Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
July 29, 2021

A conversation with Kevin Thomas Tully, Staff Writer and Photographer '87

By CYNTHIA HU | May 17, 2021

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COURTESY OF THE UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES — SHERIDAN LIBRARIES 

Thomas Tully wrote and took pictures for the sports section at The News-Letter.

First setting foot in the Gatehouse darkroom in 1985, Kevin Thomas Tully joined The News-Letter as a Staff Photographer before becoming a Staff Writer. After graduating from Hopkins in 1987, Tully began a short stint at a community newspaper before becoming a sports editor with Gannett. He then led the PR efforts for the flagship franchise of the XFL in New York. Today, Tully is the Chief Operating Officer for a global marketing agency that represents some of the most recognized brands in technology.

The News-Letter: Why did you first decide to join The News-Letter?

Kevin Thomas Tully: It was my junior year and I was on the five-year plan at Hopkins. I was a child of the ‘70s, and newspapers at that time were a big part of my life. I remember growing up, my family — I came from a big Irish family — would wait for our turn to get a hold of that four-inch-thick Sunday paper.

I walked into the Gatehouse one day and said, “Hey, I want to write,” and they said “Do you have any experience?” and I said, “No.” I thought that this was going to be an easy thing and it wasn't. And they said, “Well we need someone to take pictures,” and I said, “Well I don't have any experience with that either,” and they said, “Well, we'll teach you.” So that was my first foray there. And I decided that I was just going to jump headfirst into it. Newspapers have always been around and part of my life so it seemed like it was a natural fit that I was involved with something on campus like The News-Letter.

As a college student, I think I did it backwards. I was pre-med and I took some Writing Seminars classes and I fell in love. I was sold. I wanted to write, and I wanted to learn how to write well. So, I took the Writing Seminars classes, fell in love with writing, took the minor in Writing Seminars and joined The News-Letter. It was life changing for me. It put me on a career path to where I am at now.

N-L: How did you get involved in the Sports section?

KTT: I got recruited to play football, which was my main sport, and then I did wrestling and track. So how I made my way to writing sports was I received some really bad advice from the defensive coordinator who told me that I could come back and play (I was a four-year starter) eight weeks in and maintain my eligibility. Now, I take part of the blame because I didn't check with the head coach, but I went and played in the last three games but lost a year of eligibility. I was very upset when I found out about that. So my fifth year, I didn't have anything to do in the fall. I'd been working in photo and I said, “I'm going to write sports” so I could cover my friends on the football team, and I had a great time doing it.

N-L: What are some of the best or funniest personal stories from your time at The News-Letter?

KTT: I was covering the football team when I was a fifth year and I remember the team got shellacked. They lost 35 to nothing. So one of my roommates was a player — his name was Paul Harrison — and he had not played that day and he said, “Look, the reason why we lost is because I didn't play.” And I said, “Okay, well I'm going to get that in a headline.” So we slugged the headline, “Jays lose 35-0, where was Harrison?” I don't know how I convinced the Sports Editor to put that in there but I was begging and pleading and, of course, because we put the paper to bed so late, everybody was scrambling. I think he just had enough of me and he decided to put it in there. It caused a bit of a stir. The head coach was not happy with me. My roommate was very happy, but that was quite amusing. We had a good laugh about it.

N-L: What were some of your favorite articles that you wrote?

KTT: We did a parody thing for April Fools’. I did one about the football team going D1. I had donated all the money to construct the Tully Dome and had put our schedule together and we were going to play all the top-ranked teams. Of course, we would get rid of all the players and start taking players from other universities. Again, that didn't go over well. A lot of people didn't see the humor in it.

N-L: How has The News-Letter impacted your career after Hopkins?

KTT: At Hopkins, I was always going to be pre-med because my mother was a nurse and she wanted a doctor in the family. 3.3, average MCAT, but I really wasn't sure.

So back in the ‘80s, they'd have this med-school-by-trial graduate program at Georgetown University. You can go there and you essentially are taking all the same classes with the first-year students at Georgetown. And after you get your master’s, you just roll right into Georgetown [University School of Medicine]. So I did that and I'm sitting in this lecture hall and I'm bored to tears because science education at Johns Hopkins is far superior to anything else, anywhere else. And it's the same thing that we had as an undergraduate. But at night, I'm working as a stringer for this community newspaper at either Chevy Chase[, Md.] or Bethesda[, Md.]. I'm finding myself spending more time with the newspaper and less time at class. So one day in January, I thought to myself, “I'm doing the wrong thing.” So I quit, moved back home, got a job at a community newspaper in northwest New Jersey — same one that was in my hometown. And what did I use to get the job? My clips in The News-Letter.

I got a job as a local reporter. I wanted to write sports so badly. The sports editor was a legend at the time, and I remember he covered me in high school. The editor of the newspaper did not want me to write sports. So I said, “Look, I'm going to do it for free.” I did it for free, and it taught me how to write sports. I eventually ended up working for Gannett as a sports editor. From there, I moved into a PR position with the original iteration of the XFL in New York. It was a fantastic experience. I got to work with Vince McMahon, who is by far the most brilliant marketer I've ever met in my entire life. Changed my life there. 

I got to stand up before the New York media and give news conferences, press conferences. A young guy doing that — it was amazing. And it's a direct line to where I am today. All because of The News-Letter. I went into that community with my News-Letter clips and said, “I want that job.”

N-L: How do you remember The News-Letter impacting the greater student body at Hopkins?

KTT: Well, going back to my freshman year, everyone waited on Friday for The News-Letter to come out. There were some comic strips at the time. As a pre-med, they scheduled organic chemistry in Remsen 1. And then right after organic chemistry, they scheduled molecular/cell biology in Mudd. And as soon as organic chemistry let out, people would sprint out of Remsen down the sidewalk to Mudd Hall to get the front-row seats. And some brilliant satirists made a comic called The MolCell 500. It was the funniest thing and he had characters and [it] just went on [like] that for months. And I remember people just waiting for the Friday News-Letter to come out — because it didn't come out daily and it didn't come out online — it was hard-copy print. There was something about waiting for it that was just hilarious. 

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