Faculty spotlight – Desiree Hanford

Faculty spotlight – Desiree Hanford

Desiree Hanford is a lecturer at Medill, where she is the faculty adviser for the student chapter of the Association of Women in Sports Media (AWSM). She started her journalism career in sports before focusing on business reporting. She currently teaches undergraduate and graduate courses that focus on news, business and money reporting.

While at Medill, Hanford has served as acting director of undergraduate education and has worked closely with the Medill Office of Student Life. She joined the Medill faculty full time in November 2009.

Hanford has a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a master’s degree, with an emphasis in magazine publishing, from Medill.

You started your career in sports journalism at The Milwaukee Journal (now the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) and also did some sports work for the Associated Press. What did you learn from those experiences?

I learned a few things that have stuck with me long after leaving sports. First, readers will let you know very quickly if you have the score incorrect, even at the high school level. I remember colleagues of mine who took phone calls from high school SIDs, coaches and assistant coaches for the agate page and readers would get upset very quickly if something on that page was incorrect. This was before the Internet, so by the time a correction ran, it was usually two to three days after the game.

Second, some readers mistakenly think you should be a cheerleader for their team. Some readers don’t realize that reporters are supposed to be objective and not public relations people for sports teams.

Third, you have to be willing to work weekends, holidays and late nights routinely. On the night of the presidential election, I saw a tweet from someone who belongs to the Associated Press Sports Editors that essentially said the hours political and news reporters were working the night of the election are the routine hours that sports editors and reporters work. That’s very true.

What unique challenges do you think women still face in the predominately male dominated field of sports journalism?

Sadly, it’s still getting some people — athletes, coaches, viewers/readers — to take you seriously. I think that’s less an issue now than it was 15 years ago, but the fact that it’s an issue at all is sad.

What was the most memorable part of covering publicly traded companies and mutual funds as an equities reporter for Dow Jones & Co?

Learning on the fly. I had absolutely no business knowledge when I joined Dow Jones and learned it all through baptism by fire. I was fortunate to have wonderful colleagues and editors to help guide me, and I knew that I knew nothing, and that made me extra careful in trying to get information correct. I was paranoid I’d make a mistake and my credibility would be harmed and that I would send a company’s stock nosediving, so I triple and quadruple checked everything, even when I was sure it was correct.

If you could go back in time and talk to yourself when you received your first journalism job, what would you tell yourself and why?

That’s a good question. I would probably tell myself to be patient and confident, and that things will work out. I say this because my biggest professional mistake came with my first journalism job. I interviewed at one of the two Fort Wayne (Indiana) papers for a sports reporter opening, but I was offered a job at the Beloit Daily News first as the higher education reporter, the health reporter and the wire editor (all three in one position). I took the Beloit job because I was worried I wouldn’t get another job offer.

The Fort Wayne sports editor tracked me down in Beloit and offered me the sports job, and told me I should have called him when I got the offer from Beloit. Feeling like I couldn’t just get up and leave Beloit after just a few weeks on the job, I told the Fort Wayne paper that I’d have to pass on the job. That was a mistake I’ve always regretted. I should have left Beloit and gone to Fort Wayne. That said, I probably wouldn’t have become a business reporter had I gone to Fort Wayne.

What responsibilities do you have as a faculty adviser for the student chapter of the Association of Women in Sports Media?

It’s being a sounding board for the executive committee and giving the committee guidance and suggestions based on my experience in and out of the classroom. The students on the executive board are terrific, and we have a wonderful professional mentor in Christine Brennan.

What do you believe sets the sports media specialization program at Northwestern apart from other journalism programs in the country?

There are a number of things that set it apart, a key one being the opportunities students have in and out of the classroom. Students have covered the NFL draft in Chicago, gone to San Francisco in advance of the Super Bowl and reported from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Another thing that sets it apart is the faculty. J.A. Adande joined the faculty this year and is the director of the program. Students are excited to work with him in and out of the classroom. We have several current and former sports reporters and editors who teach at Medill, and we have lots of alums working in sports, from Christine Brennan and Michael Wilbon to J.A. and Mike Greenberg, just to name a few.