Q and A with Mike Chiappetta ’95: Mixed Martial Arts Journalist

Michael Chiappetta
Mike Chi­ap­pet­ta, a 1995 UConn jour­nal­ism grad­u­ate, estab­lished a suc­cess­ful sports writ­ing career cov­er­ing Mixed Mar­tial Arts.(Photo cour­tesy of Michael Chiappetta)

Jour­nal­ist Mike Chi­ap­pet­ta has carved out a suc­cess­ful career niche cov­er­ing the full con­tact com­bat sport of mixed mar­tial arts, specif­i­cal­ly the UFC. He cur­rent­ly works as a senior writer for FOXSports.com.

Chi­ap­pet­ta earned his bach­e­lor’s degree in jour­nal­ism from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Con­necti­cut in 1995. “Fun fact: my diplo­ma is signed by for­mer Con­necti­cut gov­er­nor and con­vict­ed felon John Row­land,” Chi­ap­pet­ta wrote in an email interview.

Here are more of Chi­ap­pet­ta’s thoughts about his expe­ri­ence at UConn and the tra­jec­to­ry of his jour­nal­ism career.

What does your job entail? 
I trav­el around the world going to events. I work the phones look­ing for news. I write fea­tures and columns. I occa­sion­al­ly appear as an ana­lyst on shows, pod­casts and radio. And I tweet a lot, too. [Chi­ap­pet­ta has 25,000+ fol­low­ers on Twitter]

What were some of your pre­vi­ous jobs before land­ing at FOXSports.com?
I’m proud of all of my stops. Most notably though, I was a staff writer for out­lets includ­ing NBCSports.com, SBNation.com and AOL’s Fan­House, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t men­tion the news­pa­per that began my career, The Advo­cate of Stam­ford, Conn.

How have your UConn edu­ca­tion and con­nec­tions helped you in your career?
I met my wife, Colleen, at UConn. While that may not sound impor­tant in rela­tion to my life as a jour­nal­ist, it most cer­tain­ly is. News nev­er stops. It’s late nights, week­ends and hol­i­days. In oth­er words, you need an under­stand­ing part­ner. So the impor­tance of meet­ing her can­not be under­stat­ed. She’s always sup­port­ed me and believed in me, even when I chose to jump in and cov­er a sport that was not yet wide­ly main­stream. Best con­nec­tion I’ve ever made.

Beyond that, the expe­ri­ence UConn gave me was cru­cial. Through the school, I expe­ri­enced a bit of the pro­fes­sion while writ­ing for The Dai­ly Cam­pus.

There aren’t too many oth­er pro­fes­sions you can essen­tial­ly try out at the col­lege lev­el. Account­ing majors don’t start busi­ness­es for fun and hope their books add up at the end. Psy­chol­o­gy majors can’t open an ama­teur prac­tice and find clients. But jour­nal­ism majors can work for a school paper and get expe­ri­ence that is very close to the real thing. Because of that, I felt I was ready to be a work­ing jour­nal­ist upon grad­u­at­ing. In addi­tion, the school helped me pro­cure an intern­ship that led to my first job. UConn set me on my way.

Why did you choose to major in journalism?
To be hon­est, I was just begin­ning my junior year and I hadn’t picked a major yet. The uni­ver­si­ty told me I had to pick some­thing and I had no idea what I want­ed to do with my life, but I fig­ured it bet­ter be some­thing that is dynam­ic, chang­ing and wouldn’t anchor me to a desk. I loved watch­ing sports, so I fig­ured if I could get some­one to pay me for it, I was gold­en. Not the great­est ratio­nale, but hey, I was 19. In ret­ro­spect though, it was an obvi­ous choice for me. From the time I was 7 or 8, I had always been a vora­cious news read­er, I loved to write and I was always inter­est­ed in oth­ers’ lives.

Do you remem­ber your sud­den death sto­ry in Newswrit­ing I?
If I recall cor­rect­ly (and I may have my assign­ments mixed up), my sud­den death sto­ry was about a sud­den death. A stu­dent com­mit­ted sui­cide and I report­ed on it. I remem­ber going to the student’s dorm and peo­ple had writ­ten mes­sages of love on her door, and I start­ed the piece off with that, because I was struck by how sad it was that some­one would take their own life despite so many peo­ple who cared. I also remem­ber that I was able to speak with the school police and con­firm the death before it appeared in the local news, so I rushed to the Arjona build­ing to drop off my sto­ry so they would know my report­ing was com­plete­ly original.

Did you have a favorite UConn jour­nal­ism professor?
I liked Pro­fes­sor John Breen’s easy style and sto­ry­telling. I learn best when lessons are dis­guised as enter­tain­ment, and he was nev­er a by-the-book lec­tur­er, which I appre­ci­at­ed. Beyond that, he also gave good, sol­id prac­ti­cal advice about the craft and career pro­gres­sion. I appre­ci­at­ed that all of my pro­fes­sors had field expe­ri­ence and could offer use­ful real-world advice.

What was the most valu­able skill you gained from UConn?
I wish I could remem­ber which of my pro­fes­sors told me this, but I can’t. It stuck with me when one of them told us to be for­ward thinkers, both in regards to our report­ing and our careers. It sounds obvi­ous, but when you’re in the end­less grind of the news cycle, it can be hard to look past what’s direct­ly in front of you.

 Is there any­thing you wish you did while you were still at UConn? 
I’ve nev­er been a per­son who has regrets. Life is hard enough with­out spend­ing time focus­ing over what you could have or should have done dif­fer­ent­ly. If you’re busy look­ing back­ward, you may miss what’s in front of you, which in our field, is far more impor­tant. That said, I should have prob­a­bly eat­en a few more Ted’s cheese­burg­er grinders and drank a few less Busch Lights.

Any advice for cur­rent UConn jour­nal­ism students?
To keep with my theme, always keep an eye on the future. Not only is it impor­tant to your job as a jour­nal­ist, but it’s also impor­tant for your own con­tin­ued exis­tence and suc­cess. The media land­scape is con­stant­ly shift­ing under­neath your feet, so pay atten­tion to trends so you can learn to fore­cast them. For exam­ple, when I was a fresh­man in col­lege, the sport that I cov­er now lit­er­al­ly did not exist. It was in 1993 when the UFC launched mixed mar­tial arts, and it faced plen­ty of oppo­si­tion from the out­set. Still, I real­ized the poten­tial, always kept an eye on it and rec­og­nized the tip­ping point when main­stream accep­tance was com­ing, and that oppor­tu­ni­ties that would fol­low. Fore­cast­ing trends in your cho­sen beat should be a focus for every jour­nal­ist. Also, easy on the Busch Lights.

Fol­low Mike Chi­ap­pet­ta on Twit­ter: @MikeChiappetta