Panel: Young women in sports journalism share their experiences
I thought it would be interesting to panel a group of women who, like Katie Nolan, were 30 years old or under on what the business is like for them today.
Last week Fox Sports 1 announced that it had greenlit a weekly sports show centering around Katie Nolan, who turned 28 last month. Whether you like Nolan’s content or not -- her biggest hurdles will be overcoming a tough time slot (Sunday night at 9:30 p.m. ET) on a network that does not rate well, as well as convincing those who enjoy her web-based content to switch mediums -- it’s great to see a sports network commit to show a hosted by a woman under the age of 30. That’s a rare thing in both sports television and sports-talk radio -- and rarely are women given a sports column at a major newspaper or sports website under the age of 30.
Two years ago Amy K. Nelson, an award-winning multi-media journalist and a friend, wrote a thoughtful piece for The Hairpin.com on how women in the sports media are systematically at a disadvantage. It prompted many female journalists to offer their thoughts on Nelson's piece and share their experiences. CBS Sports Radio host Amy Lawrence went as far as to write this post on the verbal and sexual harassment she's experienced in the male-dominated world of sports radio.
Both pieces struck a chord with me and prompted me to reach out to six highly accomplished and respected women in the sports media for a roundtable via email on the issues they deal with daily as women in the sports media. That panel, which ran in Nov. 2013, consisted of mostly women who had established themselves in the business. Along the same lines, I thought it would be interesting to panel a group of women who, like Nolan, were 30 years old or under on what the business is like for them today.
• Kaylee Hartung, ESPN and SEC Network reporter • Laura Keeley, Duke beat reporter, Raleigh News & Observer and Charlotte Observer • Laken Litman, Social Enterprise Reporter, USA TODAY Sports • Monica McNutt, Sports Anchor/Reporter, NewsChannel8 (Washington D.C.) • Gina Mizell, Oregon State football beat reporter, The Oregonian/OregonLive.com • Jenny Vrentas, NFL writer, The MMQB.com and Sports Illustrated • Francesca Weems, Sports Anchor/Reporter, WLBT/Fox 40 (Jackson, Miss)
The panel was asked a series of questions over email with no requirements, and they were free to pass on any questions. For those on Twitter, you can follow them by clicking on their names, and I highly recommend that you do. This is long, but I think very much worth your time if you want insight into today's sports media.
Which roles in the sports media still feel largely closed to young women trying to make their way up the ladder?
Hartung: I don’t believe there are any. I’d tell any young woman: go after what you want. Before I started at ESPN I could have imagined more roadblocks for women, but now I know that’s not the case. While at Longhorn Network, I co-hosted a broadcast of our nightly news and information show produced and executed entirely by women, and dedicated to current and past female athletes at the University of Texas. I believe it was a special and eye-opening moment for all involved.
Keeley: The people who do the work of actually calling games -- the play-by-play and color analysts -- are still overwhelmingly male. Doris Burke is pretty much the only woman who does work high-profile games on a major network, and she certainly has to put up with a ton of ridiculous comments from ignorant people on social media.
Litman: I don’t think any role is “closed.” One area where women are a real minority though is the role of a pure analyst interpreting Xs and Os. Women are still a minority in locker rooms and press boxes, but that’s gotten better over the years.
McNutt: Play-by-play comes to mind first, then I’d wonder about executive producer/editor positions, the folks in sports who make the calls on who to hire, what to cover and who’s going to cover it. I love turning on a football broadcast and hearing [ESPN’s] Beth Mowins on the call; my standard reaction is first “Hey, that’s Beth,” who I remember from my college basketball days and then “You go, GIRL.” Beth is great at what she does, and she just happens to be a woman.
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I’d like to think we’re moving closer to that attitude as an industry, but I’m a cup half-full kind of gal and the numbers don’t really suggest that. Ask me to name a female play-by-play voice outside of women’s basketball, I draw a blank. As far as EP/Editors go, they require a certain level of experience and rightfully so, but I wonder if the experience that women attain in the business is respected the same as their male counterparts. You know the “identical” resume test, I don’t know that the job would go to a woman and probably because a man is making the hire. Not that women should hire all women, but one of the best ways to be aware of diversity is to have a diverse team making the decisions and I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet. Mary Byrne, the sports editor at USA Today, gives me great hope.
Mizell: The same areas where it’s been tougher for any women to make their way up the ladder -- radio and television play-by-play (particularly with men’s sports) and management/leadership positions. I have a lot of female pals around my age in this business, and none of them do play-by-play. None! Of course, there also aren’t a ton of men under 30 in leadership/management positions, but you’d like to see more women in those types of roles in smaller markets who then could use that experience to move up.
Vrentas: Young women seem to have to do a lot more to “prove” themselves than young men, to be considered for senior jobs on sports staffs. Early in my career, an editor told me I wasn’t ready for a beat yet, even though there were other reporters of a similar age and experience level covering sports beats at the newspaper. I’d covered Penn State football in college, and I had a master’s degree in journalism, so I had a hard time understanding what else I needed to do. I focused on working hard at the assignments that were given to me and worked my way up. But at times in my career, I’ve felt as though there was an assumption that I couldn’t do something, and I had to prove otherwise. I feel that, more often, men get the benefit of the doubt. You certainly see a trend across the business, where women are less often given the more prestigious roles like the biggest beat at a newspaper, senior writer, analyst or editor.
