When Darren Haynes started his sportswriting career as a student 30 years ago, he was writing mostly for newspapers. But, as the industry turned digital, Haynes took his love of hockey to the blogosphere and cemented his name as one of Calgary’s best-known hockey writers.
Growing up in Calgary, Darren Haynes wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do with his life. A sports fanatic, he was mindlessly going through general studies classes at the University of Calgary, hoping to find a career revolving around sports.
And then it all clicked. The journalism program at Mount Royal University — which at the time was a college — caught his eye and he transferred.
“I kind of loved doing the sports stuff and then just by circumstances — just through getting to know a couple of people that were kind of in the business, I ended up starting to do some freelance writing [covering the Flames] while I was still in school, for the Canadian Press.”
As his career covering the Flames got underway, Haynes was captivated by his experiences as a young reporter, covering his favourite team and interacting with players he grew up cheering for. Working for CP allowed Haynes to veer off the traditional reporting path of going to a small town and working his way up.
However, Haynes feels that not enough people realize how difficult it can be to be a sportswriter, saying that the profession has “got a real glamorous exterior.”
Tight deadlines weren’t the only issue, as early flights and short periods of sleep can also become taxing on writers.
“It’s kind of fun initially but then when you have to like, file on a super tight deadline at like 10 o’clock, [and] let’s say you’re in St. Louis and the Flames are playing the next night in Chicago on back-to-backs.”
Haynes explains that there are many tight turns to navigate and there is a lot of stress that comes with the job. He also explains that as time progressed, the players have been coached more and more to keep their guard up with the media, which made the whole environment less enjoyable.
“I liked it in the early days better because of how more informal it was and how much more willing to chat and have small talk the players were.”
What hasn’t changed over the years is the time and effort Haynes puts into his craft, both for his work for The Canadian Press and outside of it.
Todd Saelhof, the sports editor for Postmedia Calgary, praised Haynes, saying that he “really has dedicated himself, given a lot of extracurricular hours to become a face [and] a name in Calgary that people can rely on for Flames coverage.”
Haynes spent a lot of those extracurricular hours starting his own blog, Flames From 80 Feet, in 2013. He started the blog as a way to showcase some of the research he would do in his spare time.
“It became sort of a passion project at first, but then I got some sponsorships, and…I started treating it like a job.”
For a few years, Haynes continued to run the blog on the side while continuing to freelance for The Canadian Press. The work on his passion project helped him earn a freelance writing job at The Athletic — a sports news site that operates widely around North America and the U.K. — in the fall of 2018.
“You put in the labour as more of a hobby and [it’s] unpaid and just kind of a passion project and then it turns into [the job at The Athletic], it can come around full circle sometimes.”
Once he started at The Athletic, he quickly gained the respect of one of the editors he worked with, Josh Hargreaves, who was amazed at the quality of Haynes’ work.
“One thing that I think makes Darren such a successful writer is that he has really found his voice,” Hargreaves says. “When he’s writing, it’s like you’re just speaking to a good friend, just having a conversation.”
As he continues his work at The Athletic, Haynes has cemented himself as one of the premiere Flames writers. According to Saelhof, Haynes has been solidified as part of the “fabric here of Calgary sports journalism.”