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Pam Modarelli-Hegner

Author, "Being a Woman in Sports Journalism"

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SportsTVJobs.com: Hi I’m Brian Clapp founder of SportsTVJobs.com – Pam Modarelli-Hegner is a freelance sports writer who has worked in Sports Television as a Producer on both the local and national level for over a decade. She also hung up on Tom Glavine not once, but twice, during an internship her senior year of college and lived to tell about it, but more on that later …Pam thanks for joining us.

Pam: Thanks for having me

SportsTVJobs.com: You’ve recently written an article for SportsTVJobs.com about what it’s like being a woman in sports journalism, in the article you share many personal experiences and also interviewed ESPN’s Suzy Kolber and Cindy Brunson about their experiences in the business. Let’s start with the personal side – there are three arenas for sports journalists – the newsroom, the press box and the locker room – how hard was it to gain respect in each of these areas?

Pam: At first I think it is pretty intimidating because as a woman you are the minority. When you walk in I think a lot of men have a preconceived notion that you don’t know as much about sports as they do. In my case, my dad groomed me to watch sports and to play sports so for me it was second nature. I never had a problem because once co-workers and athletes got to know me, they knew that I knew what I was talking about, but it can be extremely intimidating. You have that sort of ‘probationary period’ where you’re really being scrutinized and you have to go above and beyond to show that you can really do these jobs.

The locker room situation, maybe the first 5 or 10 times you go in there you just kind of pray you get what you need, people are courteous to you and you get out unscathed. I was fortunate not to have any negative experiences, of course I had athletes blow me off or not be too kind to me, but nothing that scarred me or nothing that made me hesitant to want to go in and do interviews after that.

SportsTVJobs.com: Interestingly Suzy Kolber and Cindy Brunson have very different opinions on the locker room experience and its importance.

Pam: When I interviewed both of them I kind of told them I feel like there should be a neutral interview room, I would enjoy us all going into an interview room, let the guys cool off. I mean who after a bad day at work wants to stand there half-naked and explain why they had a bad day. I don’t think any occupation wants to do that. I feel like it would be more respectful to them to go into a neutral interview room.

When I asked both Cindy Brunson and Suzy Kolber what they thought, it was interesting Suzy kind of sided with me. She said it’s a disgusting place, I don’t want to be in there, men reporters don’t want to be in there and the athletes don’t want you in there. She said when I go in, I make the best of it but I don’t want to be in there it’s not a good place for anybody.

Cindy Brunson had a really good point though, she said when you go into the locker room you get that raw emotion of someone who went in to the clubhouse after a tough game. Her point was athletes give us so much in clichés but it’s nice to get something raw an emotional out of them. In an interview room it would give them time to cool down, gather their thoughts, and take away some of that emotion that we really need in sports.

SportsTVJobs.com: Despite the success of Jackie MacMullan, Ann Killion, Sally Jenkins and others the assumption of the audience is that women have to prove their sports knowledge, while men are assumed to be ‘experts’ – do you see that changing or is that just a hurdle women in sports journalism will always have to deal with?

Pam: I don’t see that changing to be honest with you, I think there has been an incredible amount of women who have been successful in this field, but I just think we’re held under a different microscope. The jury will always be out on women until we all prove we can walk the walk and talk the talk.

I’ve seen women look really foolish for not knowing an athlete or the rules of a sport, or mispronouncing a name – once you get that reputation it’s hard to recover from, guys don’t take you seriously. The thing about covering sports is you can just wake up and do a quick read and know sports. It is something that you have to grow up with and keep up with every day, it’s not a quick learn. In our society a lot of women don’t grow up groomed to know sports. I grew up the son my dad never had, so I watched sports, I played sports that’s all I knew and it was second nature to me. A lot of women don’t grow up that way.

I would say to any woman who is looking to get into this field, make sure you do it because you love it and you’re passionate about it. It shouldn’t be a casual thing; you need to be passionate about it. It makes me sad when women don’t really know sports and they tried to pretend like they do. It’s easy to get found out, it’s not something that is easy to cover because you will be exposed.

SportsTVJobs.com: You graduated from the fantastic journalism school at Indiana University, but you’ve often told me that one of the most important parts of your education were your internships, explain.

Pam: My internships are where I got that hands on experience, I learned how to edit, how to call and set up interviews; I learned how to interview athletes out in the field, I got into the control room and learned how to produce shows. These are the type of things you can read about in school but until you do it and do it at a real station the difference is amazing.