Weems: I think play-by-play is still largely reserved for men in this business particularly when it comes to football. I feel like I can list on one hand the number of women who call football games. Part of the reason that football is a difficult realm to break in terms of women calling the game is that women do not usually play football, which is not the case for other sports. But even if we go outside of the sport of football, most color commentary takes place by males. I also do not come into contact with many female sports directors, news directors or general managers. So outside of the more visible roles, women do not make up many of the key management positions. I think as more women begin to take on more leadership roles in the sports media industry we will begin to see changes at all levels of operation.
How are you treated by your male colleagues in the sports media?
Hartung: I can honestly say I have never been treated with anything but respect by my male colleagues. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by not just mentors, but friends across the sports and events I cover. Male or female, I’m working among the best in the business. Brad Nessler has been an icon of this industry for 20-plus years, his perspective is invaluable. Joe Tessitore sets an incredible example for me in his preparation and versatility. Marty Smith’s passion for great reporting and storytelling inspire me. And I appreciate opportunities to discuss challenges and successes with someone of the same age in Adam Amin as we grow and forge our respective paths.
Keeley: I have been extremely fortunate to have had great, supportive co-workers in Tampa and Raleigh, the two cities I’ve worked in as a sports reporter. Some of my best friends are men that work in this industry. Luke DeCock, Joe Giglio, Andrew Carter and I have an ongoing group text about things we find humorous and/or annoying in our work covering colleges for the Raleigh News & Observer.
Litman: I’m treated like a journalist. I've had some fantastic colleagues -- male and female -- show me the ropes when I was first getting started in the business.
McNutt: I’m in a unique position, landing a gig in the market where I grew up and competed in, so I’ve never really felt inferior, if that’s the right word. "I mean, you played, you know," is a line I hear in conversations often. I don’t know if some of my other experiences have to do with being a woman or my youth, and time in the business. We had a World Cup special at my station and I did a piece on two local kids that escorted the players out before the match. I was still relatively new, and I walked back to the sports office to find someone. It was empty, but I did see a note (in large handwriting on an 8x12 piece of paper; I wasn’t snooping) from the sports executive producer that said if my package was no good, let the special producer know and they’d figure out how to fill the time. It was solid, and it ran.
Mizell: So far, amazingly. Every beat partner I’ve had has been male. Every sports editor I’ve had has been male. I’ve been in newsrooms where I was the only female on the sports staff. My experience has always been that if you show that you know your stuff, will work your tail off and have the ability to do the job well, then you’ll be respected by your colleagues and peers. Many of my biggest supporters during my career have been men. I’ve never felt like I didn’t belong, and I owe a lot of that to the female pioneers who used their strength and skill to pave the way and make things much easier for my generation. I’d say the only pushback I’ve really ever received based purely on my gender has been from a small fraction of readers, and generally you can win them over in the same way -- by consistently producing quality work. There are some who will just never accept a woman in this job, and I can’t worry about them. That’s their problem.
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Vrentas: For the most part, I’ve had a lot of great male colleagues. When I was at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, our Giants beat reporter and our NFL editor at the time both really stood on the table for me to get a chance to cover the NFL. And I have a lot of symbiotic relationships with current and former male colleagues, too, in which we help each other and exchange ideas. But I certainly think it’s true that women have to work harder to get respected among our peers. When I left a previous job, during my exit interview, one manager said to me that he was proud of where I was headed, because when I started working at his publication, I "knew nothing." To hear that had been his initial impression of me was frustrating. I’ve also been on the receiving end of a profanity-laden shouting match from a reporter at another publication, after I pulled him aside to ask that he give me the same respect he gave other reporters in the locker room. For several weeks before that day, he’d been hovering over on my one-on-one interviews with players, and once used a quote that had been given to me, in his own story. When I've had negative experiences with male colleagues, they usually seem to stem from a lack of respect.
Weems: I think women, especially women of color, are constantly asked to "prove" themselves in an industry that is dominated by white males. Often times I feel I have to be better prepared than most because my mistakes will be more glaring than if I were a male. Most times when I first encounter a male colleague, I feel like there is judgment as if internally they are asking, “How did she get this job? Does she really know sports or did they hire her to meet a quota?” So to answer the question I would say I am treated fairly but some, but unfairly by most. The mistreatment is not often times blatant, but the undertones are there particularly if you are rising in the industry faster than they are.
What's the breakdown of Twitter responses/mentions you get talking about your work versus your appearance/how you sound?
Hartung: I’m more interested in finding ways to use social platforms to further my reporting and engage with our audiences, rather than depending on Twitter to validate my work.
Keeley: The vast, vast majority of tweets I receive are about my work -- it probably helps that’s what I tweet about the vast, vast majority of the time. Any personal color I add tends to either be about food, my dog or running routes I’ve found in ACC cities. I want the focus to be on my work, not my appearance, and I try to take actions that further that goal.
