Mina Kimes

...in her own words

Ihave been a sport fan my entire life. I grew up rooting for the Mariners, Seahawks and Sonics.

About This Project

In his 1973 book "No Cheering in the Press Box," author Jerome Holtzman chronicled the lives of the greatest sports journalists of his generation. Four decades later, students at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism are updating his work with a series of interviews with the best sports journalists of the last 40 years.

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This chapter was produced by Michele Kettner.

About Mina Kimes
HOMETOWN: Los Angeles
OCCUPATION: Senior Writer, ESPN the Magazine

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My dad is from Seattle and he’s a military vet, and was all over the country, but we as a family rooted for Seattle sports together. I got to go to some games whenever I got to go back to Seattle. So, I grew up rooting for all of those teams and especially in football and baseball from when I was a little girl, really. I kind of went in and out of it throughout the years, growing up, in terms of how intense my fandom was. But by the time I graduated from college and I had some more time on my hands again, I got back into football again pretty seriously.

When I was in college I majored in English; we didn’t have a journalism program and being an English major you think, “Well what can I actually do with it?” Journalism was one of the kind of obvious choices, I guess. I didn’t write for my college newspaper, which is unusual, but I did write for a magazine in college and you know I tried a few different things. I interned in book publishing. I took a job in teaching, which I was awful at, and then the summer before my senior year I interned at a magazine, a Fortune Small Business magazine, owned by Time Inc., and I absolutely fell in love with it at that internship. After I graduated they offered me a job, and that was my first job in journalism.

To go back to that first internship, I was placed there. I wasn’t interested in business journalism. I didn’t even take economics in college. I knew very little about business actually. I was much more interested in art or news. I applied for an internship program at Time Inc. and they placed me at Fortune Small Business, and I figured why not? It was a paid internship. I got to live in New York. I really enjoyed it. It was writing about small business, so it’s launch premieres and that sort of thing. It was kind of an easier entry into business, a little bit more micro. I wrote a little bit about business that first year. Then when I went to Fortune, the year after that, I wrote about investing, so I really had to learn about business then. Like stocks and bonds and mutual funds, that kind of thing. I learned a lot of that on the job throughout the next couple of years. A couple years into my job at Fortune magazine, I got the chance to start writing features about investors and then from there, I was assigned my first investigative story about an investor and continued that path down at Fortune.

I actually had a little bit of an unusual career path, in that I worked at Fortune and Fortune Small Business for six years out of college. Which I think is pretty rare these days. I think to graduate and work at the same place for that long, especially due to all the turnover in media, but I was really lucky to kind of grow and build at that job and change what I did over the course of six years. You’re going from small business to finance to features to investigative journalism, by the end of it. With a great learning experience, I think I had a lot of opportunities to grow within the company. Then I decided to make a jump to Bloomberg News from Fortune to work on their investigative team, in about 2013, but by then I already had a lot of experience writing about that kind of thing.

I had been at Bloomberg for about a year and I was working on investigations and projects and it was a fantastic job, but I at the time was still a huge sports fan. I was tweeting a lot about sports, and I wrote a personal essay about football that I did on my own time that Slate ended up publishing. Someone at ESPN, an editor named Megan Greenwell, read it and contacted me about a job. It was never something I ever would have thought of on my own as being a possibility. You know, by then I was like 28 or something, and I had felt like I had built this career in business journalism and that was my path, and I had built a lot of equity as a business journalist and had a reputation for doing that kind of work. Then was given this opportunity to completely change paths, and I don’t think it was something I would have arrived at if I hadn’t been pushed there a little bit or offered the opportunity, but I figured there’s only so many times in your life when you can actually have the chance to write about something you love, so I decided to make the jump and took it in 2014.

Switching fields or beats is scary, right? Because you spend your whole career learning about something, learning about the markets, financing, corporations and how they work and then suddenly going to something completely different is really scary, but what I found was that even though it was a new subject matter, a lot of the tools were the same. You are still picking up the phone and trying to get people to talk to you. You are still trying to illicit interesting and compelling answers out of people. You are still reaching for good, original stories and learning how to find them. So, in some ways I felt it was really different subject matter, but I was leaning on the same skill set and continued to use the skills I developed as an investigative journalist.

I love stories that start with a question and I don’t know the answer when I came upon the story and being able to solve it through the reporting process is my favorite part of the piece. As an investigative reporter, it’s obvious there is a question and you’re trying to figure out the answer and maybe certain people don’t want you to find out. But there are other stories that have that same framework, I think, for reporting. I did a piece last year about bat flips and that started with a question of why is this fairly common in Korea and it led me down a reporting path I never would have expected, and I learned things and found answers that I certainly didn’t anticipate at the beginning of it. I just love that process so much.

I’m not a beat reporter, so I don’t really write about the Seahawks as a football team. I don’t cover them. I did a piece on Michael and Martellus Bennett and Michael Bennett is on the Seahawks, but it wasn’t really about him as a football player, in fact it wasn’t at all about that. I’ve found that being open and honest about my fandom and kind of my perspective with also making sure that it doesn’t affect what I write about is kind of the balance I strive for, but it’s easier because I don’t cover the team.

[TV] is really different. It’s not something that I really expected for myself when I was starting my career. It’s a totally different skill set that I have learned and worked on and honed in the same way when I first started writing. Trying to develop skills by studying the craft and taking it seriously and trying to get better at it every time in the same way that I did when I was in my writing career. I’ve also had to do business kind of work, so it’s very different. But there are some similarities because it is about word choice and it’s about being clear and telling stories or making comments in a way that are both illuminating and entertaining. In some ways, I think there are a lot of crossover between the two disciplines.

I think in a lot of ways women are treated equally. I definitely feel like I’ve had an equal opportunity at a lot of ventures in my career. I do think however that we battle obstacles and perceptions. It is sometimes a little bit harder to be taken seriously as an analyst or to be regarded as a journalist first in certain situations. It’s hard to say what it will take to change both of those things, but just the constant presence of women doing that work and being elevated to positions of increasing responsibility and exposure that will change people’s perceptions and also how women are treated in the field and in the office.

Most of the time I don’t deal with [Twitter trolls] because one thing that I’ve learned over the last couple of years, especially as I’ve been on camera and radio more, is that if you do take the time to confront them it’s so wasteful of your own energy with little benefit. Most people who are being trolls or are hating, they’re not engaging for your sake anyways, so to battle with them and to spend time you could devote to interesting work. Sometimes, however, I am compelled to stand up for myself or to engage with people in a way that I think can educate or entertain. I really try to pick my spots and just always remember that for a lot of these people, even though it feels so personal to you or me to be on the receiving end of it, it’s not personal for them. They don’t really see you as another human being and when you recognize that dynamic I think it makes it easier for you to ignore it.

Everything will change and so much has changed since I’ve started in terms of the nature of the work, the skills that are required, the medium that people are using. But what I’ve found that hasn’t changed at all is that originality is still very hard to come by. That’s not just original reporting, perhaps the rarest commodity in modern media, but also original thought, original story ideas, original perspective. Trying to come up with a different, unique approach to stories or story telling is still so valued in our world and something I know that I am constantly trying to instill, I was also trying to do back when I was 21. If I was just starting out right now and I was looking for a place to put my energy, I would devote it toward trying something original, whether that’s through the way we tell stories or the stories to tell, just being different and presenting new things to the world is still so valued.

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