This month, in honor of Women’s History Month, ESPN puts the spotlight on female athletes – past and present – with stories of empowerment and inspiration, struggle and triumph, appearing across all ESPN platforms, including television and ESPN.com. The celebration starts this weekend and culminates on March 27th with “Her Story: Celebrating Women in Sport” a one-hour special hosted by anchor Hannah Storm.
Senior news editor Kristin Huckshorn coordinated all production elements of the “Her Story” project. She was kind enough to take some time to talk to us about all the great programming taking place this month.
PT: What’s your background and how did you come to write about women’s sports?
KH: My own background in journalism is eclectic. I have worked as a sportswriter, political writer and foreign correspondent as well as an editor but my career begins and ends with sports. I started as a sportwriter in 1980 for the San Jose Mercury News, covering college and pro sports and the Olympics. I spent four years in Washington DC and almost 10 years in Asia as a news reporter before returning to the US and becoming the deputy sports editor of the New York Times. I joined ESPN in 2007 as a senior news editor.
PT: ESPN must have an amazing archive of material. How did you choose which shows to include? What’s your favorite piece of programming?
KH: Yes ESPN has an amazing archive but what you will see and read this month is almost all original programming and content. We set out to create something new and to focus on contemporary stories about young female athletes today. There have been magnificent iconic moments and athletes through the years but we felt those stories had already been told and told well. For instance, we will run vignettes – basically short little films – each weekday and they feature a lot of young women you will have never seen before. Our one hour special on March 27 is primarily a collection of stories starring fresh faces. The average age of the subjects is probably around 18.
Time on a busy cable network like ESPN is at a premium. There is a whole lot of programming to get on the air each day. We knew we had to choose wisely and we felt aiming the cameras at new stories was the most powerful way to celebrate the month.
With a nod to the past, on March 14, for 11 hours, ESPN Classic will air stories about some of those icons. My favorite in that marathon is the reairing of the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs classic match. It was great theatre.
PT: The My Story element is great. How will you pick the winning clip(s)?
KH: We have a panel of five judges from ESPN. I’m one of them, so is associate producer Melissa Panzer, whose idea this was. We will watch each clip and judge them based on who has told the best story in the time allowed. We are looking for inspirational or empowering stories told creatively. The clip needs to be about a female athlete or team or a coach of a female team but the director/producer can be male or female. The best part is that we will air the winning clip on our Special [HerStory airing March 27th].
PT: What, if any, challenges did you face putting the HerStory series together?
KH: The usual – tracking down athletes and securing shoot dates. The most complicated part was lining up the athlete-men who star in our vignettes talking about their inspirational daughters/sisters/mothers. They have busy schedules. For instance Stephen Curry of Davidson, who talks about his mom, a former volleyball player at Virginia Tech, is in season right now. So is Jamie Dixon, the Pitt coach, who talks about his sister Maggie. But all the men were very eager to participate in the project. In terms of getting the time and commitment from ESPN, that was easy to be honest. The project was actually [ESPN EVP] John Skipper’s idea and I think people internally really understood and liked the concept of focusing on new stories about young women.
PT: How do you feel about the blogosphere in general and sports blogs in particular? What do you think about how women’s sports are covered in the blogosphere?
KH: I appreciate and admire the democracy of the blogsphere. I don’t equate it with journalism. Journalists are usually professionally trained and must adhere to high standards of fairness, accuracy, balance. They have a lineup of editors behind them, a safety net. But I think blogs are a great tool for starting a conversation about any topic and letting anyone weigh in. There is a lot of writing talent out there. I have seen very little on women’s sports in the blogosphere but I think it benefits women’s sports. Obviously women’s sports does not get the amount of coverage anywhere in broadcast or print that men’s sports receives and blogs help equalize that a bit more. And any writer loves the idea of being able to write as long as they want!
PT: It seems ESPN is slowly increasing it’s support and coverage of female athletes. What’s the plan for the future?
KH: ESPN has always, to me, done a solid job of covering women’s sports. They have the entire NCAA women’s tournament and they make that a showcase event in March and April. They had recently added more elite tennis, early rounds of Wimbledon and the US Open so you will certainly see more women on air this summer. I am not someone who thinks you cover women’s sports out of altruism. My mantra as a reporter, as an editor at the Times and here at ESPN has been that we want to tell good stories, whether they are about male or female athletes. I am hoping that what we do this month is tell good, interesting, new stories that anyone would want to watch. They just happen to be about young women. I also give ESPN a lot of credit for putting so many women on air. Doris Burke does play by play for men’s hoops, for instance, and I think she is a great talent.
PT: Additional thoughts?
KH: It was amazing to me to meet so many empowered young women athletes. I came up at a time when Title IX had barely taken root. Young women today feel absolutely entitled to equal opportunity on the field. They take it for granted and I think that is a good thing. They won’t settle for less. They are way cooler than I ever was.
We can’t share any of the programming here, but go to ESPN.com all this month to find great articles, videos, and more. Thanks Kristen and thanks to ESPN for commemorating the accomplishments of great female athletes – from the pioneers who paved the way to those carving the future of women’s sports.