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So What Do You Do, Josh Elliott, Good Morning America Newsreader?

The longtime sports jock details how he made the leap from print to broadcast

By Marcus Vanderberg - August 17, 2011
All of us would be lucky to land our dream job at least once during our careers. Josh Elliott has hit the jackpot three times before his 40th birthday. The newest face of Good Morning America arrived at the ABC morning show after six years of ups (SportsCenter) and downs (Classic Now) at ESPN.

But don't let the boyish good looks fool you -- while Elliott has a face for TV, his breakthrough was actually as a writer for Sports Illustrated, covering primarily the NFL for six years.

"I was a subscriber to Sports Illustrated like so many of us, and I was overwhelmed by a toxic mix of naïveté and arrogance and just thought to myself, 'I think I can write like this,'" recalls Elliott, who landed what he thought would be a short stint at the mag after graduating from Columbia. "This little spot opened up and I went to work for 17 consecutive days, because they told me it would be a three-month gig. So, I kept going back day-after-day until I think they finally took pity on me and gave me a full-time gig."

With his print days behind him, Elliott talks openly about trading in Brett Favre comebacks for Joplin natural disasters and gives advice for those contemplating a leap into broadcasting.

Name: Josh Elliott
Position: Newsreader, Good Morning America
Birthdate: July 6
Hometown: Los Angeles
Education: Bachelor of Arts in English literature from University of California-Santa Barbara. Masters of Science from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism
Resume: Started out in film and TV production as a film production junior executive at 20th Century Fox, comedy development assistant for FOX-TV, and a producer for Galaxy Productions. Wrote for Sports Illustrated for six years. Became host of ESPN's Classic Now in 2005 and anchor of SportsCenter in 2008. Joined Good Morning America as newsreader in 2011.
Marital status: Single
Media idol: Jim Murray
Favorite TV show: Top Chef, All In The Family, Lost
Guilty pleasure: UFO conspiracy theories, Simon Cowell, March Madness on a workday, Häagen-Dazs chocolate peanut butter ice cream
Last book read: The Wave by Susan Casey
Twitter handle: @JoshElliottABC

How did you make the transition from Sports Illustrated reporter to Good Morning America anchor?
While I was at SI, I had some opportunities to be a guest on some television shows on several different networks. In 2005, ESPN came along and had cast a very wide net for a show on ESPN Classic. It was a great opportunity that I couldn't pass up. I made the jump and the show lasted for about six months. It was a brutally hard schedule and, at times, a painful transition. Learning a new job on national television, albeit before an audience of seven people that included my family members, was still not easy. It was a long day, but it was like going to anchor college. When they finally cancelled it, I still had some time left on my deal, so the folks in Bristol brought me up and had me on a couple of ESPNEWS shifts. SportsCenter came along and I was lucky enough to work with Bob Ley and Chris McKendry on the weekends.

When they decided to go live with SportsCenter in the morning, they hired Hannah [Storm] to do the 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. shift and they needed the right person to be with her. We found a chemistry that was very rare in television. It was just a joy. As luck would have it, my now boss -- the new president of ABC News, Ben Sherwood -- was in Los Angeles writing books and living a great life with his wife and two young sons. His five-year-old boy was a L.A. sports nut, and he would wake his parents up at the crack of dawn and ask for SportsCenter. It got to the point where he said, 'Karen and I would want to watch just to see you and Hannah [Storm] and the vibe play between the two of you.' When the opportunity came for Ben to take over as the president of ABC News, I guess he had it in his mind that he would like to maybe find a spot for me on the roster, so to speak.

Soon after you started at GMA, you were tossed feet first into fire with breaking news stories in Joplin, Mo. and Springfield, Mass. What challenges did you face in covering those two tragedies?
The tarmac at the [Joplin] airport was essentially a de facto M.A.S.H. unit. Just to step off a plane and see that happening next to you was dismay. You had a sense of how bad it was. It was momentarily overwhelming. I've watched the tape back 100 times, and I don't know if I would describe myself as nervous, but just not really having a sense of the technical aspects of it all. My second hit on Good Morning America was better than my first. By the time Springfield hit, I had already covered a tornado, which was surreal in itself. That allowed me to feel more thorough as a journalist. The challenges? I'm going to be doing the big thing for the first time, and I'm happy that I work at an organization that believes I'm the man to do it.

