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MU journalism school alumni find success at ESPN

Thursday, October 23, 2008 | 8:46 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Pat Forde fell in love with sportswriting by sitting in his family's living room at night, exchanging the sports sections of local newspapers with his father.

Catie DeVito's high school English teacher suggested that she combine her two passions — sports and writing — and study journalism.

The two most painful, unhappy years of Michael Kim's life were spent in law school. One of the best decisions he ever made, he said, was switching to journalism when he had the chance.

DeVito, Forde and Kim all worked in local and regional sports before moving to ESPN and are a few of the more than 20 MU School of Journalism alumni working for ESPN. 

Since the sports network started as a TV station in 1979, the company has added online, radio and magazine components, all in the 1990s.  

John Walsh, senior executive vice president at ESPN, said the number of MU graduates at ESPN has increased over time. He said MU graduates have been part of a school from which the network aggressively recruits.

"MU has given us a high return on that investment," he said. MU "has a reputation for producing premier sports journalists."

Fred Brown, who recruits at MU for ESPN, said that he looks for "smart kids who know sports and have a sense of journalism."

"The school has a good reputation (and) we have several (alumni) here who always talk up the school," Brown said.

He said there is a "consistent influx" of MU graduates at ESPN every year.

"The proof is in the pudding," he said.  "The result has always been very positive."

DeVito, a senior assignment editor at ESPN, said she always thought about working at ESPN, but it was never a career goal. Yet when the company offered her a job, she said, she couldn't pass it up.

"ESPN has always been considered the pinnacle of the profession," she said.  "When the opportunity arose, I just couldn't beat it."

DeVito has noticed a contingent of MU alumni at ESPN over 1,000 miles away from Columbia in Bristol, Conn., where the company's main office is located.

"You find alumni coming out of the woodwork," she said. "We definitely hold our own up here."

Kim, an ESPNews anchor who grew up in Columbia and Fulton, credits his experience at MU for much of his success, including a local Emmy for sports reporting and an award from the National Association of Black Journalists.

"I am convinced my education and training at Missouri allowed me to get my first real job in the Washington, D.C., market that led to the awards I received," he said.  "I learned all the basics at KOMU and was able to apply them in my first job."

After graduating from MU, Kim decided he would consider another career if he hadn't made it to ESPN within 10 years of his graduation.

"I made it in five," he said.

When Forde got his first journalism job as a sports reporter for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., ESPN had just been created and there was never a thought of a print journalist working for the network.

Forde worked his way up at the Courier-Journal, eventually writing a column similar to the one he now writes for ESPN.com. At the same time, newspapers were beginning to struggle and ESPN was becoming more successful and expanding.

"With the state of newspapers, ESPN.com became more of an intriguing possibility," he said.

Forde began freelancing for the ESPN Sportszone Web site, and later developed the columns he currently writes, which he described as national notebooks, for ESPN.com: Forde Minutes during college basketball season and the Forde-Yard Dash during college football season.

Brett Austin, a coordinating producer at ESPN, said he was drawn to MU because he knew its journalism program would allow him to explore all facets of broadcast journalism. He chose production.

"It allowed me to work on several stories a day," he said.

Austin, who had worked for local TV stations his whole career before ESPN, thought he would want to stay in local news his whole career. However, a fellow graduate of the MU School of journalism, SportsCenter anchor John Anderson, had been chipping away at him for years.

"I worked in Tulsa with John Anderson as a producer," he said.  "John was a good salesman over the years. He played a big role in" Austin going to ESPN.

Austin decided he needed a new challenge, something different from what he had been involved in his whole career.

"You have to keep learning, keep challenging yourself," he said. "We all know the ESPN brand. It's really on the cutting edge of television, setting the standard for television production."

Austin has also noticed a large number of MU alumni at ESPN.

"You hear of the Mizzou Mafia ... it's real," he said. "I've never worked at a station where there wasn't a Mizzou person. It helps you to be comfortable, especially being out here in the Northeast. 

"There's a kinship. You'll find people who also went to the University of Missouri, they can share in the stories."

 


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