By Stacy Bauman
This is the first of a four-part series that focuses on the founding members of the Association for Women in Sports Media.
The first founder featured in this series is Michele Himmelberg. The 2001 AWSM Pioneer Award winner is currently a public relations director at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif. Himmelberg began her career as a sportswriter at the Riverside Press-Enterprise and advanced to assignments covering the NFL, NCAA sports, NBA and Olympic Games while working at the St. Petersburg Times, Fort Myers News-Press, Sacramento Bee and Orange County Register. In 1991, she was awarded the “Best Sports Story of the Year” from the California Newspaper Publishers’ Association.
Himmelberg then transitioned to business journalism in 1996, developing expertise as a reporter and editor in the topics of sports business, tourism and workplace issues — also writing a column on career development. Her career took a turn into public relations when she joined Disney in 2008.
She is the proud mother of two daughters, Casey and Lindsey Farmer.
What was your motivation for founding AWSM?
“I really wanted us to have a unified voice. I was frustrated fighting battles on my own, and seeing other women struggle to have a voice. I had no idea if it would have any power or clout; I just figured it would be better if we worked together. There were a lot of brilliant, talented women in the field and, early on, we were very much rivals. There was only one spot on most sports staffs for a woman, and we all wanted it.
“AWSM changed that. We said there was room for lots of women on sports staffs, and we wanted to make sure all these talented women had opportunities to work in the field.”
What was the biggest challenge you faced in founding AWSM?
“The first immediate challenge was even identifying all of the women in sports journalism. We were spread out all across the country and this was before e-mail or the Internet to help connect us … And we wanted to create a sense of community through an organization that wouldn’t immediately fizzle.”
What is your favorite memory from the first year or first convention?
“The big surprise for me was how much fun we had. Sure, we were all serious about the seminars, but in the hallways we were swapping stories, getting to know each other as something more than a byline, sighing in relief that we weren’t the only ones who had lived through this or that trauma. We shared ideas on how to deal with athletes and offered tips on how to get ahead in the office. And the best place of all was the hospitality suite, where we laughed and giggled and came together as a united force that would go on to have an awesome influence in journalism. I made some lifelong friends at that first convention, and they have been invaluable to me in so many ways.”
“In my photo of that first convention (Memorial Day weekend), I’m holding my baby daughter, Lindsey. She was about seven weeks old and I was still breastfeeding, so she just came along with me. I remember holding her and a notepad in the workshops, taking notes and stepping out to feed her. We did what we had to do to make it all work.”
Were you nervous that AWSM would be short-lived or did you have faith it would continue to grow even decades after being founded?
“One of our goals when we started was to not exist anymore. That may sound odd, but I was looking for the day when we didn’t need a separate group that worked to ensure women’s rights in sports media If everyone would play fairly, and respect women who wanted to cover the games and provide equal opportunities, AWSM wouldn’t be necessary.
“And then we discovered that AWSM could be so much more than that watchdog. There’s still a need for that authoritative voice, but we are also a strong networking organization that supports other women in their careers, aims for high standards, offers educational opportunities for its members – and nurtures great friendships.”
How do you feel AWSM has most benefited women in sports media?
“AWSM became a social connector for the women who were scattered across the country, isolated and vaguely aware that other women were out there fighting some of the same battles.
“When we bonded as a group, we became each other’s advocates. We were aligning to speak with a unified voice on issues. We were inspired to set up the scholarship/internship program to grow our numbers and put women in position to be where they are today – as major beat writers, columnists, network reporters and analysts.
Part 2 of this series next month will feature founder Nancy Cooney.