Emmy Award-winning journalist: freelance assignments for Recorder laid foundation for my career


When I began submitting freelance stories to my hometown newspaper, I never thought it would eventually lead me to the world’s biggest sporting event.

I was a rising junior at Nease High School, without a driver’s license, when I first wrote about the school’s sports and athletes for the Recorder. Now, more than 13 years later, I’m preparing to cover my fourth Olympic Games as a journalist and my second for NBC Olympics.

NBC Olympics earned multiple sports Emmy Awards for its coverage of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, and I was blessed to be a part of that effort. But the foundations of my career – a career that I still consider very young – were set in Ponte Vedra.

I learned the tenets of journalism in John Blackford’s outdoor pod classroom at Nease.

I learned on-the-job sports reporting lessons from the late Recorder Editor Grace Hayes and sports writer and photographer Jerry Norton.

Those early joys of visiting a local business, a restaurant or medical office, or even at school, and seeing my name in that newsprint will never be matched. Not at a worldwide entity such as NBC. Not at a worldwide event such as the Olympics.

My freelance work and that for Nease’s student newspaper – the Vertical – proved key once I enrolled at the University of Florida in 2004. I already had a résumé and examples of my work to submit to the Gainesville Sun, which I worked for as a correspondent my first semester, and, later, the university’s student paper – the Alligator.

No other incoming students at UF, one of the largest and most competitive universities in the nation, had those credentials.

I was blessed in high school to cross paths with a quarterback, who later also followed me to Florida. You may have heard of him. My professional relationship with Tim Tebow and his family, another happenstance born out of Ponte Vedra, accelerated my work in journalism while in college. No other media covering the University of Florida football team had the far-reaching knowledge of the most influential college football player of our time.

But something less optimal happened after I graduated Florida and completed two post-college internships.

I needed a job.

I was out of work and headed home to live with my parents in Ponte Vedra. This was August 2009.

Then, again, this community gave me a boost. I began writing for the Recorder again as a freelancer for the first time in several years. I was also fortunate to learn a new skill set working digitally for PGATour.com in Sawgrass. That allowed me to save for my ultimate ambition of covering an Olympics. I had secured a credential for the Vancouver Winter Olympics as a freelancer in February 2010.

After I returned from Canada, I went back to work in Ponte Vedra. Two months later, I earned a position with Sports Illustrated in Atlanta, leaving home permanently for the first time.

After one Olympics with SI – the London 2012 Summer Olympics – I made another move to New York and then to work for NBC Sports as their lead Olympics writer.

My parents still live in Odom’s Mill, my older sister off A1A and my younger brothers and sister in other Florida cities. So I visit home often, and every time I am reminded how what happened in high school 13 years ago, when my mom had to drive me to freelance assignments, laid the foundations for my career.

And how I never would have made it without this community.

Nick Zaccardi