We focus a lot on the Made Women who have reached the heights of success, but the reality is that in order to make it to the top, you have to be MADE every step of the way. Which is why we also like to shine a spotlight on women who have just landed their dream job, claimed a much deserved promotion or launched a new business. One such lady, and a good friend of mine, Jasmine Alexander is a new hire at ESPN. As a producer for SportsCenter, this isn’t just her life-long dream job, it’s also your boyfriend’s.
Although she’s a new face at ESPN, Jasmine has been making a name for herself in television production for the last eight years. After graduating from USC with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism, Jasmine moved to San Diego where she worked for NBC for two years. After that she made the trek to the east coast where she worked at Baltimore CBS affiliate station for two years. When she was ready to move on, she went back to her hometown of Philadelphia to work for ABC’s WPVI-TV, and stayed there for four years.
Jasmine says that she likes to take things “one dream at a time” and her latest dream meant moving over to sports production and working for ESPN. She’s taking what she’s learned from covering national news and translating it over to the beloved, fan-based content ESPN is known for. I caught up with Jasmine and we chatted about her new position and her career trajectory.
Serena Watson: Let’s take it back. What made you want to go into journalism?
Jasmine Alexander: I’ve wanted to work in journalism since I was seven years old. I grew up in a household where the Today show was always on TV. I just looked at that programming and thought “Wow, I would love to tell people stories.” I’ve always been obsessed with journalism and writing. I would [write] a little family newsletter, I would try to interview my brother with my tape recorder. Pretty much, what I wanted hasn’t changed at all since I was seven.
SW: What was one highlight or big story you covered at ABC?
JA: A highlight for me would be when I went to chicago, and spent 2012 election night at President Obama’s headquarters. I was there with my anchor, Rick Williams, and I was producing his live shots as we were waiting for the results of the election. There was a moment when I was on the platform standing next to journalists that I respect, waiting for President Obama to be celebrating winning or announcing that he had be defeated. It felt great to be apart of the coverage of that night. And personally -- knowing where my family comes from and what a huge moment it was for my grandma and my dad, who come from segregated Alabama -- it felt bigger than work.
Jasmine Alexander (center) during 2012 Election Night coverage in Chicago
SW: A lot of people don’t know what goes into producing a great segment. Can you walk us through what it’s like to put together a news segment?
JA: I was producing Action News at 5, which is the evening news. You start the day at home, watching the news and getting a feel for what’s going on in the world. At work we start the day with a morning meeting, where we divvy up what stories are going to go into what show. In Philly there’s a 4pm show, a 5pm show and a 6pm show. So all of the producers and executive producers discuss what interests them, what they want to lead their show with and which reporter should cover that story -- on yesterday’s bank robbery or murder. After the meeting, I go and surf the internet and see what else is going on in the world nationally that I might want to include in my show. Around 12:30pm we meet again as a newsroom to discuss the progress of all the reporters and change the line-up. After that meeting, I start putting the show together -- writing all the teases, picking video and any graphics. At 5pm I go in the control room and I booth the show, which involves keeping it on time and also adding breaking news as it happens.
SW: I’m assuming that that’s a lot of pressure to get everything done in a day. Was the transition over to sports somewhat related to that, or was it all part of the plan for you?
JA: Transitioning into sports for me was about pursuing another passion of mine. When I was at USC, I was really interested in sports journalism but I was a little intimidated to get into that field because I didn’t think that I knew enough stats and figures. I figured I would just stay over here in news because I’m not “sporty enough” to go into that world. The transition for me was realizing that I was selling myself short. So I wanted to… stop being a punk (laughs). I said to myself, “Jasmine, if this is really what you want to do, if this is really what interest you, why aren’t you doing it?” I had some great mentors that really helped me get to that way of thinking. I had some great conversations with people who encouraged me to go for what I want. News was a dream as well. In Philly, I worked at the station that I grew up watching - I worked with the anchors that I grew up watching. So that was definitely something that I wanted to do. But I was at a point where I wanted more and I wanted to stop shying away from sports journalism and dive in.
SW: I think thats something that happens to a lot of people, letting fears get in the way of your dreams.
JA: I think with any job, you look at it as if you have to know everything. But what you have to realize is that everyone is learning and if you go into journalism or sports or medicine, you can’t go in thinking you know everything. You have to go in wanting to learn and being curious. I think that is important and not discussed enough. And that’s why people run away from things because they think “Oh, I don’t know enough” and really you just need to want to know. That’s what makes anyone good at any career -- the hunger for learning.
SW: What are some of the major difference you are seeing between producing the news and producing sports?
JA: With news you have this responsibility to tell the stories of the world and with sports I feel it’s a little more personal because you’re speaking directly to fans. There’s something about speaking to fans that just gets you more fired up to tell that story. Even if I’m not a fan of whatever team or athlete, I know how much that team or athlete means to the people at home. So it’s fun trying to get into the head of a person who loves Kobe Bryant or someone who loves the Cowboys and trying to tell their story the best way possible.
SW: Can you describe what producing a sports segment is like?
JA: I’m doing a lot more of dealing with hosts and analysts: having a lot more conversations with NFL insiders and NBA analysts to find out what stories they are following. They gather so much information that I have to listen and figure out what’s the best story here. It’s a lot more focused on a couple stories everyday and making them the best possible. It’s really a collaboration between me, our talent, our host and our reporters.
SW: What are some trends in the production that we can look forward to?
JA: There’s really a push to incorporate a diversity of opinion and thoughts to cover the sports. A diversity of voices to cover sports so that you don’t hear the same story told from the same perspective. I think it’s important to have women apart of the conversation, [and] people of color -- because we all have different perspectives of teams, the players and how to talk about them. So it’s definitely a priority and we’re starting to see the results of that way of thinking.
SW: I found when I worked in sports that things were somewhat of a boys’ club. Is it that way at ESPN?
JA: Not at all, I can say that everyone is really welcoming. It feels like it’s not about a “boys’ club” it’s about a “fans’ club” we're all just fans of sports and we all listen to and respect each other. I don’t feel like I’m treated differently. Someone gave me some good advice and said, “you don’t allow yourself to be treated differently, you don’t allow yourself to be put in a box.” I don’t go in there thinking “ Well, I’m just the woman so I need to stay over here and do the woman’s role.” No, I show up to be a segment producer, I bring all of my thoughts, all of my opinions -- everything that makes me unique to that job -- and I leave it on the table.
Jasmine Alexander (second from the left) with Kevin Hart, Regina Hall and Will Packer.
SW: I like that. Any other advice for aspiring producers?
JA: For journalists in general, I would just say consider producing. I don’t think enough people realize what a great opportunity it is. I think a lot of people want to be on TV. If you learn a little about producing you’d learn what a great field it is and how much you get to do. I would also say, my path was meant to be but I do wish that I had been in sports sooner. Always go for what you really want. It’s important to be honest with yourself and not to be afraid. The worst that could happen is that someone tells you no or you don’t like it, and then you do something else. But always go for what you want and it will work out.
Jasmine is a great example of really committing to a dream and going for what you want. We wish her the best at her new job and will continue to watch her succeed in her field!