Litman: When I get critical Twitter mentions, it’s 50 percent about the story, 50 percent focus on the fact that I’m a woman, with the occasional comment about my appearance.
McNutt: I haven’t had to deal with this very much. I do remember during the Wizards playoff run, we did a special before the broadcast and afterward someone tweeted me something along the lines of "knowledgeable, natural hair and great necklace." I love that necklace and was dead on the money about Drew Gooden being an X-factor against the Bulls. But it always tickles me when folks throw out "knowledgeable" referring to women. What, you thought I was about to be out here looking like Boo-Boo the female fool for diversity’s sake?
Mizell: Thankfully, the vast majority of those responses/mentions have to do with the content of my work or what’s happening with the teams I cover, rather than my appearance or how I sound. I suppose that makes sense for a print/online reporter, but I am on video quite often and record a podcast weekly, so the opportunity to critique or criticize is there and you do get the occasional barb from time to time. Still, I know it’s often much more difficult for my peers in television and radio. I sometimes have such a love/hate relationship with Twitter, because the overdose of snark and negativity can get exhausting. But most of the time I really enjoy it, and I do think it’s a fun and important way to connect and engage with your audience. While majoring in broadcast journalism in college, however, I was told to cut my hair and to change my voice, but that’s another story for another day!
Vrentas: I get a very small percentage about my appearance. I’m primarily a writer and I do on-camera work only occasionally. But no matter how few or how many you get, and whether they are positive or negative, it’s a reminder that standards are different for men and women.
Weems: I would say most comments, responses and mentions that I get on Twitter actually concern my work, whether they are asking for score updates on a game I’m covering or if I enjoyed a story. My followers do a great job of letting me know that they like my work. However, inbox messages are a different story. These "messages" are almost entirely centered on my appearance. Often I will get messages about story ideas and the moment I respond the conversations will switch gears to going on dates or hanging out. This goes for my Facebook fan page as well. On the timeline the conversations are about my work, but my inbox messages again are 90 percent based on how I looked on air, whether I am single and willing to go out with them, things of that nature. I guess most people don’t want to publicly display their sexism in sports regarding women, it seems to be a much safer bet to send them messages directly.
How much pressure do you feel about your appearance on a daily basis and why?
Hartung: Of course I take pride in my appearance, but I spend a whole lot more time on my preparation and research for an assignment than I do primping. My hope is that my appearance never distracts from my reporting.
Keeley: For two summers, I interned with Bloomberg News, and the dress standard there was business casual. Dressing nice always helped me feel professional, so it’s a habit I’ve continued as I’ve worked as a sports reporter. So I don’t feel any external pressure to look a certain way -- at this point, it’s more wanting to look nice for me. When I first started working this beat in 2012, though, I did have a thought process like, "I’m young and I’m female, I don’t need to give anyone any additional reasons not to respect me by looking like a slob." As I’ve established myself here and people have gotten to know me and my work, that’s a concern that has faded away.
Litman: I always strive to look professional.
McNutt: I don’t really give much thought to my appearance beyond my TV routine unless I’m job hunting. On a daily basis, I do my usual make-up and what I’m up to that day usually dictates my wardrobe. I love a flattering dress just as much as the next chick, but they don’t necessarily work when you’re in high school gyms shooting pieces. I feel like this is the way I looked when I interviewed, and they went with it so I’m good. I usually wait until the last minute to put on makeup for TV, and I admit I don’t think I’d ever go to a set completely fresh-faced as studio lights are crazy. When job hunting though it’s different. I know my short natural hair cut probably won’t fly in certain markets, which is just my cross to bear and I’m ok with that. What’s for me is for me.
Mizell: Oh, probably about the same amount as the typical 20-something female. Of course, dressing/looking professional in a work environment is always important, but that’s not unique to our business. I did desperately need a haircut/color after football season, but that would have been the case no matter my job.
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Vrentas: I think the greatest pressure I feel when it comes to appearance is making sure that I’m perceived as looking professional. I worry about what I wear a lot. Are my pants loose enough? Can I wear a skirt? I’m close to six feet tall, so is it OK to wear heels? It’s a tough balance to strike, between having fun with what you wear and also not wanting to be judged for it. I have enough experience in locker rooms to be comfortable doing my job in there, but I still have moments of insecurity. Earlier this year, I was in a locker room of a team I haven’t covered very often. I was wearing ankle boots with a short heel, and several people came up to me and asked how tall I was. The last thing I wanted to do while trying to get a story done was talk about something related to my appearance, so I felt uncomfortable. That’s the kind of stuff that runs through my mind when I get dressed for work.
