Julie Stewart-Binks has the distinction of working for both ESPN, the most renowned traditional media entity in sports media, and Barstool Sports, which is one of the most well-known non-traditional sports media companies.
You might have seen her on the sidelines covering college football or soccer for the Worldwide Leader, or co-hosting her early-morning Barstool Radio show on SiriusXM.
We caught up with Stewart-Binks recently to discuss what it is like to work for both companies, how she prepares for her reporting job, her move to the East Coast and much more.
The Spun: It seems cliche, but we always like starting off with the basics. How did you get involved in a career in sports journalism? What made you want to go down that path?
JSB: Honestly, it was kind of an interesting moment. I went to school for psychology and my mom [Georgie Binks] was a news reporter in Canada for CBC. She had said--she had went to the same university I did (Queen's University in Ontario)--I should go join the radio station. She said I'd meet people and it would be a different experience. I went to the radio station and tried to volunteer but they said they didn't have any space. So I went over to the Queen's TV station and asked if they had any openings. They told me "Oh yeah, come on in. We need somebody to do an interview tomorrow." They welcomed me in. While I didn't think I wanted to do media, I thought I would try this as a fun hobby. After I did my first interview, I knew it was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, It was an "A-ha!" moment.
The Spun: You are obviously into sports and have said you grew up playing. What sports were you into?
JSB: I was a competitive figure skater from when I was four until I was 16 and I ran track and field during college. I started playing hockey during all that too. Figure skating, hockey and track and field are my sports.
The Spun: We saw some of the things you were doing during the "Barstool Olympics" and figure skating was one event. Did you have a competitive advantage?
JSB: Well, sort of but not really. I haven't figure skated in a while but I've been playing hockey consistently...You'll see the video. We were almost too good for Barstool that it wasn't funny.
The Spun: How did you get into covering soccer?
JSB: My biggest foray into soccer was when I did my masters in London, England. I had a sports journalism program and was fully into everything going on over there. I really immersed myself in soccer. I was right near Emirates Stadium. I became a fan of it and then I started covering it. I came back to Canada and I was trying to get a job anywhere and I saw a job opening come up at a place called Fox Soccer Report. I got a screen test and I just knew soccer more than anyone else. It wasn't like I was amazing at it, but I liked it a lot and had just come off of having a legitimate background. I got the job and kept doing it. I liked it. It's interesting, because it's not really a sport that a whole lot of Americans think of doing. They think football, basketball, baseball, hockey. I benefitted from being part of a group that wanted more people. That way I got to work MLS, Women's World Cup, fill in on Europa League, a whole bunch of stuff.
The Spun: For ESPN this past fall, you did a lot of sideline reporting for college football. What was it like doing that, and how does college football compare to covering soccer or hockey?
JSB: What I find is, it's very similar. Both soccer and college football are so tribal. The fan bases are so obsessive; there's such a culture around them. It's early morning drinking, it's wild cheering, it's being decorated in your team's colors. It's not just going to a game. Both soccer and college football are a lifestyle. That's what I try to explain to people who are college football fans. I tell them "You would like soccer." Soccer is obsessive. It's angry, it's upsetting, it's happy. It's everything that people live or die with college football on.
Covering the two was extremely different. As a sideline reporter, soccer is not conducive to having a sideline reporter in it. I learned very quickly, how to get in, how to get out, watching the ball, when to stop talking. I basically had two seconds to tell the story. As a sideline reporter, it was difficult, but your access was huge. I'm standing behind coaches, I can talk to coaches during the game. That was something I created for MLS. I wanted to be able to tell our fans why a coach is making a substitution. I wanted to go up to them and ask them questions during the game. I was able to get that done. That happened during my first year of MLS and then my second year, they actually put in the media handbook that the coaches had to have a representative talk to the sideline reporter about any decisions being made.
In college football, you have to tell so many more stories. Soccer, we're a little bit more reactionary. You say "Oh we were talking to the coach, he wants to go to a higher press, drop back, whatever." With college football, it's "this guy grew up, he went through a lot of adversity." There's more story telling and more time between the plays.
The Spun: That leads into our next question. What's the difference between sideline reporting and other on-camera work you've done, like in a studio? Not just the difference in responsibilities but how you prepare.
JSB: Of course, it is extremely different. For sideline reporting, my main thing before a game would be to find the biggest story lines going into it. Whether it was listening to podcasts or finding articles or looking at media articles or media clips, but then building on it. Say a guy had said earlier in the week "I'm having trouble with this," how can I tell the next level of that story? Which would mean, whatever the biggest story is, get the guy closest to it to give you a quote, or get another guy to give you a different angle on a similar topic. I always just thought how do we elevate the story to a new level. Sometimes within that, you would have way more interesting stuff.
