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Q&A; with Pamela Modarelli Hegner, Sports Producer

An Inside Look at Being a Woman in a Male Dominated Industry

 
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A passion for sports can start at a very young age and despite cultural norms, sometimes you just can’t fight the feeling. 

“Young girls should be into Duran Duran, right? Well not me. I was too busy checking box scores and watching Braves games on TBS.” recalls Pamela Hegner, Sports TV producer.

When did you decide to pursue a career in Sports TV?

When I was in college I had a summer internship at a local TV station in sports TV and it was that experience that made me pursue a career in sports TV. I originally thought I wanted to be a sportswriter for a newspaper, but that internship changed my mind.

What was it about a career in Sports TV that originally lured you?

Well because I had previously wanted a career in print, I was just totally blown away by what you could do with editing video for highlights and stories. To me, it just made sports that much more alive and fun to be able to play with the editing machine and really get creative.


Pamela Modarelli Hegner’s Sports TV “Stats”

pam modarelli female sports producer Education: Indiana University, Journalism School

Stations: WSB-TV (Atlanta, GA), CNN/Sports Illustrated (Atlanta, GA), CNN Headline News Sports (Atlanta, GA), CNN Special Projects (New York, NY)

Most memorable moment working in Sports TV:Meeting Tom Glavine and Dale Murphy

Best piece of advice:. I strongly encourage any woman interested in sports to make sure you are a true student and understand the games and rules so you can hold your own. Because getting exposed for lack of sports knowledge is a quick way to lose respect from the start.


You went to Indiana University, how much did it help you in your Sports TV career?

I graduated from the Journalism school at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. I did have a wonderful experience there because of the emphasis on teaching students how to write- whether it be for newspaper, magazine or TV.  It also gave me a fantastic base on how to be a reporter- which questions to ask and how to be a proper journalist in terms of sources and legal issues. However I learned more about the sports side during my internships because I was actually working in the trenches- editing and getting shows on the air.

Where did you land your first job in Sports TV?

My first TV job was as the weekend sports producer at WSB-TV in Atlanta. During one of my college internships, I had worked with an anchor who worked at WSB, he gave me a good review and that pretty much got me the job. Although my boss joked that I got the job because I was a decent softball player, and the WSB co-ed softball team was very competitive.

After your first few months did you know you made the right career choice, or were there concerns?

Well I knew that I had chosen the right career path, but the hours were long and conditions sometimes stressful, so I had to deal with being a grown up very quickly for someone who was just out of college. Plus, most people get to ease into their career by starting as a production assistant or associate producer. I started as a producer in a top-10 market just five months after graduation and I don’t think that is very common.

How hard was it being a woman working in sports TV? Did you have to fight for respect? Did people treat you poorly?

From the time I wrote sports for my high school paper, I was always in the minority and just kind of got used to that. It actually made me tougher – having to sit there in the newsroom and listen to the guys…well, talk like guys, but still try to do my job and not let things bother me.

I did have to fight a little for respect because as the only woman, many people just assumed you didn’t know as much about sports as they did. However, I can honestly say I never had a situation when I didn’t know who an athlete was or lacked any type of knowledge that made me look like an idiot.  And there were several times I was the only female in a lockeroom in front of professional athletes walking around naked.

Now I did have some comments made to me by athletes, but it was pretty benign stuff that didn’t bother me.  So I don’t think I was treated poorly because I was a woman once I proved myself. And a lot of that had to do with the fact that I grew up with sports, it was second nature to me, and I was well read on it.  I strongly encourage any woman interested in sports to make sure you are a true student and understand the games and rules so you can hold your own. Because getting exposed for lack of sports knowledge is a quick way to lose respect from the start.

What is the most difficult thing about working in Television?

Long hours, working nights, weekends and holidays and having a job that doesn’t stop. I can still remember sitting down to Christmas dinner and getting a phone call that a prominent coach had quit and I had to get to the station immediately.

Has working in television exceeded or fallen short of your expectations?

