This week I had the pleasure of interviewing CNN Money sports business reporter Ahiza Garcia. The San Diego native has had a lifelong love of sports, but only decided to pursue a career in sports journalism because of a chance encounter in college. Read on to find out how she recently transitioned from a general assignment business reporter to working the sports business beat.
Q: As someone who didn’t get into sports until much later in life, I’m always curious how people got into sports. How did you become a sports fan?
A: I’ve loved sports my whole life. When I was 5, I started playing soccer. By the time I got to middle school, I ran track and cross-country and I was on the volleyball, basketball and surf teams. My dad was also a big Raiders and Dodgers fan, so growing up it was always around the house.
I always loved sports, but I didn’t realize I wanted to make that my career until college. I was studying psychology with an emphasis in sports psychology or psychiatry. Then by chance, I had a formal business meeting with an analyst at ESPN and realized that I wanted to change paths to journalism.
Q: Can you take me through your career path and how you ended up working the sports business beat at CNN Money?
A: Early on, my main priority was to be in New York City, so I took a job at Nightline and then a political website, before getting to CNNMoney. Through those jobs, I transitioned from general news to politics to business. I was just trying to find new subject matters that would challenge me.
One thing that I’ve always wanted to do was get into video, because it gives you a platform to be creative and artistic. In order to do that, I realized that I would need to find a niche for myself. At the time, CNNMoney didn’t really have anyone covering sports business and I had this big sports background. Sports business was something that our readers were interested in, so I thought, “Why not tap into this?” I was getting ready to pitch it to my bosses, when they actually approached me with the idea.
Q: Can you take me through the typical process for writing an article from the initial inspiration to publication?
A: Since I’m the only one that’s covering sports business here, I get to cover breaking news and also write longer form pieces that I cultivate. In an average day, I will write anywhere from 1-3 stories, if I don’t have any other videos or interviews going on.
First, I’ll either come up with an idea or be assigned something. It can come from a mix of social media, press releases, and contacts. Based on your contacts, you can get a tip on breaking news or exclusives with an athlete or coach. Social media is also very important. I’m not personally a big fan of social media, but it’s a huge part of my job. Every once in a while someone will leave me a comment that sparks an idea for a story. Many reporters I know have big devoted followings that will even tweet them story ideas.
It’s a pretty quick process once you come up with the initial idea. I’ll talk it over with my editor. If it’s a good idea, it will get the go-ahead. I’ll work on setting up interviews and if there’s a video component I’ll loop in the production team. From there I start writing.
If it’s breaking news, I can write it up in 15-20 minutes, depending on the topic and how well versed I am in it. For example, we did a story related to the NCAA moving 7 of its championships out of North Carolina. That was a topic that we’d already covered, so I knew it well and finished that story in 15-20 minutes. Then it needs to be edited, which can take some time. All in all, that story took about 45 minutes.
Q: What’s the most challenging part of the job?
A: Breaking into the sports space. Getting access to big name people can still be challenging. It’s all about establishing a rapport. I’ve been doing this job for about 6 months now, so I’ve been getting more opportunities from networking, going to events, and when past stories have gone well, people have come to us.
Q: You had a number of internships and reporting jobs before your current position at CNN Money. What did you learn from those early positions?
A: I learned what I found interesting and what I didn’t want to do. For example, I really liked my internship at Nightline. Even though I was an intern, I was basically the equivalent of a production assistant. I worked with great people and made a great network of producers. Even though I thought the job was really interesting, I realized that it wasn’t something that I wanted to do forever. I discovered that I wanted to find something editorial or on the other side of the camera. If I continued to take positions in my path as a production assistant, I might get entrenched in the production side as opposed to the video side.
Q: Working in sports, you’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of famous athletes and coaches. Have you been star struck?
A: I’ve met some big name people, which is cool and comes with the job. I generally don’t get star struck, because it’s my job and I try and stay professional. But the one interview where I was a bit in awe was with Coach K. He was just such an enlightened individual. I told him that I really appreciated the interview, just as a human being speaking to another human being.
Q: Has the response to a story that you’ve written surprised you?
A: I did a story on the NFL’s new social media policy and it got an immediate response. I had a student reach out to me to chat about a project she was doing for school and a college professor reached out and asked me to come speak to his class about the topic.
It’s funny because I am a bit averse to social media, but I realize how much this mode of communication permeates our lives and how relevant it is to so many people. It’s everywhere. You have companies using it for promotions and politicians using it to spread their views.
Q: If you could have a dinner with any athlete living or dead who would it be and why?
A: It would be either Muhammad Ali or Jackie Robinson. Muhammad Ali, because he was an interesting human being who overcame so much, including people initially perceiving him as a draft dodger. I grew up knowing who he was, but after he passed away it was interesting to see how many people came forward with a story about how he influenced their lives. Jackie Robinson, because I would love to know how he was able to deal with such blatant discrimination. I would love to pick his brain and talk to him about how challenging that was.