Weems: I feel immense pressure when it comes to my appearance. I know that there is a double standard in this business and that women are judged on their appearance. Just reading about how Pam Oliver was so closely scrutinized about her hair and look on air reiterates the importance of appearance in this industry. It is no secret that many people believe Oliver’s supposed lack of attention to her appearance led to her losing her job to Erin Andrews. Yet, you never read articles or hear of men losing their jobs to other “better dressed” men. As a multi-media journalist who shoots, writes, edits, produces and anchors my own shows, it is an art to being able to look good on air when you have so many responsibilities. I can put together a great broadcast, but if my “look” is not equally impressive than I often feel like I have failed because I know that when people are watching my sports broadcast, they are also watching for my “look” on air. As someone who is ethnic, I have to grapple with not looking too ethnic on air. For example, I once wore a cheetah blazer out to an event and was advised to never wear it again because it was too ethnic. This goes for the way I wear my hair too -- the quintessential straight hair look. However, I do believe the television industry is evolving. I am noticing more and more women of color are wearing their natural hair. My current station is at the forefront of that change allowing one of its African-American anchors to rock her natural hair, which I think is great!
Do you believe your salary and compensation is equal to a man with your similar age and experience, and why?
Hartung: I believe it’s accurate to say there isn’t a man with my similar age and experience to compare myself to. Therein lies a point for an entirely separate discussion.
Keeley: I will say that I believe young reporters in this industry are definitely paid by experience level, not ability level. I honestly don't know enough about what men with my age and experience level make to say one way or another.
Litman: I believe I am paid equally.
McNutt: Yes, I believe my salary is equal to a man in my position. There was no negotiation about my salary. [It was] here’s the job, here’s what it pays. I’m confident that would’ve been the same for a man in my position.
Mizell: Nobody gets into this business to get rich, but I can honestly say I’ve felt fairly compensated in every single job I’ve had. I don’t go around asking peers how much they make, but I have a good enough idea to know that I’m right in the mix with both men and women in similar jobs with similar experience. I’ve gotten a raise every time I’ve changed jobs, one that reflected the size of the market, my job description, the cost of living and my increase in experience level. I’ve never struggled to pay my bills or go home for the holidays or feed my slight obsession with Broadway shows, so I truly cannot gripe about my salary.
Vrentas: I don’t have enough facts to answer that question directly. But I believe there’s a wage gap in our industry, as in America overall, because men are pushed into higher-ranking, higher-paying job positions earlier and more often than women. At Sports Illustrated, none of the 26 senior writers are female.
Weems: This is a tough one. I have read about the gender pay gap, but have never been able to confirm it in my case. When I have applied for jobs I make sure that I do my research to make sure what they are offering aligns with my experience level. I don’t use age as a determining factor because people begin careers at various stages of their lives. I went to graduate school to get my masters before starting a full-time on-air job so I was older than most people starting in this business. The fact that I started later doesn’t mean that I should have been paid more than someone younger since we probably would have had the same amount of experience coming out of school. Based on what I have researched I think most of the jobs I have taken in this industry are equivalent to what most men are making with similar experience.
What story have you most enjoyed working on and why?
Hartung: It’s always fun to spend time around the No. 1 ranked team in the country and better understand the keys to their success. I have had a front row seat to Kentucky basketball’s pursuit of perfection this season. But one reason I feel incredibly lucky to do this job is because people have allowed me to share in wonderfully special moments in their lives, beyond wins and loses. At Longhorn Network producer Michael Holmes and I documented the senior prom experience of dedicated Texas fan named Brandon Puente as he was surprised by the sister of two former Texas football stars. This fall I was humbled as producer Michael Loftus and I spent time with Medal of Honor recipient Kyle Carpenter just as his sophomore year began at the University of South Carolina.
Keeley: Probably a profile I wrote last year on Jabari Parker. Here’s a kid that had been covered extensively since he was a freshman in high school, and I needed to come up with something fresh. I was able to tack an extra day on to a work trip to Chicago -- Duke was playing Kansas in the United Center as part of the Champions Classic -- and I arranged sit-down interviews with Parker’s best friend (a walk-on at DePaul), his Mormon bishop and his high school coach, and I got to speak to his mother at the stadium before the game. I also had an extensive email exchange with a professor of his that was, at the time of my reporting, spending a semester at sea. It was so nice to get outside of the bubble of tightly controlled access around college sports and actually sit face-to-face with real people. I was pleased with how the story came together, and many people were kind enough to tell me they enjoyed it, too.
Litman: After the Ray Rice story broke, I was sent to the Ravens-Steelers game in Baltimore to find fans who still supported Rice. What I found were dozens of women around the stadium, tailgating, wearing Rice’s No. 27. I interviewed many of them and found out why they still supported him after his domestic violence charges. I filed my story before kickoff and it immediately went viral. It was also on the front page of our sports section the next day. I “enjoyed” that it was a different angle no one else had and was proud of the conversation it sparked.
McNutt: Covering the Wizards playoff run last year was cool. I enjoyed that because I know how starved DC has been for good pro hoops in a city that’s a hotbed for high school and college talent. My favorite story though would have to be a piece I did on a high school basketball coach with spinal muscular atrophy. He can’t walk or move his arms, just his hands, which he uses to direct his motorized wheelchair. He knows his hoops and his players know that and respect it. It was such a great story about perspective; it’s so easy to see what you can’t do instead of what you can. He has a sticker on the back of his chair that says “you laugh because I’m different, I laugh because you’re all the same.” How can you not get on board with that attitude? Plus, that might be one of the best pieces I’ve done visually.
