play this college football season.”