A Packers fan in Chicagoland: UWM alum shines as Chicago sports journalist

As a Wisconsin native who was raised on Packers football, Kaitlin Sharkey is working in the heart of enemy territory.

Sharkey is a sports reporter and anchor for WGN TV in Chicago. Her primary beat? Covering the Chicago Bears football team, in addition to reporting on other Chicago sports news. And there is a lot of news: Chicago is home to the Cubs and White Sox, the Blackhawks in the NHL and Bulls in the NBA, plus numerous college teams. As soon as one sports season is done, another one begins.

The hectic schedule keeps Sharkey busy, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. She began her journalism career immediately after she graduated from UW-Milwaukee, and has loved every minute of covering professional sports.

Sharkey sat down on a rare day off to talk about her career, how to be a good sports journalist, and which football team she’s rooting for these days.

Let’s address the elephant in the room first. You were raised in Wisconsin. You now cover the Chicago Bears. What is it like going behind enemy lines?

It’s been fun! There’s no better rivalry in sports than Packers/Bears. I get a lot of heat from my family and friends, especially the week when they’re playing each other. Of course, growing up in Wisconsin, I was a Packers fan, but then I started covering the Packers. The fandom goes out the door when you start covering teams. It’s your job to report what’s working and what’s not working well. My job isn’t to be a cheerleader or a fan for these teams, but you do build relationships with these players, and as a human being, you want success for them. You want to see their happy moments and share those moments.

How did you arrive at WGN?

I graduated from UWM in 2013 in May, and then I took my first job as a sports reporter at the CBS affiliate WSAW in Wausau in August. I worked there for 16 months and then I went to WBAY, which is the ABC affiliate in Green Bay. I spent two years there and then went to Fox6 in Milwaukee and spent three years there. I moved to Chicago in 2020 and took a job at Fox 32 here in Chicago and was there two years. In June (2022), the longtime legend Dan Roan retired, so there was an opening at WGN and I applied. My role is kind of a hybrid, which I think is awesome. I am the Bears beat reporter. I travel with the team and I’m at all practices and games during football season. I also cover all the other sports, and then two to three times a week, I co-host the WGN Sports show. We’re the only channel in town that does a whole 30-minute sports show seven days a week.

What does it take to be a good sports journalist?

I think it takes persistence and determination to find the facts, tell the story, and be fair in your storytelling. For me, it’s going in and building relationships with athletes, coaches and the teams you cover. It’s being fair – good, bad and ugly. Sometimes you’re covering teams that are winning all the time and that’s easy to report on, but then I came down to Chicago and started covering teams that were losing a lot more. But you have to be just as fair (when the team is losing). It’s persistence to get the information that you need and find that balance of being fair and respectful and understanding how to deliver the story in an authentic, entertaining way.

What do you do when teams are losing?

It’s rough. I think it’s made me a better journalist, honestly. I tell people that all the time. It’s easy to interview football players after they win a lot. They’re just in a better mood. But then I came to Chicago, where they (the Bears) only won three games last year. It’s a different experience doing post-game interviews after a loss.

What do you have to keep in mind doing sports journalism versus “regular” news?

It’s still a story, whether it’s a game or a practice or an athlete you’re interviewing. You could be covering the same team every day, but every day there are different stories. Even if you’re just covering a game, your job is to boil it all down and say OK, what happened here and what were the highlights and what was the reaction? Obviously, you have a passion and a knowledge of sports. That’s what guides you in sports reporting. But at the end of the day, we’re all still storytellers. Like, you’re at a basketball game. There’s a story where there was a game-defining moment or player, or an injury – those are still the big parts of the story.

Do you have any stories that you’ve covered that you’re particularly proud of?

I sometimes covered high school athletes, and there was a soccer player in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, who was battling cancer, and she kept going out there and playing. It’s the stories of … athletes who are overcoming adversity that are the most important for me to tell. (I try) to make sure that I’m giving it space and respect and care. A lot of times, we look at athletes and coaches as robots, in a sense. To me, my favorite stories and the ones that have impacted my life the most are stories where I … get to give them a platform. That’s the stuff that inspires me.

Now that football season is over, what’s next for you?

There’s no off-season here. The Bulls are in full swing. We cover the Blackhawks and college basketball and in February, (I was) right back on the NFL Combine. April is the (NFL) draft, and then football season starts all over again. The situation that the Bears are in means it’s going to be very a busy offseason once again, with the No. 1 (draft) pick.

It sounds like you’re having an amazing time as a sports journalist. How did UWM help get you to where you are today?

I always loved watching the news with my mom. I was kind of a nerd like that. I loved being in forensics in high school. Once I got to UWM, I knew my track should be journalism. Mark Zoromski was the head of the journalism program when I was there. He and Jane Hampden left such an impression on me. I think UWM does such a great job of maximizing our resources. I had great hands-on experience. I know how UWM in the hierarchy in colleges sometimes in Wisconsin, and I don’t think it gets enough credit. There are wonderful people that I know I wouldn’t be where I’m at without them and the resources and attention that I received at UWM in journalism. I’m grateful for that. Don’t be sleeping on UWM; it’s such a fun place and a great school.

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