As for what I do now, hosting this radio show, it's less about a quote and it's less about furthering a story and breaking news stuff and more about how do we think about something differently. I'm always thinking "How do we take this conversation to another level? How can we relate any kind of news?" For example, when USA women won the gold medal in hockey over Canada, we talked about should a championship of that caliber be decided by a shootout. My whole thing was "No, it takes away from it." But then we think, does this actually help grow hockey? Guys like (my coworker) Willie Colon who was an NFL player stayed up to watch the game. Basically, we think of different big-picture questions in terms of debate. That's the difference.
The Spun: Speaking of radio, you mentioned earlier that your mom was on TV. What was the cool fact about you? Was it your radio career began on the anniversary of your mom's first day in TV?JSB: It's kind of funny. When I was talking to her, she said "Oh my God, January 17, the first day your show launches will be 41 years to the day" from when her traffic segment that she would do every day launched back in Ottawa when she was a young buck. While I had done radio spots and filled in, I had never had my own show. It's kind of a cool connection.
The Spun: What are the major differences you've noticed from working at Barstool and ESPN?JSB: I think the biggest difference is, of course, the two outlets couldn't be in some ways more different, but they are very similar at the same time. Barstool, it's a lot easier to do things. Because it's a smaller outlet and there's really not a whole lot of boundaries, if you have an idea, go shoot it and see if it's any good. ESPN is a huge enterprise. It's a monster organization. So getting an opportunity to do something, even if you have a grand idea, would take a lot of different steps. The way they evaluate what they want on air and the content they want is different. Barstool sort of takes ESPN's content as a starting point and says "okay, how do we find the humor in this?" How do we find something that the average person can just read and laugh at? I actually started taking improv classes and trying to figure out a way to--while I feel I am sort of a weird, quirky person, how do I hone that into having a character and a personality on-air or creating funny sketches?
The platforms are so different too. People still watch TV, still watch the games. That's what ESPN has. But at the same time, we're seeing millenials clicking on content more and more times in a day. So I can't tell you how many people recognize me from Barstool, just because of the sheer volume of content that's put out that is so easily accessible. A quick little video, a tweet. It's always at your fingertips, whereas sometimes with the content that's been put out by an organization like ESPN, it's a game and it is on at a specific time. You would have to tune in for that. But the game will always be No. 1, because that's where all of our Barstool content comes from. It's a chicken and the egg thing. Both of them have their merits in that regard. It's just different.
The Spun: Did you receive any negative feedback when you joined Barstool? There's been some controversy between them and ESPN, and some in the industry don't view them in a particularly good way. Were there any responses that surprised you?JSB: I think that there wasn't necessarily a negative or a positive, there was just more of a surprise. For the majority of my career, I have been with major networks. I've worked at Fox Sports 1, ESPN, back in Canada at CTV. It's major networks where traditional journalism is. Barstool is the antithesis of that. So when the news came out, it was like "Wow, that's like a complete 180 for you." But I explained to people that within the media landscape, you have to be willing to adapt and to change and to also take risks. Now more than ever, if you're not able to see that the landscape is changing and viewing habits are changing, you're going to get left behind.
I thought, I'm 30 years old, I'm single, I need to do something a little bit different. Barstool, I had never even thought about working there. They came to me and offered me an opportunity with the college football tailgate show, which I was interested in. Then, they said "hey, we want you to be full-time here." It kind of threw me for a loop, but they said "We wamt to give you a chance to create whatever you want. We want to let you be the star. You can create your own hockey show, you can create your own soccer show. We'll support you." To me, that was super attractive. As someone who was sort of in a role of giving 10-second injury updates every 25 minutes, that's fine in itself and a great opportunity, I kind of knew in my heart that I am capable of doing more and would love to just get an opportunity. When you work at a big entity like ESPN, that's very difficult. That's not saying anything bad. It takes a long time to make a name for yourself at a big organization. Sometimes, you have to step out of line and do something completely different to be able to have your content and your personality and creativity noticed on a bigger platform. That is a risk, but you have to remember what brought you there in the first place. That's what I always remember. End of the day, regardless of what happens between Barstool and the rest of the world, I am there to create content that I feel is meaningful and I think people would enjoy.
The Spun: What is it like in the Barstool office and working there? A lot of people think it is basically like working at a frat house with a media company. What is it like being in that environment every day?
JSB: It's very fun. I say to people, "Remember what it was like when you were in high school and you had a surprise teacher?" Everything is just sort of a wash. You're not going to be doing anything serious. You're going to have a lot of fun. That's what it is like. It's kind of summer camp. It's kindergarten. It is chaotic inside that office but that's what breeds the ideas and the content. It's like controlled chaos.