Far exceeded. Getting to watch sports for a living and covering games and amazing athletes was truly a dream.

How has your career developed in titles, responsibilities and locations?

So I started as the weekend sports producer at WSB-TV in Atlanta (1 year) , then went on to become a producer at the now extinct CNN/Sports Illustrated network and CNN Sports in Atlanta (10 years total) . I then transitioned out of sports to become a producer with CNN Special Projects in Atlanta and New York (3 years total).

Sports will always be my first love and what I’m strongest in, but I was fortunate to produce stories in news, medical, political, lifestyle, travel, and business during my time with CNN Special Projects.  I decided to take a hiatus from television and leave CNN when my son was born in 2007.

Do you have any advice for someone considering a career in Sports TV?

Learn how to write. Because if all else fails, you have that to fall back on.

Get internships. I learned more during my internships than I could have ever imagined. And don’t sit around waiting for people to ask you to do something. Take initiative to learn new things even if it’s not part of your job description. Your work ethic follows you wherever you go and when you make a good impression, people don’t forget.

Dress professionally. It always bothered me when young men and women looked like they just rolled out of bed. That means leave the jeans and t-shirts at home. It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed any day.

While your boss might seem like a friend, don’t over abuse that relationship and make poor decisions. I once had an intern ask me if he could use my long distance code to place a bet on a football game. I never took him seriously after that. Especially after I said no, he kept bothering me about it.

Do you have a memorable story – whether funny, sad or just interesting – that you’d like to share?

I have two!

Tom Glavine is one of my all-time favorite players and while interning one summer at WAGA-TV in Atlanta we were trying to book him on our show. He called the office and I answered the phone and proceeded to hang up by on him by mistake because I was so nervous.

So he called back, and I hung up on him again.

I thought my producer Ron Jenkins was going to kill me. But luckily Tommy called back, and Ron apologized and we were able to get him booked. But Tommy was always very gracious to me when I interviewed him and a real class act.

 At WSB on Saturday nights, after our regular sportscast, we had a commercial break and then an Atlanta Falcons segment that was sponsored, meaning it brought in a lot of money from an advertiser.   So this was back before digital when we had a different tape for every element of a segment, and they needed to be loaded up and cued in a machine by a playback operator. So we just get in the commercial break before Falcons, and playback says they have no tapes. I realize they are sitting in the edit room and I forgot to deliver them.

Big rookie mistake.

So I basically had a little more than one minute to run upstairs via a narrow spiral staircase, sprint back, find the tapes and get them to playback to be loaded in order. I ran like a bat out of hell and I thought my heart was going to jump out of my chest. Luckily, I made it in time and nobody at home knew any different. But I know that one minute of panic aged me several years.

Favorite sports memory? Whether related to you working in TV or not.

 I grew up as a huge Atlanta Braves fan, and Dale Murphy was my idol. I had posters of him in my room and my friends thought I was crazy! After all, young girls should be more into Duran Duran, right? Well not me. I was too busy checking box scores and watching Braves games on TBS.

While I was interning at WAGA-TV in Atlanta during a summer in college, Murphy was getting his number 3 retired by the Braves. I asked my boss if I could go to the game and he actually gave me a field pass to cover the event. I stood about 10 feet away from the ceremony, as Murphy came on the field and they showed a video montage of his career on the jumbotron  I know it wasn’t the most professional thing to do, but I cried like a baby watching this video and listening to Murphy speak.

Absolutely sobbing.

I was so embarrassed- people probably thought I was part of his family. But it was like I was watching my childhood in front of my eyes. And to be front and center for it, well, it was something that I will never forget and always be grateful to Chip Zeller at WAGA for giving me the opportunity.

Along those lines, my first day at WSB-TV was game six of the 1995 World Series between the Indians and Braves. So my boss Kevin Gerke sent me to the game and I was on the field and in the lockeroom when the Braves won the title. It was surreal to be there as my childhood team celebrated and I didn’t mind going home drenched in champagne. I’ll always be thankful to Kevin for trusting me with that responsibility on my first day.


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