Payton Looking to Break Into Fashion Journalism
Oct. 15, 2009
Courtesy of Jessica Birthisel, IU School of Journalism reporter
If you Google "Bryan Payton," you'll find a lot of sports stories about him.
The fifth-year senior has been part of the Hoosier football team since he was red-shirted as a freshman in 2005 and, in the years since, has been covered by media outlets ranging from the Indiana Daily Student to the New York Times to ESPN.
But if you Google "by Bryan Payton" you'll find that he also spends a considerable amount of time on the other side of the reporter's notebook. In addition to being an IU running back, Payton is nurturing both fashion and journalism careers, evidenced by his stories and Fashion Jock column in the Indiana Daily Student newspaper, his blogging (including several pieces published on The New York Times Web site), and his arts and culture pieces in the IU magazine, Inside.
As he finishes his final season of Hoosier football, Payton, who will graduate in December with a general studies degree, sat down to reflect on his learning experience with the IDS, what it's like being the interviewee, and where he hopes to take his writing career next.
Payton admitted that he didn't always know he wanted to be a writer, but the more time he spent reading his favorite magazines, such as Giant, Vie, GQ, Details and Men's Health, the more he started to think, "Why can't I do that?"
He said his official writing career started in 2007 with the launch of his now defunct sports blog, Inside IU Football, a project that he says taught him a lot about writing.
"The coaches were nice enough to let me do that," Payton said. "I wasn't very good yet, but it was a good start."
Last spring, he approached the IDS to pursue opportunities, but not in the predictable department. It wasn't sports he was interested in, but fashion. Through general assignment work as well as his Fashion Jock column, Payton said he began to really learn the basic mechanics of journalism, including structuring articles and getting quotes.
According to IDS adviser Ruth Witmer, Payton is a good example of the basic philosophy of IU student media.
"It's a learning lab," said Witmer. "We don't care what you come with. We care what you leave with."
This IDS work mixed his blogging and his insider's sports knowledge, and provided him with enough experience to land a summer sports writing internship with The Journal Gazette in Ft. Wayne, Ind., last summer.
What makes Payton a unique case study is that all the while, as he's been learning the craft of journalism, he's also been the subject of extensive media coverage due to his status as Big Ten athlete. Payton says that his journalistic training has given him unique insight into those times he is the subject of an interview.
"It's comfortable," Payton said of being the interviewee. "I can give the answers I think they want and even throw them a curve ball sometimes."
That's not to say that things always go perfectly. Payton said that, in general, coverage of him has been accurate, but he did recall one instance when a grammatical improvisation led to some feedback. He didn't remember the specifics of the interview or the story, but he remembered making a reference to kicking some butt on the field. When the story was published, the word "butt" was put in quotations, a journalistic technique suggesting that the writer had replaced Payton's swear word with more suitable language.
"He made it look like I cussed," said Payton, laughing. The incident resulted in phone calls from his friends and family (including his mom) as well as baiting from his teammates. "They said, `did you swear in that interview?' I said, `No!'"
The experience helped him realize how many people a story can affect.
"It taught me, as a writer, to be careful," said Payton. "A story doesn't just impact the person it's about. You have to think of all of the people in their life who are going to read it."
Payton said his experiences as interviewee have also made him realize that athletes sometimes get put into boxes, often a result of predictable questions by sports journalists.
"A lot of times, journalists dehumanize us a little bit," said Payton. "But part of it is our own fault, because we talk like PR robots. We're real people, too. Sometimes I want to say, `I know that team is not better than us,' but I can't say that."
For that reason, Payton says that pre-season football training always includes a session on how players should handle media interviews, including what to say and what not to say.
"These interviews aren't just affecting you," said Payton, "it's about the whole team."
One clear benefit of a being a writer who often gets interviewed, he said, is the opportunity to meet other journalists.
"Interviewing is a networking opportunity," said Payton. "Journalism is one huge fraternity, sorority, club. We're all trying to get to the same place. And one day, I want to be where the interviewer is, professionally."
He also admitted his status as Big Ten athlete has opened up journalistic doors, including the opportunity to blog at The New York Times' college sports blog, The Quad.
"I always like to think I'm talented, but I know that being a known name...helps people have a perception of me. What can I say? It's a plus," he said, explaining that if people hear his name 10 to 15 times on the football stadium speakers any given Saturday, it might increase their interest in his IDS stories. "But I do feel that my talent is what keeps people reading."
Witmer, describing Payton as gregarious, said writing experience can help new journalists improve, but there is also something inside people that aids their success.
"There's a lot we can teach young writers," said Witmer, "but some important qualities come with the people. And one of those things is enthusiasm, which Bryan certainly has."
Payton said that his interest in both writing have fashion have slowly crept up on him, but today he describes them as passions, passions he hopes to build his future career around. Sports writing is not high on his list of priorities.
"I can always do that," he said. "It's the most natural, easy thing. I want to write about entertainment, fashion, culture. In the whole scheme of things, these are more important than sports."
Caitlin Johnston, a journalism and political science junior who was Payton's arts editor at the IDS last fall, said Payton's varied interests enhance his writing. tion on the field. He was author of Fashion Jock and now writes his own blog. "The whole reason we wanted to hire him to write one of the fashion columns was because we thought he would bring a unique perspective," said Johnston, the current IDS general assignments editor, in a phone interview. "Since he's not your typical stereotype of a male fashion columnist, I think it helps readers connect to him. He's very approachable, down to earth, and he's not afraid to like a variety of things."
As far as he's come in two quick years, Payton knows there is more work to do and he said he's excited to see how much he can strengthen his skills when writing, not football and school work, is his top priority.
"I'm humbled by knowing that I have a long way to go," said Payton, who admitted like any other student, he struggles to balance his time between his athletics, his academics and his social life. "But what if, one day, I'm only a journalist. Then how good can I be? I feel like the sky's the limit."
Payton is applying for positions at several major fashion and lifestyle magazines and is considering continuing his education next semester in order to complete a certificate in fashion design and a minor in journalism. During this intense football season, Payton recently had to discontinue his IDS column ("I was in way over my head") but fans of the Fashion Jock can continue to read his work at his new blog site, http://www.bryanpayton.blogspot.com/.
Check back soon