Mizell: It’s hard to pick one. My first full-time job at the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise, I wrote about a three-year-old cancer patient and his connection to a local high school baseball team. I happened to notice the kid’s interaction with the players after a game and casually asked the coach about him, and it took off from there, so I was proud of my instincts and ability to pick up on a good story by observing and paying attention to the stuff beyond the game. While covering Oklahoma State football for The Oklahoman, I wrote a longform piece on a signee who spent much of his childhood homeless and was eventually taken in by a teammates’ family. I spent a lot of time reporting that story and went through several versions before the finished product was published. So far at The Oregonian, I most enjoyed writing a piece about Sean Mannion’s journey to becoming the Pac-12’s all-time leading passer through the eyes of his loved ones. My goal was to find a creative way to tell a story that everybody would be writing about, and I feel like I accomplished that and got some really neat anecdotes to weave together.
Vrentas: Last spring, my editor gave me the assignment to put the debate over the Washington NFL team name into context by finding out how Native Americans really feel about it. My colleagues and I spoke to members of 18 tribes in 10 states, and visited three Native American communities, to take the temperature of the people at the heart of controversy. Working on the story was an interesting experience, because I was reminded of how sports teams influence social issues, and the opportunity we in the media have to share voices that otherwise wouldn’t be heard.
Weems: A story I most enjoyed covering concerns a bobsledder named Maureen Ajoku who was from the San Francisco Bay Area. She lost both her parents in a span of six months in high school. Her father died suddenly of kidney failure and her mother passed away shortly after from ovarian cancer. Ajoku went on to have a successful track career at UC Santa Barbara, eventually making to the final round of the USA Olympic tryouts in bobsledding for the 2014 Winter games. It is an honor to be able to tell stories like hers on how sports help people overcome adversity. When most people would have broken after losing two parents back to back before the age of 18, Ajoku used her heartbreak to fuel and propel her to new heights both on and off the field. She didn’t dwell on her misfortunes and that is inspirational.
For so many people, sports goes beyond the game. Sports can literally save your life when you are dealing with difficult circumstances.
Carlos M. Saavedra/SI
What has been your toughest moment in the business and why?
Hartung: Declined to comment.
Keeley: This fall, there were Duke athletics employees who were upset about something I wrote, to the point where they requested a sit-down meeting with me, my direct editor and our sports editor (both are male). So the three of us went over to Duke to meet with the three of them (all men). And after a contentious meeting, one of men who works for Duke shakes both of my editors’ hands and then turns abruptly and leaves without shaking my hand. It was the most unprofessional behavior I have ever seen.
Litman: One that sticks out was when I was first getting started in the business. I moved to Tuscaloosa to cover Alabama. I had to adjust to a major program, new colleagues and a new town. And I quickly learned how seriously Alabama and SEC fans take their football. Sometimes it’s best to block hate mail and Twitter mentions, but when you have to interact with message boards every day, that can take a toll on you mentally.
McNutt: My toughest moment in the business was probably the process of landing my first job. Tons of resumes and applications go unanswered. As an athlete, you practice hard and improve, you go out and show it, cause and effect. Landing a gig wasn’t quite that simple. I had an interview with a company and one of the folks making the call basically implied the job was mine. I was so pumped. I killed the interview and read test. I remember calling my dad and mentor saying that “there’s no way I don’t get that.” Then there was a second interview where I met some of the other candidates: there were two black guys, a white woman and me. That’s when my confidence started to wane, not because I couldn’t do the job but because I knew the chances they were going to hire two black folks was slim. I still kept hope alive though, so when I got the phone call that I wasn’t selected I was still crushed. Needless to say, back to my mantra: what’s for me is for me. Thankfully I’ve got a job. You’ve got to plow through the no’s to get to the yes.
Mizell: My first season covering Oklahoma State football (2011) was the same year of the plane crash that killed women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna. At that point, I had written a couple stories centered around someone’s death, but not in a way that really prepared me to cover something that unexpected and tragic. I was assigned to write a story about Serna off of the public memorial service, and I had never met her, so that forced me to ask a ton of questions of people who were grieving. That was really difficult. And then there was the whole component of the football team losing to Iowa State to knock itself out of the national title picture. That was a night game that went to overtime, so of course I was up against a tough deadline. I was not happy with my story, to say the least. I remember going back to the hotel after the game and not being able to sleep, both because I could not stop thinking about the events of the day and because I truly did not believe I had pulled my weight or done my job well.