People are inside that office and they are blogging their butts off. They're creating videos. I've never seen people create more content in my life based on anything in the entire world...That's what is kind of neat. They aren't traditional media, so if you have any idea, you can do it. Not all ideas are going to work, but you might as well try it. They give you confidence to try and test things out. They want to see you do it, and even if you fail, it is still good to do it.
In the office, it is like a reality show. Everything is aired out. Sometimes, it's hard to tell what's real and what's not. But that's what you have to accept when you walk in that office. Don't take anything too seriously, take everything with a grain of salt, and know at the end of the day that everyone has your best interests at heart.
The Spun: One of the things I always ask people, especially someone like you who is so active on social media, is how do you deal with the inevitable trolls that are on there?
JSB: It's all just like you can't look at it. You can't look at comments. For the most part, Twitter and Instagram are positive. They are people that follow you and like you. But [U.S. figure skater] Adam Rippon had a great quote about this. It was "Trolls are fans in denial." These people that troll you, you're taking up real estate in their head. It's better if they like you or hate you. Indifference is the killer. If they hate you, just ignore it.
The Spun: Being in New York and having been in LA before this, can you compare and contrast the two cities? Also, how have you adjusted to having to get up early and be on the air as early as you are?
JSB: Obviously, New York and LA are extremely different, but there are similarities. What I like about both places, they have dreamers. They have people that are so inspired. They work hard, they are empowering. They make you want to be better at whatever it is in your life. For me, of course it's my career. I found in LA, it has a magic to it. It has this La La-land-esque thing to it. You can be whatever you want to be and it's sunny out and it's very happy and all that kind of stuff. But when I lived there, especially at the end, I felt almost like I was retired. I would have a couple of days off and I would be on the beach and it would be easy. I thought, "I don't want that right now." I want the grind. I want the grit. I want to feel as though I'm evolving and changing. When all this stuff happened, I instantly jumped into the idea that there's so many jobs you'll have in your life. That's the one thing you have to remember. I have a two-year contract with Barstool. I just know for the next two years this is what I'll be doing. But I don't know anything beyond that. So sometimes we get very melodramatic and over-analyze every detail. Everything you do will give you different experiences and opportunities to grow as a person. I thought I had lived in LA for four-and-a-half years and it was time for a change.
Coming to New York, you get that. You get real people. You don't feel like you're retired here. You feel like you've got to swim or you're gonna sink. What I like is that this put me back on my toes. I was kind of living in a little bit of a dream in LA, which is not bad at all. It's great. But this is back to reality and a reminder that you are at a point in your life where you don't want to take a shift off. This is where you give it every freakin' thing that you have and go out and do it.
As for the early mornings, it's a complete lifestyle change. It was very difficult at first. But I can't tell you, and I know this sounds made up, but when my alarm goes off at 3:30 in the morning, I never press snooze. First of all, because I'm scared that I will press snooze and I'll end up sleeping through the show but also I'm so excited to go do that show. I love going in there every single day. I love working with the guys. Those two hours that we are on air, we genuinely really like one another. We're very, very different but we all find our own quirks and intricacies and it works.
The only thing that changes is you just don't sleep anymore. I don't go out during the week. I'm always trying to go to bed by 9, and I don't anymore. I might get four hours of sleep a night. I don't nap and I just run on coffee. That's very unhealthy, but at the same time, it's kind of like if you can do it and you're fine, why not. But at some point you have to find a little bit of balance. But with a morning show, I've talked with Trey Wingo, I've talked with Joy Taylor, all these different people who say you never really get used to it...It's tough. I would be lying if I said it wasn't very difficult right now, but I try to see the positives of having your own morning show on a national platform as the biggest thing.
The Spun: Lastly, along the way, who have you been able to lean on for advice and guidance? Who have been your mentors in the industry?
JSB: That's a really great question. I have a couple of different people that I lean on, especially during this transition. I'm not going to lie, it was tough to go from a very buttoned-up formal network side to a chaotic, millennial-driven internet craze. You're trying to figure out what your role is, what am I doing, who am I, what do I want to accomplish? Honestly. I've had two people. One is my mom, who is incredible. Because she was in the industry, she sees it from a very traditional standpoint. But she's on social media, she's on Instagram, she's on Twitter, she's on Snapchat. So she gets the business, that this is where millennials are getting their news and ewhere things are going. But she's also helped me. She knows I come from a traditional background. She also knows that I have the ability and the interest to make that transition. She's been great, and at least right now, this guy Dave Krikst who is a producer at TSN. He's kind of been doing the Barstool stuff at TSN with a thing called "BarDown." It is like Barstool for hockey in Canada. So as someone who works at a national network and he's bringing the Barstool thing there, that has helped me. I talk to him like every day for feedback, advice, things like that. Those are the two main people.