Storytelling school

Here’s how my passion for storytelling led to my dream job of covering the Patriots | Mark Daniels

This story begins in the Fenway Park press box.

During my sophomore year in high school, we were all assigned to “work shadow” someone in a line of work that we were interested in. In fact, many of my friends have used this project to write one of their parents and stay home during the day. I couldn’t do it.

At 16, I knew I wanted to work in sports media. Credit goes to my mom, Jane, for calling everywhere she could think of to see if anyone would let a high school student come spend the day with them. Hank Hryniewicz, then the Boston Herald’s sports editor, answered the call. He suggested I follow sportswriter Steve Conroy to a Red Sox game on May 25, 2001.

That’s all it took. I was hooked. I was on the field inside Fenway Park before the game. Then I watched from the press box as Hideo Nomo threw a hit against the Toronto Blue Jays. I ate ice cream and wrote random thoughts in a little notebook to make it look like I was working. I couldn’t believe people were getting paid to attend sporting events.

That’s when I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

This brings me to you today. Sorry for burying the lede. My name is Mark Daniels and I’m the new drummer for the MassLive Patriots. I am delighted to work alongside Chris Mason and the rest of this talented team. It’s my real passion. I love sports writing. After that day at Fenway Park, I dedicated my life to getting into this craft and pushing myself to deliver unique and engaging stories to readers.

I wrote for my student journal in high school after that job shadowing. I went to the University of New Hampshire, where I studied journalism and covered UNH football. My four years at Durham coincided with Chip Kelly’s final four years as UNH’s offensive coordinator. I fell in love with football and wrote about the sport.

When I graduated, I contacted Hryniewicz, who barely remembered me, and became an editorial assistant at the Boston Herald. If you really want to test your patience and passion for journalism, spend eight hours in an office editing statistics from 5:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on weekends in your early 20s. While my friends were having fun, I was setting box scores, league leaders, and standings while dreaming of covering for the Patriots.

I wouldn’t be here now if not for those years at the Boston Herald. I learned hard work and, more importantly, how to stand out from a crowd of talented journalists. I was once working on a feature story when Mark Murphy, then the Herald’s deputy sports editor, gave me some sage advice. “Always make the extra call,” he said.

It resonated with me. My key to getting out of the copy office and into sporting events was writing feature films. In 2011, I started helping the newspaper with Patriots coverage, alongside Ian Rapoport and Karen Guregian. For the next two years, I was at every home game with Jeff Howe and Guregian. I learned so much and found that one way to separate myself from dozens of other Foxborough reporters was to make an extra call and write a story you’ve never read before.

This led me to Providence Journal where I became their Beat Patriots writer in 2014. That first offseason was a busy one. I married my wife, Becky, and missed two weeks of training camp to go on my honeymoon. When I returned, I needed to write a great story to make up for my absence. I felt I owed it to the company and the readers, so I turned my attention to a standout undrafted rookie named Malcolm Butler.

As you may know, Butler came to the Division-II West Alabama Patriots and was great that first summer. One thing bothered me though – in his biography there was a one year gap in 2010 when he didn’t play football. What was he doing? I reached out to one of his college coaches, then spoke to Butler in the Patriots locker room in August. The cornerback was kicked out of Hinds Community College, took classes at Alcorn State University and got a part-time job at Popeyes.

It was a solid story. That year, Butler realized he was missing football and returned to Hinds before transferring to west Alabama. The rest is history. Butler barely played in 2014 before making the biggest play in Super Bowl history. Following his interception on Russell Wilson in Super Bowl XLIX, many wondered, “Who is Malcolm Butler?

This story I wrote about Butler in training camp has gone viral. “From Popeyes to the Super Bowl.” It was the most-read story in the Providence Journal that year. During my first year on Pace for the Patriots, I learned that I could make an impact by writing feature articles about players. It didn’t matter if it was Tom Brady or an unknown, undrafted rookie. There are stories to be told in this Patriots locker room that are remarkable.

I’ve talked to players about serious matters – in 2015 Tarell Brown told me about his mother’s murder. Last season, I wrote an in-depth story on Matthew Judon about the two summers he spent working as a camp leader for adults with disabilities. I also spoke with Kendrick Bourne about his struggles as a teenager. Bourne went from a kid who stole, did drugs and skipped school to an NFL prospect due to a remarkable year in which he changed schools and got his grades in order. Now he works with children to try to get them to avoid the early mistakes he made.

There are countless examples of Patriots players who faced some sort of adversity to get to that football field every Sunday. At MassLive, it’s my job to find those stories and make the extra call.

That’s what I’m going to do. As Brady has said many times, let’s go.