Sunday, October 25, 2015

Five-Q with Terrika Foster, ESPN

If careers are like relationships, then sports journalism is one of my old flames. Between 2007-2013, I worked for both the Battle Creek Enquirer and The Yahoo Contributor Network as a sports writer. The profession offers several unique and sometimes glamorous opportunities.

But make no mistake: sports journalism is a grind. It's not for the weak-willed or for people expecting success to come overnight, which brings me to today's guest on Five-Q.

Terrika Foster is a multi-talented sports media professional, loyal Michigan State/Indianapolis Colts fan, and (in the words of Stephen A. Smith) a very dear friend. We chatted about her job at ESPN and her views on black women in sports media.

Aaron David Harris: What do you do at ESPN? Give me a snapshot of Terrika’s typical work day.

Terrika Foster, ESPN Radio
Terrika Foster: I serve as the Digital Content Editor for ESPN Radio and assistant producer for ESPN PodCenter. My job centers around two things: a.) the up-keep of the ESPN Radio website and mobile app, and b.) the production of ESPN original podcasts, as well as migrating the TV shows into podcasts.

My number one responsibility is to ensure the ESPN Radio website is up to date. Every single piece of content on the ESPN Radio website comes from the six people who work in my department, including myself: changing what you see on the front page, processing the sound clips into MP3 form so they can be played on the website and mobile app (as well as iTunes), adding the descriptions to each clips, all of that. It doesn't appear on ESPN unless we place it there.

But the cool part of my job is producing podcasts. Every day, we will check the schedule to see which podcasts are being produced on that particular day. Some podcasts, of course, are daily while it is in season (like Baseball Tonight, Football Today, Fantasy Focus NFL/MLB). As producer, it is my job to assist in the run down of the show, making sure the tone of the show stays on track, editing the podcast once recording is over, putting the production value to it (music, bleeps if necessary, etc.) and of course, posting it to the ESPN radio website and mobile app. My podcasts that I own are ESPN the Magazine: The Podcast, Hockey Today, and occasionally I will run a His and Hers with Michael and Jemele, Be Honest with Cari Champion or Daily Fantasy Football with Anita Marks.

ADH: What unique opportunities have you gotten at ESPN?

TF: I started working at ESPN a little less than a year ago. In the 10 months I have been there, I have gotten a chance to meet some fascinating men and women with a ton of knowledge not only in sports, but in business, in life, in general. I really enjoyed the opportunity to work with the V-Foundation (a foundation that raises money for cancer research) earlier this year during ESPY Week. We offer experiences for people to purchase or bid on, and the money goes to the foundation. This year, I was on the committee to create those experiences and it gave me a chance to network with the higher ups (athletically) at Duke University, UConn, Texas and the Longhorn Network, and even the Carolina Panthers. Calling to ask for tickets or paraphernalia for a fundraiser from (Mike Krzyzewski, head coach of men's basketball at Duke) is a lot simpler when you have the name ESPN behind you.

ADH: Your job allows you to rub elbows with some of the most famous and influential figures in sports. What is that like? Are you starstruck? Or has working for ESPN humanized them? 

TF: The very first day I started at ESPN, I was on the tour and we entered the NFL Live set. And as my tour guide was talking, I wanted to take a selfie. As I'm getting ready to snap my photo, Adam Schefter accidentally photo bombed me and walked right in my picture! It was hilarious on so many levels. But that was first person I saw on campus where I was like "hold on, it's Adam Schefter."

The one thing that the company is high on is maintaining a level of professionalism. Understanding that these people are your colleagues, so asking for autographs and that kind of thing is against policy. And it's so hard when you first start there because you want to exert your fanhood. But as time passes you learn that they are just like anyone else.

