By RACHEL LENZI
As president of the Associated Press Sports Editors, Mary Byrne’s goal is simple: to continue the organization’s push for diversity. Not just the faces of the people who make up the organization, but also the diversity of thought and backgrounds that make up sports journalism.
“It’s something we’ve worked aggressively for, over the past few years, and we need to continue that,” Byrne said.
Byrne is only the third woman to hold the post of president of APSE, an organization that strives to improve professional standards for sports departments of professional news organizations and to recognize professional excellence among its membership.
A native of Saginaw, Mich., and a graduate of the University of Missouri, Byrne is the senior deputy editor for the NFL, NHL and motorsports at ESPN.com, a resident of Hartford and a travel enthusiast. She began her tenure as APSE president in June.
How did AWSM benefit you, personally and professionally?
My involvement with AWSM dates back to Vicki Michaelis when she was president, and she encouraged me to get involved. It was great for networking and great to be involved and to be in a community of women and to enjoy that. What APSE can learn from AWSM is that AWSM is a very open organization to all other organizations. It’s print, digital, broadcast, public relations, SIDs. That diversity within that membership is something I appreciated when I’d go to AWSM.
What is a goal you have that binds both AWSM and APSE?
Get more AWSM members to be in APSE. There’s a tremendous value in getting to know the people at APSE. These are people who are hiring, a very valuable connection.
This is another way to create and have as big a reach as possible. Get to know different people. The other key is not just keeping women in the business but hiring people who are really good. Have a group of five people that when you get an opening, you have established that relationship.
Trace your career path – how did it bring you to this point?
I spent the first half of my career in news. It wasn’t until 2000 that I switched to sports in Miami, as Sunday editor for the Herald. When I was in Charlotte, I worked overtime, a lot of overtime, and worked in business, features, sports, on the news desk, on 1A. I was curious about everything and wanted to try out various things. This was when you had to cut color! I helped with Friday night football, and I’d stay late to do that, and it was exhilarating!
When the opportunity came about in sports, the editors were familiar to me, and I switched to sports, easily. But from there, I worked really hard. You have to make your own opportunities, too.
Richard Bush was sports editor at the Herald, and I was super interested in the Olympics. Linda Robertson and Michelle Kaufman went to Salt Lake City in 2002 and I asked, can I help plan coverage? I went in on weekends and planned out coverage. From there, USA Today had the job of an Olympics editor, and I moved into that.
Each job leads you to the next job. It’s also, if I’m not in APSE, I don’t know Dave Morgan and don’t get that job [at USA Today Sports]. And at ESPN, some of that was relationships that were forged over the past decade. The person you meet today may help you down the road.
How would you pitch AWSM to potential members – not just students but to professionals, both men and women?
It’s so important, especially in cases of being a woman and being in AWSM, but to have people who might better understand what your life is like in terms of professional hurdles. It’s finding sounding boards. Finding people who have the knowledge of, “This is a way of finding mentors,” or saying, “I have this idea, or this happened to me. How do I deal with it?”
With AWSM, it’s a community of women. The reality is that I have spent majority of career surrounded by men. It doesn’t bother me or faze me. I don’t notice it. But to me, when I go to AWSM, and it’s all women, that’s unusual, but that’s nice!
When I go to APSE, I count. The number of women has gone up, but it’s not where it needs to be. But what’s important to me is that we need to have people with different viewpoints. Theres a lot of really smart women in journalism, and I want them to be in part of APSE. People who make hiring decisions are in that, too.
There’s been a lot of coverage, discussion and focus on the lack of women, and to a degree the lack of diversity, in sports journalism – that there isn’t enough. What can we as an organization do – and maybe even work with APSE – as far as increasing that number or bringing women into more leadership and more visible roles?
We have to continue to do the things we are doing. But there is no easy answer.
I’m a big believer in if you see it, you can believe it. If you have women in leadership roles, it can become more attainable to people. But that hit home for me a couple years ago, when Danica Patrick won the pole for the Daytona 500. Jeff Gordon’s daughter had the most telling comment. It wasn’t until she saw Danica win the pole and she said, “Daddy, I want to be a race car driver.” It was the idea that even though her dad was race car driver, there’s a little girl saying, “I can be a race car driver too.”
It hammered home for me a point: that you need to have women running things at the highest level so that people can see, yes, I come from a background that however they got there, there’s various paths, but you can get to the top and run things.
And when when we get to those positions, we help bring people up.
The biggest thing we can do is continue to foster environments where people get into the business. That’s a challenge for everyone – we are a 24/7 business. The more welcoming we can make the workplace and more opportunities we can give people, hopefully they can stay in the profession.