ESPN’s Michele Steele Speaks On Journalism Tests and Never Knowing Where You’ll End Up

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y.—“You never know where you’re going to end up,” Michele Steele said, sharing her father’s advice from her past with all the students attentively listening to her talk about her experiences. And, well, he’s right. But she had her sights set on becoming a reporter, and wasn’t going to let the advice stop her.

The ESPN studio anchor and reporter came to Marist this afternoon to speak to students as part of the Center for Sports Communication’s 2019 Speaker Series. In talking about her career path and reporting for live television, she imparted stories and advice learned from her own experiences in the field.

Steele explained her goals, mentioning that although she was a lifelong fan, she was never looking to go into sports reporting. Majoring in economics and later attending Columbia Journalism School, she launched her career at the Bloomberg Television Network. After pitching a story about the spectacular run Tiger Woods had been on, she opted to pass on taking it on. A week later, she wasn’t given a choice when the Tiger Woods scandal broke and Bloomberg was looking for coverage. Moving into becoming their first full-time sports reporter, she moved to ESPN in 2011.

You never know where you’re going to end up.

Having started her career in business and then moving to sports, Steele stressed to the students in the audience the importance of versatility. She noted the advantage of having a depth of knowledge in one thing—being the point person on anatomy, economics, Spanish—whatever it may be. Her point continued on with a pertinent point as of late: “But it can’t just be sports.”

The situation that has come from the comments via Twitter made by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey on the current protests in Hong Kong provided an example for Steele to elaborate on why it matters to be well informed. She explained that the developing story in the NBA likely has many reporters of all backgrounds trying to get up to speed on the NBA’s relationship with China and, even more so, the situation taking place in Hong Kong. When sports spread beyond the scope of pure athletics, the advantage in reporting goes to those who know what’s going on.

Sometimes being well informed comes down to having good sources. Steele told the audience of the story behind what might be her most known work, the Aaron Hernandez trial. She explained that on her first day at the ESPN Boston-Bureau, she was sent to North Attleboro, Massachusetts, to the home of the former New England Patriots tight end. Arriving at 8:45 a.m. (always be early in this field, she noted) she was driving behind several police cars. Minutes later, she recalled, Hernandez was arrested for murder. With SportsCenter about to come on at 9:00 a.m., she was informed she would be on every 15 minutes updating the situation.

“If you are naturally inquisitive, you will do well in this field,” she conveyed on reporting the little details of a constantly updating story.

The case eventually expanded into national news and, after Hernandez’s arrest, she continued coverage for ESPN. She stressed that through the process of reporting on a legal matter, having good and reliable sources who have experience with such situations came as huge help in understanding and reporting.

She finished the captivating recount of her experience reporting on the Aaron Hernandez trial mentioning that although it was a crazy assignment, especially on the first day on the job, but one that proved to be very valuable. You never know where you’re going to end up, and where you end up might just be North Attleboro, Massachusetts at 8:45 a.m.

Closing her talk at Marist by taking questions from students in the audience, Steele touched on all the advice that had been slipped into her stories throughout the afternoon, as well as giving some more direct advice to those looking to go into her field. Balance asking the difficult questions and maintain relationships in the field; be original in your ideas and always have ideas; don’t shy away from asking the uncomfortable questions, and be able to differentiate yourself; all points that she has gathered from her experiences. Students looked on from the rows of seats stretching up through Fusco Recital Hall. Each student listened intently. All of them likely want to break into the same field in which she thrives. I mean hey, you never know where you’re going to end up.

Edited by Will Bjarnar 

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