I'm not the type to get starstruck because I look at myself, as crazy as it sounds, as an equal. The difference between them (other journalists) and I is the exposure. The one person that awed me the most was former Colts GM Bill Polian. As a Colts fan, to see him was like WOW! But on a regular basis, I talk to talent like Ryen Russillo, Danny Kanell, Scott Van Pelt (when he was in radio, he's on TV now), Bomani Jones, Jorge Sedano. Just yesterday, I met Pablo Torre, Cari Champion, Stephen A. Smith, Michael Smith and Jemele Hill to name a few. As far as former athletes (and mind you they aren't on campus everyday), I talk to Brian Dawkins, Darren Woodson, Chauncy Billups during NBA season and Damien Woody. We also have NUMEROUS guests who either call one of the shows I'm producing and I meet them that way or come to campus for a visit. In that regard, I just met Kevin Durant on Wednesday. He's funny, and a BIG Redskins fan. I spoke with Harrison Barnes, who loves Future's new album. I've previously met Naturi Naughton (Tasha on Showtime's Power), Iced Cube and O'Shea Jackson, Flo-Rida, Lil Wayne (he is EXTREMELY short) and quite a few others who I know I'm missing.

Now I will admit, some big names at ESPN I knew from previous relationships. I met Jemele Hill before she started at ESPN and Freddie Coleman (of the Freddie Coleman Show) actually came on my radio show once as a guest, so it was more of a reconnection with them than a meeting and that helped me a lot too – to already have some people there to help you adjust because ESPN life is an adjustment.

ADH: Most people who work in sports were fans first. And I know you’re still a huge sports fan. That said, has your view of sports changed now that you work for arguably the most recognizable sports media company?

TF: It has changed TREMENDOUSLY! I think I've become an even bigger fan than I was before hand. You get to hear so many different perspectives on the same topic and you learn things from that. You get inside information that isn't always available on your TV screen. We have a stats and information department like NO OTHER. The researchers there are spot on! Every day, my email has new information about something that either just happened or happened the day before.  It broadens your knowledge to have that kind of accessibility for facts right at your fingertips. Plus, you engage with so many other fans that you become more knowledgable about their teams as well, so where watching a Florida State/Louisville game may not have been meant much to you before, it now becomes a tad bit interesting.  But we are encouraged to love sports and rep our teams and objectivity isn't mandatory.

ADH: Please share your thoughts on African-American women working in sports.

TF: Women in sports is tough. Women in sports media is tougher. Black women in sports media is the TOUGHEST! You literally have to make your opportunities and there is no room for error once they are presented. I had my opinions on Cari Champion, for example. I always thought she was simply a broadcaster. No opinions. No voice.  Just moderate (ESPN First Take), and say what's on the teleprompter. And then I met her. NOTHING like what I imagined. Very opinionated. Very strong voice, but at the time, she was working in an environment where her voice was not the voice that the masses wanted to hear. And she kept fighting and kept striving until she reached a platform where her voice IS wanted. She is now a SportsCenter anchor. It's not easy.

There are 55 women who work at ESPN as far as talent is concerned. Of the 55, 11 of them are African American. Of the 11, the only ones most people know and recognize are Jemele, Cari, Sage Steele, Lisa Salters and Josina Anderson. If you don't watch women's basketball, you may not know Carolyn Peck or Kara Lawson. If you don't watch the SEC Network, you may not know Maria Taylor. But they are there. And they still have to prove they belong even though they are AMAZING at their jobs.

Now in the radio department there are two black women who work there, myself and another young lady from Toledo, OH. She is comfortable working behind the scenes and in production. That's her area. I, on the other hand, do not want to remain a Digital Content Editor. My passion is for sports broadcasting and journalism. It's NOT AT ALL EASY to make that transition from production to talent. Sports is a male dominated arena, no matter what network you're employed by, so a woman is already going to be overlooked in some cases for certain positions. But a black woman always has the additional worry of how she will be perceived. In my previous example, I mentioned how reserved Cari Champion was on First Take as moderator. But if you watch First Take now with Molly Querim, she's always offering her opinion, chiming in on the topics, etc. Now I'm not suggesting there was any racial implications involved in that, but what I am saying is there is a clearly a difference in how both moderators were accepted on the exact same platform. So what that means is when you have a chance to set yourself apart, you take it and make good of it. That's why when I get a chance to chime in on His and Hers (which is the 2nd most popular podcast that ESPN produces) I do it. When I met ESPN President John Skipper, I made sure he knew who I was. Because I know I will have to face more challenges than most to get to where I want to be in this field.

ADH (bonus): Thanks, Terrika. How can people keep up with you? (Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

TF: Please feel free to follow me ALL over social media:
Twitter: @SheKnowsSports_
Instagram: @tee_knowssportz
Facebook: She Knows Sports Web Fan Page