Vrentas: It was when I had my credibility questioned. It happened last summer, after I wrote a story that I still stand behind. I was assigned to write about Michael Vick in the twilight of his football career. I spent a few days reporting up in Cortland at Jets training camp, speaking to the quarterback and people in and around the organization, to give a picture of where he was at physically and mentally in the third and perhaps final act of his NFL career. In the 2,000-word story, one paragraph talked about how some coaches were disappointed he didn’t show more urgency in his practice or preparation. I was confident in my sources, and I also had quotes from Vick in which he said he was refreshing himself and taking a step back away from the game. I never expected this to set off a mini-controversy. I also didn’t know my credibility would come under attack. The next day, I got a flurry of texts during a family event telling me that one local columnist was attacking me on sports talk radio in New York, alleging that I made the story up. It was hard to see other reporters or fans cutting down the story on Twitter, too. Your credibility is the most important thing you have in this business, and I had worked hard to establish that during my two seasons on the Jets beat and seven years covering the NFL. It really shook me when that was questioned, and I didn’t really have any way to defend myself or prove that I was right. Two months later, though, after a loss in San Diego when Vick came off the bench, he admitted that he may have been unprepared and took the scout-team reps for granted. My editors had told me to stand behind my reporting, and I had every reason to, but it was frustrating that I didn’t get the benefit of the doubt, and I wondered, what do I have to do to earn that?
Weems: The toughest moment for me was when I was up for position with my dream company and did not get the job. The company essentially told me I had the job and then decided to go in a different direction at the last minute. I felt broken in that moment because I felt like I was so close to accomplishing my goals that it was almost like the carpet had been pulled beneath me. But you learn a lot from moments like that such as to never put all of your energy and eggs in one basket. I was out of work for six months before finding another job that would eventually help me land a full-time career on-air. I am a firm believer that what is meant for you will be yours in all aspects your life. That particular job wasn’t for me at that time and it may never be. One of the hardest things about this business and really in life is not to compare your situation to others. Often times I would catch myself seeing people I knew get ahead, and I would feel like I was at a standstill. But I have learned everyone’s path is different. Jemele Hill gave an inspiration speech at the National Association of Black Journalists convention a couple of years back talking about focusing on what you can control so that is what I started doing. You can’t control whether people like you or if they will hire you. All you can do is try to be the best at your craft and everything else will fall into place.
For those in TV or who do video as part of their job, how much of a double standard do you see in the way potential employers value your male colleagues' looks versus yours?
Hartung: Considering my colleagues include a former Bachelor (Jesse Palmer) and one of People Magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive (Tim Tebow), I think there may be a double standard, just not skewed my way.
Keeley: Video is a tiny part of my job, when you look at how I spend my time. But while we’re talking about judging appearances, a quick aside on this bizarre phenomenon in the Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill). The message board folks care way, way more about what my colleague Andrew Carter, who covers UNC for us, wears than anyone has ever cared about what I look like. Like, he wore a red sweater to the Syracuse-UNC basketball game, and there was this seven-page thread on a Carolina message board with people speculating and getting upset that it was orange. People are weird, and that’s true whether you’re male or female.
A look behind the scenes of NBC's broadcast for Super Bowl XLIX
McNutt: I think potential employers take a pause and discuss if a black man fits what they’re looking for, and I think they take an even longer pause and discuss if I fit what they’re looking for. I don’t give much thought to the value of a man's looks versus mine, but I often wonder if I would be given more consideration if I were blonde, just based on the faces I see when I turn on various sports programming or scroll through station websites. I have a small personal sample size. I work at a cable sister station to a network affiliate. When I got my job I actually really wanted the weekend sports anchor job on the affiliate side. The powers that be didn’t think I was ready because of my experience (although the news director at the time agreed that after three months on my job I’d be up to snuff, and it took longer than three months to make the hire). I saw candidates interview, I was told offers made were turned down and I remember thinking “I’m here.” Yes, it would’ve been a slight leap of faith but in my mind the upside outweighed the risk. I would’ve chalked the whole thing up to experience except one of my news colleagues, who is blonde, told me the sports EP came and asked her if she was interested. Our level of experience was very similar, and I’d actually been in sports. Ultimately a black guy got the job, who has more experience, and management has changed. I can’t help but wonder if the powers that be would’ve been more willing to take a chance if I looked different. I’m a woman that supports women, so I don’t buy every blonde on TV got her job because of looks. I suppose that stereotype is their cross to bear. I’m a firm believer what’s for me is for me and success happens when preparation meets opportunity. If by chance the person responsible for my hire reads this, I’m still incredibly grateful for the opportunity I have and know how fortunate I am but I wonder…
Mizell: Again, I would probably expect this to be a bigger issue for people in TV, but I haven’t really felt that at all. I cover Oregon State football, so they’re going to put me on video for topics regarding Oregon State football. I just make sure to dress nicely and present myself professionally when I know I’m going to be on camera. As much as the higher-ups may not want me to look like a slob, I really don’t want to look like a slob. I’m the one on the screen! One story: A reader once commented about me wearing the same blouse in two postgame videos during a particular football season. I thought it was odd that someone picked up on that, since I didn’t even pick up on that. Again, nobody gets in this business to get rich. I don’t have an unlimited wardrobe!
