Always a Greyhound

Ben Hochman: Clayton High School alumnus and award-winning journalist on life, education, and pushing boundaries

Clayton+high+school+alumnus+Ben+Hochman%2C+class+of+1998

Clayton high school alumnus Ben Hochman, class of 1998

From Clayton to New Orleans to Denver and back again, Clayton High School alumnus and professional sports journalist Benjamin Hochman has spent the past twenty years producing captivating and unique stories in the world of college and professional sports.

Although the St. Louis native initially had ambitious dreams of becoming a professional basketball player, as a high schooler he decided to reevaluate his strengths and combine his interests, finding an outlet for connection and creativity through being part of the CHS Globe.

“I wanted to be a professional basketball player, but when I stopped growing at 5’7,” I realized that the closest I could get was writing about professional basketball. I’ve always wanted to be a sports storyteller. The name of my job is ‘sports writer’– it literally combines two of my favorite things, sports and writing.”

Although Hochman had long held an interest in sports and writing, his early mentorship and encouragement as a freshman journalist on the Globe is what truly developed his interest and passion for what would become his career. Chris Holmes, current gifted education specialist at Wydown Middle School and recipient of the 2015 Missouri Teacher of the Year Award, has taught journalism and social studies for over twenty years. When Hochman began his high school career at Clayton in 1994, Holmes’ instruction was what motivated the budding journalist to take risks and develop his skills.

Hochman with his book, “The Big 50,” a historical recount of the 50 defining men and moments of the St. Louis Cardinals

“[Holmes] was the journalism advisor, and he took a chance on me. I was the only freshman writer on the staff, and so I didn’t have any experience. He threw me to the fire and had me writing some challenging and tricky stories topic-wise. I learned so much that first year as a journalist, including some traits and tricks that still help me today almost twenty years into my professional career.”

From Holmes, Hochman learned that the key to writing a good story lies in the use of descriptive and engaging language– a skill he has honed as a sports journalist, able to capture the attention of both die-hard sports enthusiasts and skeptics alike. Many times, the power and creativity of journalism is less about the topic itself and more about the knowledge and entertainment that journalists can deliver to their readers.

“One thing Mr. Holmes always said that sticks with me is, ‘You could write a story about toe fungus and make it interesting if you write it well enough and you provide neat enough descriptions. You can take a mundane topic and make it great. The writer should never say, ‘Oh, I have to write about this topic,” the writer should say, ‘I get to write about this topic.’”

In addition to the invaluable skills he learned as a writer, Hochman explains that the “ecosystem” of student journalists at Clayton High School immersed him into a culture that encouraged curiosity, creativity, and out-of-the-box thinking. Spending time in the Globe office, Hochman was able to soak up the conversations of his classmates and gain significant insight into the most fundamental parts of the journalistic process such as conducting research and successful interviews.

Equipped with four years of experience, along with the knowledge of his fellow journalists’ challenges and achievements, Hochman felt well-prepared as he graduated CHS in 1998, bound to study journalism at the University of Missouri (Mizzou).

For Hochman, the transition from high school to undergraduate journalism presented a wealth of opportunities to work at a larger scale than ever before. With greater freedom and a bigger playing field, the competition was stiff for the young journalist just entering the realm of college sports. Unlike the Globe, where games are small and typically covered by a single student, in college athletics, there are guaranteed to be at least several sources striving to put forward the most engaging portrayal of the same event.

When you’re covering the football team, you’re a beat writer. You’re in competition with the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the Kansas City Star, the Columbia Daily Tribune, all the daily TV stations, and the blogs as well. I have to rise to the occasion.”

“Suddenly as a journalist, you’re covering a higher level of sports, you’re covering the University of Missouri football team, for instance. The stakes are higher and the competition is greater. When you’re covering the football team, you’re a beat writer. You’re in competition with the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the Kansas City Star, the Columbia Daily Tribune, all the daily TV stations, and the blogs as well. I have to rise to the occasion.”

After graduating from the University of Missouri in 2002, Hochman moved to New Orleans and wrote for the Times-Picayune until 2007. He then wrote as a sports columnist for the Denver Post until August 2015, when he moved back to his hometown to work for the St. Louis Post Dispatch. He currently resides in Clayton with his wife and daughter.

Although his job title is “sports columnist,” Hochman has pursued several other projects throughout his career. In 2007, he released his first book, titled “Fourth and New Orleans,” giving readers a personal, behind-the-scenes view of the effects of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on the Tulane football team. His most recent book, “11 in ‘11,” brings to life the fascinating story of the Cardinals’ path to victory during the famous 2011 World Series. Currently, he is working on his first fiction book- a young adult novel about a high school basketball team.

“It’s up to me to step up my game. That means being clever, doing a lot of research, and thinking about the game differently.”

His profession, Hochman has learned, brings unique challenges. Many people are capable of recounting events and writing decently, so a journalist must possess the ability to use their research to produce a story that effectively communicates the significance of a particular topic or event. Good writing requires diligence, practice, and risk-taking. It is a process of failure and success. Most of all, it means challenging the status quo.

“It’s up to me to step up my game. That means being clever, doing a lot of research, and thinking about the game differently.”