A clutch reporter catches a big accolade

Thursday, October 1, 2020

In the span of two decades, Matt Barrie went from an unknown sports journalist to a national anchor, collecting 11 Emmy Awards and three Edward R. Murrow journalism awards along the way.

And he had plenty of fun and adventure in between.

“We watch sports to be entertained. We go to games, we do fantasy football. We do all of this stuff to be entertained,” said Barrie, an ESPN SportsCenter anchor and studio host for the network’s college football coverage. “There’s no reason not to have fun. I tell students this all the time, ‘Take your job seriously but don’t take yourself seriously.' That’ll go a long way in life.”

The Scottsdale native is the newest member of the Alumni Hall of Fame at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He joins the likes of Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times reporter Julie Cart, CNN International’s Becky Anderson, Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall and ABC’s Al Michaels, among others.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Matt Barrie as the 50th inductee into the Cronkite Hall of Fame,” said Kristin Gilger, interim dean of the Cronkite School. “We’ve been watching – and applauding – his accomplishments as a sports journalist ever since he graduated in 2001, and Matt has always been generous in giving back to our students. He is a great role model, who inspires them to do their best and pursue their dreams.”

Paola Boivin, digital director of the Cronkite News Phoenix Sports Bureau, moderated a live Zoom event on Sept. 29 titled “A Conversation with Matt Barrie, Cronkite Hall of Fame Inductee” to discuss the his meteoric career as part of the school’s Must See Monday speaker series.

Barrie started his career at WJFW-TV in Wausau, Wisconsin, where he was the station’s primary Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers reporter. He followed that stint in Lawton, Oklahoma, as a sports host and reporter for KSWO-TV, where he provided live coverage from the 2003 and 2004 Big 12 championship and BCS National championship games.

He suffered a major setback while at his next job in Columbia, South Carolina: He contracted Bell’s palsy, which paralyzed the left side of his face. His left eye was frozen and he wore an eyepatch. He was also forced to step away from the camera for a few months. The situation made him take stock of his life.

“I was depressed. I didn’t eat, I couldn’t eat,” Barrie said. “It changes your outlook. I was 25 or 26 at the time. I think at that point in life when you get hit with something, you really start to understand what’s important. But you also understand what’s not important.”

Barrie recovered a few months later and came back bigger than ever. He moved to Dallas in 2008, where he was an anchor and reporter for KXAS-NBC 5 and hosted a weekend sportscast, "Sunday Out of Bounds." While there he collected five Lonestar Emmy Awards and a regional Edward R. Murrow Award.

In March 2013 he joined ESPN, hosting various editions of SportsCenter, frequently co-anchoring with Elle Duncan. During his audition process, it didn’t hit him how important the gig was until he ran into NFL Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice in the bathroom.

“You start thinking, ‘Oh. It’s going to be that kind of place,’” Barrie said. “It’s a place where you’re going to be around a lot of Hall of Famers and a lot of athletes you grew up idolizing that now know you as one of them. Seeing the infrastructure, the campus, the commitment to sports, you understand at that point, ‘OK, this is exactly where I need to be.’”

ESPN has utilized Barrie in a variety of roles. He frequently hosts “SportsCenter on the Road” in multiple cities across the United States, which have included college campuses on football season Saturday mornings, the Masters Tournament and more.

In 2019, Barrie’s ESPN duties were expanded when he was named studio host for college football Saturdays. He also calls some college football games on ESPN networks.

In addition to his work on golf for “SportsCenter,” Barrie is also co-host of the ESPN golf podcast “Matty and the Caddie” with ESPN.com’s Michael Collins. Barrie attributes part of his success to his willingness to do anything the network needs, and without bias or attitude.

“It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about what we’re reporting,” Barrie said. “And so right now, if my job requires me to do something about that storyline, I’m going to do it and do it at the level the network requires.”

Barrie said ESPN had to make adjustments for COVID-19 as the pandemic turned the sports world and network upside down. He recalled March 11, 2020, as the day where everything changed.

"I was actually in New York City when the NBA shut down ... then the NCAA tournament. And then it became a snowball effect," Barrie said. "Then we started wondering what our life would be like at ESPN in terms of scheduling and how we were going to go about it. We knew something big was about to happen."

Barrie said the network and his job are almost back to normal, albeit with social distancing protocols in place, but thinks the pandemic provided a teaching moment for all.

"We need to be a little bit more careful, even when it's cold and flu season," Barrie said. "Let's watch out for each other. Let's not come to work sick. The fact is we've been able to manage as best as we can in sports a hundred-year pandemic. Eventually we'll get back to a place where we can be with each other again."

Even though Barrie's career has moved at a fast clip — Gilger described it as “meteoric” — he said the greatest attribute a reporter can possess is patience.

“It’s not going to happen overnight. … You’re going to have to live where you don’t want to live. You’re going to make no money. But if you really want to do it, do it,” Barrie said. “I’ve been guilty numerous times in my small market jobs of wanting to quit because it wasn’t happening quick enough … patience in this job is paramount, but if you have enough of it, you can eventually succeed.”

Top photo: ESPN’s Matt Barrie at the “SportsCenter” anchor desk. Courtesy of ESPN