Weems: I think there is a double standard for women. I used the example of Pam Oliver losing her job to Erin Andrews earlier. I don’t think as much attention is paid to men’s appearance in this industry for the simple fact that most of my male colleagues do not put very much emphasis on how they look. I never hear them talking about how they need to go shopping for nicer suits, how they need to get a fresh haircut or get in the gym to lose some weight. These conversations don’t arise because they know their job security is based on their performance when the light goes on rather than if the audience finds them attractive. I have seen men where the same outfits in the same week and no one notices, but if I ever tried something like that there is no way that would fly. However, I don’t think this standard applies just in television; this is also common in society. Women are constantly bombarded by ads telling us that we need to improve our appearance. They sell you the idea that the most attractive women are slim, tall with perfect skin -- the epitome of a Victoria Secrets model, a standard that most women will never meet.
Is your boss a male or female?
Hartung: As my assignments are constantly changing and my role evolving, I report to several different people. Stephanie Druley has been a constant through my two years at Longhorn Network and now as I contribute to SEC Network. As Lee Fitting guides college coverage at ESPN, I depend on him as well.
Litman: I have two bosses. One is male, one is female.
McNutt: My boss is male. Everybody in sports here is male, except a freelance photographer that’s relied on pretty regularly.
Mizell: Every sports editor and immediate supervisor I’ve ever worked for (Jon Styf, Mike Sherman, Ryan Sharp, Seth Prince and Joel Odom) has been male. There are female assistant sports editors at my two most recent stops, The Oregonian and The Oklahoman, but neither of them oversee the college beats. And I want to emphasize again how incredible those male bosses have been to work for. They’ve all believed in me and helped me grow, and I’m so lucky to have them in my corner.
Vrentas: Male. I have never had a female boss.
Weems: My boss is male. In fact since I entered this field I have only had male supervisors.
How often are you asked out by subjects or sources or colleagues in the field?
Hartung: Nowhere near as often as I get proposed to on Twitter. I try not to put myself in any unprofessional situations.
Keeley: I’ve been asked out by fellow writers before, but I think I do a pretty good job of keeping a professional air in dealings with subjects and sources. Here or there people have asked to get dinner or drinks in a way that seemed more personal than professional, and I’ve just politely declined.
Litman: Fortunately, this has not been an issue for me.
McNutt: I’ve been asked out once by a coach of a team I was covering, which was awkward because I felt like I was probably closer to his son’s age than his. Another time by a collegiate assistant coach who inquired “Does your man like your job?” I’m always cognizant of how I carry myself and operate in the field, friendly, but I’m not looking for a man and don’t want to open myself up to speculation about scruples and how I operate. When the “you used to play ball?” line comes up or any conversation for that matter seems like it’s going that way, it’s a great time to plug your boyfriend.
Mizell: Oh, wow. We’re going there, huh? Thankfully, I’ve never been asked out by a player, coach or anybody associated with a program I was covering. I was once asked out by a peer -- not a co-worker, but somebody at another outlet in the market -- via email. That was a bit strange, and I never took him up on his invitation. I also have been asked out a couple of times by fans/readers on social media, which is even weirder because said gentlemen don’t actually know you. I just ignore those and hope they get the hint that it’s inappropriate.
Vrentas: My first reaction to this question is that it wouldn’t be asked in a roundtable of male reporters. Why is this issue placed on us, when it often doesn't originate with us? But, on the other hand, I also think we should be open and acknowledge the realities of working as a female in a male-dominated industry. Journalism is a relationship business, and a male in a male-dominated business can, for the most part, build those relationships without having to wonder in the back of his mind if the person he’s working with has different intentions than simply a professional relationship. Women can't. It's something I don't think I was entirely prepared for as a 22-year-old entering the field. How in the world would journalism school, for instance, properly prepare you for a prominent agent of a star player asking you unprompted if he can be your "roommate" in your hotel room when you're at a road game? The default is to laugh it off, because you need the person as a source. As I've gotten older, though, I'm more able to speak up or steer clear of people who make me uncomfortable. Yes, those people are the minority, but it's also something we have to confront while doing our jobs.
Weems: I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked out while on the job. It makes the job frustrating at times because you want to keep your composure and be professional but it is difficult. I have had to lie about being married or engaged just to change the subject back to sports. Most of the time it comes from sources rather than colleagues. The worst cases are when sources try to hug me or hold my hand too long when I shake hands to say hello, something they obviously would not do had I been male interviewing them. I have been winked at and called out as being “beautiful” in a room full of men. This only fuels why some men don’t think women get ahead in this business based on their hard work.
How confident are you that you will be working in this field when you are 50 and why?
Hartung: I can’t tell you what role I’ll be in when I’m 50, but I fully intend to be working. No one makes me more confident of that than my former boss Bob Schieffer. The CBS newsman will be 78 years old on Wednesday (Feb. 25). His continued curiosity and passion for the job are a true inspiration.
Keeley: Based on the amount of personal growth I’ve undergone in my 20s, it would be foolish for me to try to predict anything about me when I’m 50.
Litman: I didn’t get into this business to get out of it. I have a passion for journalism. There will always be stories to tell, and am confident I’ll be here when I’m 50.
