Rory Brown made himself known at USF. He was typically seen in the basement of Phelan Residence Hall, the Foghorn’s former office, wearing sunglasses on the back of his head, joking with co-workers, friends, and peers. He was a standout student: bashful at first, but eventually willing to tackle even the most intimidating assignments in his journalism classes. Professors and students both expected great things.
He has not disappointed. In early January, Brown, ’05, was promoted to President of Bleacher Report (B/R), an online sports publication with an unmatched social media presence.
A Bay Area native, raised in Mountain View, Brown made his presence known as a media studies and journalism student during his time at USF. Majoring in media studies played an important role in his understanding of the ever-changing digital landscape, and how to utilize new technologies. “With the power of the Internet, it’s kind of like the last couple of years in media are on this crazy, fast-forward evolution. When I started working at Bleacher Report, Facebook was huge at the time, but was by no means a tool for media publishers, and then it became a tremendous tool for us to get traffic back to the site,” he said.
Brown emphasized that the University’s size played a significant role in his college education and overall experience. “What I loved about USF is you got the best of both worlds,” he said. “The small class sizes really put you in the spotlight, and you can’t skate by.”
Professor Teresa Moore’s journalism classes were an extremely influential part of his career. “You also really get those relationships [at USF],” he said, “I’m a big fan of Teresa; obviously, I took every class that she taught at USF at some point. I think Teresa in particular, she was a professor in class, but she was really an editor.”
Professor Moore first met Brown in one of her sections of Intro to Journalism. “He was quiet and always prepared and would turn so pink when called on in class,” she said. But after teaching him in several other classes and advising him on the editorial team at the Foghorn, she saw him grow. “The best thing about being Foghorn advisor is getting to see students be in charge in a meaningful way. Rory stopped turning pink in class and we got to see more of his personality,” Moore added.
“You could submit something that was a Pulitzer prize winning piece, but it still needed to be edited, and she taught me that criticism was something to expect in life, not something to worry about. She was really good at constructive criticism, and now I’m a manager of a ton of people, and that’s something that’s important to me,” said Brown.
Leading the Foghorn
Serving as sports editor for the Foghorn his junior year, and as the publication’s editor in chief his senior year, Brown’s main focus on campus was journalism. “I manage, indirectly, hundreds of people now, so to manage a staff of ten or 12 people, you learn a lot,” Brown said with a chuckle, “You learn about making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes, and trying not to make the same mistakes twice. You learn about the different types of personalities that you can manage on any given day, and keeping all of those personalities in a deadline driven environment is full of challenges, but it’s also a lot of fun.”
“His witty, dry sense of humor is something that I really appreciate. The way that he was able to be friends with people certainly helped in his leadership role,” said Sam Sharkey, ‘05 who was scene editor when Brown led the sports section. Although Sharkey professed that he had limited interest in sports, the two played ultimate frisbee together, and Sharkey understands how Brown’s love of sports translates into his position today. “It felt natural to see him move over to Bleacher Report and be able to do that. I was always in awe of his ambition,” Sharkey said.
Stephanie Bolton, ‘05, worked at the Foghorn as the advertising manager her junior year, and Brown asked her to be managing editor alongside him their senior year. “We were a really strong team and worked together really well. We made it a fun environment to work in, even though we definitely had high standards for the quality of the paper we were producing,” she said.
“I honestly think the Foghorn was where I learned that I had it in me to be a manager, working with people and coaching them, and seeing them succeed, as opposed to being an individual contributor myself,” said Brown.
Moore recalled walking into the Foghorn office to see Brown lying on the floor, working through a back spasm while overseeing the paper’s layout. “I’m sure he was harder on himself than I ever was on him,” she said, “He isn’t a showy kind of leader, but he was really good at understanding people and pulling the staff together. Also, he was the kind of editor who thought a lot about how to engage an audience — something I’m sure is a big part of what he does now.”
Benice Atufunwa ‘07, the editor in chief following Brown, said that she admired his management methods. “I would certainly call Rory a strong leader. When I became the EIC after him, I definitely borrowed a lot from his leadership style; I wanted things to run as smoothly as they did when he was in charge,” said Atufunwa.
Building a Career
After graduation, Brown got a full time news reporting position at the Menlo Park Almanac following an internship at the San Francisco Bay Guardian. The visual and written portfolio that he built during this time helped him land his initial position at B/R, a small San Francisco-based sports website at the time.
Brown first began his career at B/R in 2008, shortly after the site was officially launched, as the 13th full time staff member. At the time, his responsibilities were focused on audience growth, getting more pageviews and visitors on the website by building relationships with writers and helping them plan content. As the website grew, this job grew as well, and shortly soon after, Brown was sending emails with article ideas to thousands of writers.
Later he helped to develop an analytics team for the site, using web traffic statistics to create the most engaging and interesting stories for sports fan. He also began a programming team that would develop some key elements of the site, and also the B/R app “Team Stream.” Once he was promoted to Head of Operations, it was his responsibility to create inter-team collaboration at the company.
Moore caught up with Brown on a recent return to San Francisco . After spending time with him, she noticed that he had only checked his phone twice, and asked him about the stress of running the company. “He told me that he’d arranged to work with people he trusted so that he doesn’t have to live like that.”
Brown reaffirmed this belief. “Once you are potentially managing people, it’s really important to hire people who challenge you professionally and creatively in the right ways,” Brown said, “When you get the right group of people who all have different perspectives, you can create content and build a team that is infinitely more powerful than a team that is all driven towards the same thing.”
After working out of the Chicago offices of Turner Broadcasting Company, B/R’s parent company, Brown was transferred to New York, where he oversaw the growing video element of B/R. He was placed in charge of the entire website’s content management in late 2014, and now he has seen the New York office grow to the size of B/R’s San Francisco headquarters. A little over a year later, he was named President of the company in January of 2016.
Building a Life
Nearly eight months ago, Brown also became a first-time father when his son Decker was born. “It is a lot, family and work. But it makes you a lot more likely to be efficient at work, because at the end of the day I’d like to get home before my son goes to bed,” he said.
Bolton, who is still dating former Foghorn staff member (and friend of Brown) Brian Stites, says that members of the editorial team are still close, as well. “I just visited him from New York and saw his new baby. We had a lot of mutual friends, my boyfriend knows him, so it’s definitely a big group that still stays in touch,” she said.
Moore also met Decker on his first trip to the Bay Area when she recently visited with his father. “He said becoming a father changed his life more than becoming president of B/R. And I know he meant it,” she said.
“Early on in a career, I think it’s really important to be bold,” said Brown, recalling his internship experiences to offer final advice for students entering the workforce. “I think it’s important to be assertive, and to pick your spots, and to go for it, rather than always playing it safe.”
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Bolton