Going Before Cameras

Jul 20, 2008  •  Post A Comment

To a lot of sportswriters, it might look as though ESPN anchor Michael Kim arrived early at sports-fan heaven. Mr. Kim, who on Thursday will moderate a Unity ’08 sports keynote breakfast sponsored by ESPN, in association with the National Association of Black Journalists, probably would agree with that assessment.
“I’ve been fortunate in my career,” he said, adding that he feels being an Asian American has not hindered his career as a sports anchor, particularly since his arrival at ESPN in late 1996.
The Unity panel, designed to help print journalists make the transition to electronic media, will include ESPN stalwarts such as senior writer Chris Broussard, “a basketball guy who does a lot of TV”; senior news editor Dwayne Bray; bureau reporter Pedro Gomez, formerly of the Arizona Republic and “the designated Barry Bonds guy”; Rob King, editor in chief at ESPN.com.; and reporter Jemele Hill.
ESPN suspended Ms. Hill on June 17 “for a period of time,” according to press releases, after she likened cheering for the Boston Celtics to nuclear war and Adolf Hitler, an issue that may or may not come up at the panel discussion.
Mr. Kim earned a master’s degree in journalism at the University of Missouri, where grad and undergrad students operate an actual NBC affiliate, KOMU-TV, that competes in the market with the local CBS and ABC stations.
After graduating, he applied for jobs at television stations in Peoria, Ill., Lynchburg, Va., and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but he noticed that “[non-Asian] people I went to school with were getting callbacks and I wasn’t. Finally someone told me there was some concern that I wouldn’t ‘connect with the demographics.’”
Then News Channel 8 in Springfield, Va., which serves the Washington area, took a chance on the fledgling sportscaster. In 1993 that risk paid off when Mr. Kim won an Emmy for sports reporting for his series “Local Heroes,” which also was named best sports series by the Society of Professional Journalists.
Mr. Kim said he’s glad to have had the working experience in grad school at Missouri’s TV station, noting “a few of the transitions from newspaper to television” at ESPN “have been rough. But when they get it, it’s excellent.”
Consultants come in to work with newcomers and pros alike, he said, to make sure anchors and reporters look and sound good on television. “And some personalities just naturally take to the camera,” he noted, citing sometime NHL coach and versatile ESPN analyst Barry Melrose.
“ESPN utilizes a lot of newspaper people,” Mr. Kim said, “and newspaper people seem to recognize that good journalism is a cornerstone” for the network’s operation.
He’s particularly proud of ESPN’s commitment to diversity.
“We’ve all been in situations where someone is just spouting the company line,” he said, “but I can honestly say without hesitation that ESPN, especially in the last few years, has made real progress. They stress diversity.
“We even have a diversity council to make sure everyone understands that diversity is our strength, and to make sure we address it and keep tabs on it.
“[ESPN’s] progress,” he said, “is noticeable and important and good business. It’s simply good business to represent and reflect your audience.”
Although Mr. Kim said he feels being Korean American has not hurt him in the newsroom, he also said he would never downplay the battles others have fought to make that area safe.
“Everybody knows Jackie Robinson did so much on and off the field,” he said, “and turned so many things around. Sports, for the most part, is a step or two ahead of society in that regard.”


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