Behind The Scenes

ESPN’s presence at NABJ

NEW ORLEANS — ESPN deployed 55 employees to represent the company and to identify potential new hires during the the 37th annual National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Convention and Career Fair last week.

More than 2,000 people attended the five-day event at the Riverside Hilton Hotel, ranging from aspiring teens to recent college grads to seasoned veterans. At the 2011 NABJ Convention in Philadelphia, ESPN identified several people who became new hires.

The NABJ Convention is just one of many ESPN attends and supports in its quest to provide a diverse workforce. ESPN also attends conventions and supports groups such as the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), Women In Sports and Events (WISE), Women in Cable and Telecommunications (WICT) and the National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Communications (NAMIC).

The company also works with many other professional societies promoting gender and sexual equality.

“First of all, it’s a very practical purpose. We’re here networking,” said John Skipper, ESPN President.

“And the other purpose is we’re wanting to set a tone that this matters. We want to support groups like the NABJ and many others like it. Ultimately, our time at the conference will help us identify talented journalists so that we can continue to diversify our workforce.”

ESPN President John Skipper (white suit) met with the NABJ's Board of Directors in New Orleans. ESPN's Jackson Davis (second from left), ESPN The Magazine's Carmen Camacho (fifth from left), and ESPN The Magazine's Keith Reed (in glasses, behind Skipper's right), a board member, are also pictured.

For SportsCenter anchor and New Orleans native Stan Verrett, the NABJ’s return to the city for the first time since 1983 was particularly satisfying.

“It’s like Christmas and Mardi Gras rolled into one,” he told hundreds of attendees at the ESPN sponsored Sports Task Force Mentor Breakfast last week. His regular attendance at the NABJ and consultation with ESPN decision makers helped lead to his eventual hiring in 2000.

ESPN vice president of talent negotiation and production recruitment Al Jaffe recalled being the company’s only representative at NABJ 20 years ago.

At that time, he was afraid to leave his recruiting station lest he miss a promising candidate. At this convention Jaffe — who also revealed his own spot on Stephen A. Smith impersonation during his speech at the mentor breakfast — had 54 colleagues to help him identify potential new hires.

ESPN news assignment desk editor Sabrina Haskett really enjoys the recruiting process. She calls it “speed mentoring: a time when you take your brief encounter and make the most of the time to answer their questions.”

Even those short meet-and-greets reap benefits, ESPN corporate recruiter Stacy Williamson said.

“The breakfast was such a great opportunity for our guest speakers to share their views on the importance of mentoring and how it can help shape your career,” Williamson said.

“It was definitely special this year because we were able to share a video of Nicholas Creegan, who was hired as an intern after we met him from last year’s conference. This proved to this year’s attendees that hard work, dedication, and having the right mentor pays off.”

Saturday night, ESPN The Magazine reaped the NABJ’s Salute to Excellence Award in the category of Magazine: Sports (over 1 million circulation). Tim Crothers’ piece, The Game of Her Life, tells the story of Phiona Mutesi, a 14-year-old chess prodigy from Uganda. It ran in the Jan. 11, 2011 NEXT issue.

Also, ESPN’s E:60 won a Salute to Excellence Award for its Philly Stakes feature, produced by Heather Lombardo and reported by Lisa Salters.

Skipper has championed diversity in the workforce for personal and practical reasons.

“It’s been critical to my success. I’ve learned that working with more diverse people — of various races, orientations, beliefs, what have you — creates a better experience, different ideas,” he said.

“Having a whole lot of people with similar backgrounds, similar ethnicities, you just get less of a breadth of ideas.”

Check out ESPN Communications photographer Kimberly Jarvis‘ photo gallery above.

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