"In early to mid-August, I still feel like I should be in a rental car, driving the back roads of Wisconsin, on my way to far flung college campuses that are beset by infernally hot weather, to talk to professional athletes who are literally having the worst time of their lives."

You had a Twitter account while at ESPN, but you weren't really active in social media until you touched down in Joplin. How did you leverage Twitter to your advantage while in Joplin?
When you open your mind to [Twitter], you see it's a way to interact with people and viewers. When I got to Joplin, I suddenly felt the need. The ability to simply tweet what I was seeing and provide photos… and to give the photos a bit of context and have it stand as part of the rough draft detailing what had happened there was something that suddenly felt very vital to me. I didn't even have a sense of trending topics and what that meant, and someone told me I was #4 in the first couple of hours after daybreak that first day. It suddenly hit home of the real power of social media and Twitter specifically.

GMA has famously been No. 2 in the morning show "wars." What do you think it would take for the show to finally snag the top spot away from Today?
I think it will take diligence on our part. I think it's going to take continuing to develop exactly who we are. I completely respect what Today has been and what it is. They are collectively a very, very impressive show unit. The anchors are terrific at what they do. I do think there is room for more than one take in the morning. It will take a real push by GMA, but I would be lying if I said part of the excitement and joy of going to GMA right now is engaging towards that push to the summit. Like any climb, those last steps, that final push, is always the hardest. Maybe it's the athlete in me or coming from the culture I was in, but I love competition and that there's a competitive aspect to this. I truly love my team.

What advice would you give other print journos looking to make the leap into TV?
Be prepared to fall out of love with your words. I'm still too verbose at times. [Ed. Note: The unedited interview clocked in at over 4,500 words.] At ABC, there's nothing that I'm doing in terms of on-air reads to pieces or during the news updates that runs more than 11-12 seconds. And be prepared to fail. Lord knows I did early and often. As a writer, you're really in control of almost everything. That's not the case in TV. You have to be prepared to work with a lot of people to make something happen, and you got to be prepared at least in the beginning to not be too good at your specific task. Hopefully, you have a lot of people like I had with patience enough to let you catch up to your medium.

"A lot of the very basics of journalism tend to be things that you're born with or not."

There's a lot of debate about whether a journalism degree is necessary to succeed in the industry. Since you didn't study it as an undergrad, what's your take on it?
For me, it really does depend on the very specific curriculum that a student would take while majoring in journalism at the undergrad level. By and large, I would say it's not necessary. A lot of the very basics of journalism tend to be things that you're born with or not. You can learn to a degree but you also have to have a natural desire to do them. As a graduate degree, Columbia was an intensive yearlong program that meant all the difference in the world to me personally. I realize that it's not for everyone and that there's a lot of debate about the importance and the need for it. I respect the people that don't agree with me. I just happen to personally think they are wrong.

With NFL training camps opening up, do you ever get the itch to write again?
Absolutely. There's still part of my genetic makeup that feels like in early to mid-August, I should be in a rental car, driving the back roads of Wisconsin and parts of America, on my way to far flung college campuses that are beset by infernally hot weather, to go talk to a bunch of professional athletes who are literally having the worst time of their lives. The NFL will always have a real special place in my heart. It's the secular religion in this country.

What do you see yourself doing at 50?
I have no idea, and that's the best part of my career. That's the best part about being a journalist. I have absolutely no idea what I will be doing when I'm 50. I do know however that if history is a guide for me personally, it will be something that I love.

NEXT >> AvantGuildSound Off, Superfans: Get a Gig as a Sports P.A. Announcer

Marcus Vanderberg is co-editor of SportsNewser.

© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2011. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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