By Erik Hall, Columbia Missourian
Q&A with Diversity Fellow Kami Mattioli, college basketball editor at The Sporting News:
Q: What made you want to get involved in sports journalism?
A: I don’t necessarily have a good answer for that. I played a lot of sports when I was in high school, and I’ve always been really interested in telling people’s stories. But I thought I wanted to go to law school and then I decided I didn’t want to spend three more years in a classroom and go through all of that. So I took a sports journalism class, and I really, really liked it. I thought it was a great place for someone like me that likes telling other people’s stories. That was something that was hugely popular where I went to school, for our basketball team at least. It was a way for me to stay involved on campus when I didn’t live there. I could go cover a game. It was my connection to the school at the time. It grew into something a little bit bigger the more I got to travel. I didn’t do a lot of traveling when I was a kid, so it was nice to be able to get out and see other parts of the country and do so by telling other people’s stories.
Q: What’s a story you’ve enjoyed most doing?
A: Actually, the very first story I ever did. It was really sad. I used to work for Temple University. One of their basketball players, his 8-year-old cousin was killed in a car crash right before the season started. He had changed his number to honor his cousin. It was the very first story I ever did. I got to sit down with him and really talk to him about it and work through that and honor his cousin. After the first or second game of the season, his cousin’s family came and they came on the court and they talked to him. It was a way for them all to cope. For that to be my first story, it will always have a distinct place in my heart.
Q: What did you think when you were assigned that story?
A: It was the first thing I ever did for college basketball. I didn’t really have a specific way to approach it. I just had a conversation, then I came home. It was interesting. I was living at home at the time, and my mom came in my room when I was writing. I had all the lights off, and it was just me staring at the computer screen. I was just going through all of the quotes and listening back through the recording. It was so emotional that I just didn’t want any kind of distraction. I didn’t want TV. I didn’t want lights. I didn’t want any of that. I just wanted to get the story right. To this day, it’s still one my proudest stories. I’m not sure many people can say their first story is the one they’re most proud of.
Q: Who is someone that’s helped you grow in your career as you’ve gotten into sports journalism?
A: I think there have been a lot of people along the way. Probably everyone from my eighth-grade teacher (Mrs. Ormsbde) — she was the one that made us write editorial letters to the local newspaper. I remember there was something about concussions back then when I was in eighth grade. They were going to make people wear helmets, or something, so I wrote an editorial. She still brings that up — “Hey, remember when you did that, and look where you are now.” Also, my boss Larry Dougherty at my first job. He came to me when I was a student at Temple and said, “Hey, we want someone to run our social media position.” He had read my work in one of my sports journalism classes and asked if I was interested. It was a position that never existed before. They didn’t have any guidelines or anything. He just basically took me under his wing and said, “We’re going to get you into these games and let you write whatever you want and take you on the plane with us.” He basically opened up a world of opportunities for me. I still talk to him to this day. I reach out to him. For someone to take that chance on me — I didn’t write for my school newspaper, I didn’t do any of that stuff — that was incredible.
Q: What would you say has been your greatest professional accomplishment?
A: That’s a tough question. I think one of the things that I’m most proud of is that I set a goal for myself this year that I wanted to do an investigative story. I wanted to uncover something that no one had reported before. I didn’t know it would happen so soon after I set that goal. It was about (North Carolina player) P.J. Hairston when he got in a fight with a high school player in Durham (N.C.), his agent (Juan Morrow) came out and said a lot of things about how the high schooler instigated the fight. Something just didn’t seem right. I went and researched who this guy was. It turned out he was parading himself around as an NBA agent, but he wasn’t certified. In terms of things that are going to change the world, it’s obviously not one. For me, it was a goal I set for myself and I wanted to do an investigative story. I went out there, and I did it. So anytime I can set a goal for myself and achieve it, that’s something I’m most proud of.
Q: What would you say is your greatest personal accomplishment?
A: I think just being willing to take risks. When I took the job that I have now down in Charlotte, I’d never actually been here before other than when they flew me down for my interview. To go to a city that I don’t have any relatives here or know anyone down here, I just packed up my stuff and moved down. I’m pretty proud of being able to have the conviction to make that decision. I know that there are a lot of people that would wrestle with it. A lot of my friends have said to me, “Hey, that’s crazy. You’re just going to go there? You didn’t even get to see your apartment before you signed the lease.” It’s just something that you have to do. I was fortunate enough to be in a position that I was able to make that decision. I’m very proud of that.
Q: What would you say is the most compelling story that you’ve read?
A: In the last couple days, there have been a bunch. Gary Parrish wrote a story about a Division III basketball coach. He was young and he had a girlfriend. I don’t remember all the details. The sense of it was that, he was a young coach, and he and his girlfriend were in a really bad car accident. It was a couple weeks before they were about to get married. The basketball coach, he lived, and his fiancée passed away. This guy sat down and talked about what it was like in the year after her death, and how he plans to move forward. It was just really, really tragic and sad. He wrote it in such a way that you felt like you were commiserating with him, and I think that is sometimes difficult to do.
Q: Who are your favorite writers?
A: I have a lot. I read a lot of people. I go on Twitter most of the day and see what everyone is talking about. Gary is a good one, and I really like Dana O’Neil. One of my favorite pieces from her was about a guy at Xavier and how he was, basically, excommunicated from the campus after that big fight between Xavier and Cincinnati. She’s one of my favorites to read. I pretty much read a little bit of everybody whenever I can.
Q: What do you hope to learn through your involvement with the APSE Diversity Program?
A: I was never a newspaper kid when I was growing up in college. I didn’t follow the traditional route. Working in a newsroom, I had to learn all of that stuff basically on the fly. My first job, I was basically a columnist, but I was writing on a gamer deadline. I didn’t really know how all of that worked. I would like to know the ins and outs. I’ve never put together a newspaper. I’ve never designed a newspaper. I’ve never had to do any of that stuff. I’d really like to compare my experience with some of the guys who have been doing this for 30, 40 years and work on the more traditional print side.
This week we are featuring this year’s “draftees’’ into the 2014-15 APSE Diversity Fellowship Program. The Fellows will meet in person for the first time at APSE judging this week in Lake Buena Vista, so if you are attending, please introduce yourself and make them feel at home!