By Sara Romano
Jennifer Hale (MSJ00) is not shy about the challenges she has faced as a female sports journalist in a male-dominated industry. But she has not let the stereotypes and questions keep her from becoming an award-winning sports reporter.
How does she do it? The same way she advises up-and-coming women in the sports media industry.
“Be more than a pretty face,” Hale said. “Be multitalented. You don’t want to be pigeonholed. Be well rounded and have a lot of experience in different avenues of journalism … the more you can bring to the table, you are going to be so much more valuable and have a long career.”
Hale currently reports for Fox Sports out of New Orleans, where she covers the NFL and NBA. She does in-depth features for the NFL on Fox pregame show, America’s PreGame and Fox Sports Live. Additionally, she writes about the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans for FoxSports.com.
She is the only female on her NBA and NFL crews.
“I’ve definitely dealt with a lot of condescending attitudes and pushback from male colleagues,” Hale said. “When a female is hired for a job, people wait for her to prove whether she is legitimate or not. When a man is hired for a job, it is assumed he is good until he proves that he’s not.
“It is so important that females realize you have to conduct yourself with 100% professionalism at all times. Your reputation is all you have.”
Hale — a native of New Orleans — majored in political science and minored in journalism at Louisiana State University, where she served as captain of the LSU cheerleading squad.
From there she moved to Chicago to pursue her masters in journalism at Medill. She wanted a career in either political or sports reporting, and was fortunate to spend a quarter covering Chicago’s local sports scene.
That quarter would eventually set her on the path she is following today.
“Medill’s emphasis on real-world experience was invaluable,” Hale said. “Medill exposes you to so many challenges that you’re going to face on the job but that aren’t taught in the classroom.
“Every job that I walked into (since then), I felt ready and prepared.”
Her first job after graduation in 2000 came at KNOE-TV (CBS) in Monroe, La,., where she spent two years as an anchor and political reporter. From there she moved to Baton Rouge, La., where she spent another two years as a political and legal correspondent, as well as a fill-in anchor, for WAFB-TV (CBS).
Hale went on to spend five years as an anchor and reporter at WVTM-TV (NBC) in Birmingham, Ala. There she covered politics and worked as a fill-in correspondent for MSNBC. With MSNBC she spent months in Louisiana and Mississippi to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She also traveled to the western United States to report on deadly wildfire damage and to Aruba after the disappearance of Natalee Holloway.
In July 2009, she returned to Louisiana, where she accepted the morning anchor position at WVUE-TV (Fox). It wasn’t until 2011 that she turned her attention back to sports. Hale took on a sideline reporter position with the NFL on Fox. Since she wouldn’t be able to be at WVUE on Monday mornings because of NFL games, she transitioned into an afternoon and evening sports anchor role.
In 2013, she left WVUE to concentrate solely on Fox Sports projects.
In her daily work with the NFL and NBA, Hale relishes finding the inspirational sports stories that influence people’s lives. Her favorite feature story from the past NFL season detailed the story of Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen’s 2-year-old son, who overcame a congenital heart defect (CHD).
The story helped raise CHD awareness and strengthen families suffering similar hardships.
“Look at how powerful sports are,” Hale said. “They can spark change where other things can’t.
“There are all these wonderful stories out there of how people’s lives have changed because of sports and because of athletes.”
As a young journalist, who did you/do you look up to as a mentor?
In the sports world, I watched Lesley Visser and Andrea Kremer. As I started the sideline reporting job, Laura Okmin and Suzy Kolber spent some time with me that I will always treasure. I’m so grateful for their advice and insight.
What is one of the biggest differences you saw between reporting on news and covering sports?
When I got a new beat in news, I would hand out cards, take people to lunch, establish relationships. As a female, you have to go a little slower in sports. You can’t walk into a locker room and hand out cards to an entire team. That will be taken the wrong way.
How do you think we’ll get more women involved in sports media?
So many young women contact me for advice — it certainly seems like there is growing interest. However, I think the key, though, is females who are prepared and hard working. You need to know sports and how to be a journalist. You have to be dedicated and not rely on a producer to funnel you questions or hand you stories.
You’ve been able to cover high-profile sporting events like the Super Bowl and NBA All-Star weekend. If you can pick, what is the favorite event you’ve covered?
That’s like asking someone to choose a favorite child! Honestly, I’ve loved them all! They’re so different, but there are no poor choices.
In 2009, you published your first book, Historic Plantations of Alabama’s Black Belt. What is the book about and how did it come to be?
I was covering a series of nine rural church arsons in Alabama for both MSNBC and WVTM-TV. MSNBC wanted me to stay on location because the feds were involved, investigating the arsons as potential hate crimes. I literally ate almost every meal for a month at a Subway sandwich shop at a gas station because that was the only thing within an hour’s drive.
On my downtime, I drove through the countryside, as I’ve always loved nature — there is beautiful property and amazing landscapes. I noticed all of these elaborate, stunning plantation homes. Some were beautifully cared for, many others falling into disrepair. I started asking questions about how these magnificent homes came to be in an area that was now so economically depressed.
It turns out that area is called the “Black Belt” because of the strip of fertile soil running through it. Pre Civil War, it quickly became a great source of wealth for plantation owners who used their new money to build these gorgeous homes — people like the first lawmakers in Alabama, folks who had tremendous influence on the state.
It amazed me that no one had ever written these stories down, and I feared that as the houses disappeared and the families who owned them either passed on or moved away, all of that history would go with them and be lost. I started off thinking I’d write a magazine article perhaps and try to get it published. As I started visiting with people — families who owned the homes for generations, descendants of slaves who worked the plantations, new owners who considered it a calling to save the homes — I realized it really needed to be a book to truly tell all of the stories.
What is your advice for females who want to pursue sports journalism?
Dedicate yourself to your craft. Know sports and know how to be a journalist. Don’t just be a pretty face, because there are thousands of those. Also, go in with your eyes open. You’re going to be judged more harshly and you’re going to have to endure some unfair criticism.
You must always conduct yourself as a consummate professional. If you are perceived as being too close, too personal with players/coaches, it will hurt a female’s career much worse than a male’s career. Just one incident or rumor can do a great deal of damage to your reputation.
It’s a delicate balance that you much find between developing sources and establishing relationships versus crossing a line. This might not be fair, but it is true: a male reporter can ask a coach/player to play golf or grab coffee/a drink in order to establish a relationship. A female has a much more difficult time doing that, even if her intentions are purely professional. I’m not saying that it can’t be done, but females need to proceed with caution.
What is your ultimate career goal?
I’m lucky enough to be in a wonderful spot! I wouldn’t change much, but I would like to write more. I’ve written one book, and I’d love to write another. That’s next on my agenda!
Sara Romano is currently a graduate student at Medill and a native of the Chicago area. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame, which she is beginning to learn is hazardous to admit at Northwestern.