I also learned at my internship that I wanted to be a producer. I never really had on air aspirations, when I saw the producer working every day, I was really compelled by the planning and the organization that went into that and it was kind of then that I realized that was a track for me. That’s the thing that is so great about internships, you get to do a little bit of everything so it kind of fine tunes your dreams. If you don’t want to be on-air you get exposed to all the other things that are out there for you – an editor a producer a shooter. Those are experiences that you might not learn in college, it really is imperative that you get internships.

A lot of the times it is not paid so it can be a sacrifice, but for me it lead to my first job. When I interned in Atlanta one summer I worked with a Sportscaster who ultimately referred me for my first job. If you do well and work hard at an internship it can definitely lead to employment later.

SportsTVJobs.com: What advice would you give to someone who is planning on doing an internship in order to make the most of it?

Pam: First of all, choose the city where you want to have your internship in, whether that is your hometown or somewhere that you want to go to and spend the summer in. For me, I was a huge Atlanta Braves fan so I sought out internships that would allow me to cover the Braves. I picked out all the stations in Atlanta sent resumes, cover letters and made phone calls and ended up landing an internship at one of the local stations.

The other thing I would recommend is do everything while you are there, learn how to shoot, edit, produce, do interviews, write, do standups if you are interested in being on air. AND do the little stuff, go get coffee, get dinner for people, do everything, take initiative and don’t be idle. Always be doing something, that is where you will prove you have a good work ethic. Show up early stay late. Dress professionally, that’s a big thing, if you walk through that door and aren’t professional in your appearance you’ll send the wrong signal.

Don’t take advantage of your situation. One time I had an intern working for me and we were joking around, you know it’s sports it can be a casual atmosphere. We were kind of watching a game one day joking around and he asked ‘can I borrow your long-distance code? I want to place a bet on a college football game’. From that moment on I never took that young man seriously, it’s just not a line you cross especially as an intern in college at a station.

If you handle yourself in a good manner and you’re appropriate the sky is the limit for what you can do if you prove yourself in an internship.

SportsTVJobs.com: So you’re on an internship at a major market TV station in Atlanta, you’re super excited to be involved with covering your favorite baseball team the Atlanta Braves…and then the phone rings…

Pam: I was interning at a local station in Atlanta and I knew we were expecting a call from Tom Glavine because he was coming in to studio for our Sunday night show. This was before the days of caller ID. So the phone rings, I pick it up and he asked for our producer. I got a little nervous because I thought it was Tom Glavine so I said ‘ok hold on please’. I turned to the producer and said ‘Tom Glavine on line 1, and then I realized I had hung up on him.

The producer was like ‘what happened?’ and I admitted I hung up on him. I felt pretty sure he’d call back. Well the phone rang, again I was really nervous and it was Tom Glavine. I was shaking and said ’hold on’ and I hung up on him…again.

I thought my producer was going to kill me, I really thought it was the end of my TV career. Luckily Tom Glavine is a great guy and he called back a third time, my producer came over and wouldn’t let me touch the phone. We got him on the show and everything was fine.

SportsTVJobs.com: It wasn’t all embarrassing moments; you also had a field pass for a landmark moment in Atlanta braves history

Pam: It was my first day of my job at WSB-TV in Atlanta and I was a Sports Producer there. My very first day was Game 6 of the ‘95 World Series and my boss Kevin Gerke said ‘ok, you’re going down to the field and you’re going to produce all of our live shots and do postgame coverage’. I got to watch my favorite team win the World Series, I was on the field and in the locker room. I came home soaked in champagne, a moment I’ll never forget and I just thank Kevin for trusting me to go out and do it on my first day of work.

SportsTVJobs.com: In the sports media you’re not supposed to be a fan, you’re not supposed to cheer in the press box, but the reality is if you’re going to work in sports you have to be passionate about it, it has to matter to you, and it’s fun to be a fan, I think you still can be a fan don’t you?

Pam: Absolutely, lets face it that’s why we all got into this business, we grew up, we watched these teams, we idolized the athletes, we woke up reading the box scores. It should be why you want to get into this field, because that’s what makes it exciting. You just have to learn where to draw the line, be professional first and maybe just cheer in your head.

SportsTVJobs.com: thanks for your time Pam, we look forward to your next article!