McNutt: This is a tough question. Does teaching journalism still count as the field? I enjoy my job and I believe the best is yet to come, but for me the job isn’t the ultimate. I hope to be a wife and mom, and although my closest friends have already told me there’s no way I won’t have a nanny for my kids, I’m not sure that’s what I want. It’s certainly not the way I was raised. I haven’t gotten that far yet, and of course I’d love to be able to balance it all but it wouldn’t surprise me if I’ve shifted gears by 50, hopefully by my own choice.
Mizell: This business has already taught me not to predict the future too much, but I’m pretty darn confident I will still be writing and telling stories about sports in some capacity when I’m 50. Since this industry will continue to evolve, I’m not sure what my specific job will look like in 25 years, but I can guarantee the public will still be passionate about sports and will still enjoy consuming important news and meaningful stories. So jobs will be out there. As long as I’m still enjoying working in this field, I plan to keep doing it. One semi-different thing I could see myself doing sometime down the line, however, is teaching. I’ve already worked with a fair amount of students -- I oversee the Association for Women in Sports Media’s internship/scholarship and student chapter programs -- and find that really rewarding and invigorating. And the fact that more and more sports journalism programs keep popping up at schools around the country makes that possibility even more intriguing.
Vrentras: As a print reporter, I don’t have to confront the ageism that slants the hiring of women for broadcast jobs. And, while I mentioned some of the hurdles I’ve faced, I’m also thankful for the opportunities I have received. Given how quickly the business has changed even since I finished graduate school in 2007, I’m not sure what jobs in the media will be like 20 years from now. But I don’t have any plans to leave the business, and I want to keep building in this career.
Weems: I want to say that I am pretty confident. I love what I do, but it doesn’t come without sacrifice. There is no 9 to 5 in this business so the odd hours can impact your relationships, you often have to work and live far from home (I have been gone for 10 years) so you miss out on important moments and events with your family. The industry tests you in all areas of your life. Right now it works for me because I have not started a family of my own yet, but that may change when or if I do. So for the time being I will say yes because right now I could not imagine doing anything else. I have sacrificed too much (money, time, relationships) not to continue growing in this field.
What person has the career you want to model yourself on and why?
Hartung: Tom Rinaldi. His storytelling ability, writing style, versatility and reporting acumen are unmatched.
Keeley: I’ve always been a big fan of ESPN college basketball reporter Dana O’Neil. She’s always kind when you see her, and she writes great stuff that goes beyond what is obvious to anyone watching the games.
Litman: I have my own writing and reporting style, my own strengths and weaknesses, and my own path. I have always admired Christine Brennan and Kirk Bohls. In addition to Christine’s reporting and extensive TV work, I have been most struck by her commitment to mentoring. This is essential for the future and something I hope to emulate. Kirk was a terrific help to me when I was in college. Watching him work a beat was a great example and one that still guides me today.
McNutt: There are so many incredible folks I admire in the business. I really enjoy Lisa Salters work on E:60. Everybody says "sports teaches you about life," and I love hearing the great stories where that truly takes place. I love a great sports moment too. Holly Rowe gets some of the most memorable post-game interviews and does a great job in-game. Rachel Nichols is a flat-out boss, and I can only hope to one day be taking the lead and pushing the conversation in a similar fashion. I love the versatility and the writing of Liz Clarke at the Washington Post, whether she’s on the beat or covering an event. I’ve often questioned if I "officially" picked the wrong medium, although they’re all running together now. I believe hard work, creativity and enthusiasm will help me make a way in this business but I hope, above all, to be able to remain true to myself like the irreplaceable Stuart Scott.
Mizell: There are so many people I admire in this industry, so I try to soak up as much as I can from everywhere I can. As a college football reporter, I have the utmost respect for folks like Stewart Mandel, Bruce Feldman, Andy Staples, Paul Myerberg and Pat Forde. I’ll read anything Dan Wetzel writes and probably gush about it on Twitter immediately after finishing the final line. I think Chuck Culpepper and Chris Ballard and Wright Thompson are masters at narrative journalism. Not to shamelessly tout this humble outlet, but I’ve been a diehard fan of The MMQB since the beginning because of the freedom to use a variety of interesting storytelling mechanisms. Growing up, I had two amazing female role models in Phoenix in The Arizona Republic’s Paola Boivin and Fox Sports Arizona’s Jody Jackson, and there’s still a part of me that wants to be them when I grow up. I’m leaving out so many people. Not to sound cliché, but I hope I can continue to learn from these folks and others and ultimately carve out my own career path doing work that excites me and is meaningful.
Vrentas: Peter King is a great example for me. He has such a wide network of sources who inform his writing and reporting, and he’s always trying to give readers stories they can’t get anywhere else. He’s also been adaptable through his career and ahead of the curve with new media, which is key to staying relevant in a changing business.
Weems: I would say ESPN’s Lisa Salters has the career I would want. She does a variety of things for the network. She is a sideline reporter but is also an excellent storyteller contributing to their newsmagazine show E:60. I really enjoy watching features and longform storytelling and Salters has really mastered that. As black female she is a role model for women like myself that you really can do it all. Salters is tough, witty and respected -- all things I wish to model myself after.