Nicole Auerbach’s influence on women in sports media

Nicole Auerbach, a Michigan Daily graduate who graduated in 2011, is described by her peers and past colleagues as fearless, passionate, and confident. As senior writer for The Athletic and recent winner of National Sports Media’s 2020 National Sportswriter of the Year, Auerbach demonstrates the qualities it takes for a woman to succeed in sports journalism.

Sport has always been a central part of Auerbach’s life. Growing up, Auerbach played softball, tennis, basketball, and watched countless sports with her father. However, her passion for journalism was sparked when she arrived in Michigan as a freshman.

“A stroke of luck,” as Auerbach describes it, led her to The Michigan Daily. Auerbach covered many sports during her tenure at The Daily. In particular, she developed a passion for writing about college basketball and soccer – a passion that carries on into her professional career.

Regardless of the sport she covered, Auerbach’s strong work ethic and talent was evident. And the people she worked with took notice.

“You could tell early on that she knew what she had to do and was hungry to learn something,” Michigan Daily alumnus Joe Stapleton told The Daily.

Stapleton recalled his fond memories of playing sports with Auerbach.

“(We) have covered these events with a number of local and sometimes national writers,” Stapleton said. “[Auerbach]was really good at picking their minds and making sure she took every opportunity to learn from them. (The writers) saw that and I think they appreciated it.”

This routine, which Auerbach developed as a writer at The Daily, honed her skills as a journalist and helped her build relationships in the industry.

“That’s how you get there,” Stapleton said. “You learn things from experienced people and they appreciate that you want to learn from them and they will help you and you can take your own chances.”

During her time at The Daily, Auerbach learned how to build relationships and differentiate within the industry. This kind of development also taught her how to deal with adversity and overcome it.

“Nicole ran for junior or senior year sports editor,” Stapleton recalled. “She didn’t get it and (that) was pretty devastating. It felt like a big blow and I really admire how she handled herself. She just dusted herself off, got up straight away and continued to do a great job.”

The work, which Auerbach continued to publish, was not only noticed by her colleagues, but also admired by the professional world.

Between her junior and senior years in Michigan, Auerbach did an internship at USA Today. Her dedication and knowledge during the internship extended her time with the company as she received a job offer after graduation.

“We’ve had some managers who would never hire someone so young without that much experience,” said Matthew Cimento, former managing editor at USA Today. “But a couple of us pushed and said, ‘Look, she’s proven she can do it. Hire them.’ And they did.”

Auerbach graduated from Michigan in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts from the Ford School of Public Policy, where she focused on gender and health studies. This specialized training from Ford offers Auerbach a unique perspective on the male-dominated profession in which she works.

“Working for USA Today was[Auerbach’s]big beginning, working on a national platform,” friend and former colleague Laken Litman told The Daily.

At the time, USA Today didn’t have many college basketball writers that Auerbach wanted to cover. In addition to covering other sports, she used her time on USA Today as an opportunity to make college basketball her own beat.

Examining Auerbach’s previous work at USA Today, it’s clear that she uses a unique angle when writing sports stories. From “Glass Ceiling: Why women are’t coaching men’s D1 Hoops” in 2013 to “US Women’s Swimming Team on Body Image, Eating Disorders and Supporting Each Other” in 2016, Auerbach tells the stories of overlooked athletes and coaches. This is a testament to her desire to differentiate herself within her field by proposing new story ideas.

“[Auerbach]was always someone who spoke up and suggested ideas so that editors making important decisions about who was asked for cover stories would hear their ideas and not pass them over,” Litman said in describing Auerbach’s ambitions.

However, Auerbach’s ability to build trust and build relationships has also been a major factor in her continued success.

“She was always very outgoing and super personable. She didn’t care that she was young, she would introduce herself to everyone (person) at events.” Laken recalled.

Auerbach built up this ability even before her professional career.

“One thing that Nicole was so great at was that she was so good at building relationships,” Stapleton said. “She has (internal) access to the programs because the coaches really trust her. She did that in Michigan, too.”

Auerbach was also at the forefront of technological change in the industry; She saw journalism change before many of her peers. Stapleton recalled being one of the first employees at The Daily with an active Twitter account after realizing the important role the app would inevitably play in sports communications.

Now Auerbach is at the forefront of a new movement: increasing female representation in sports journalism. She is known for organizing dinners and events for women at sports conferences to create connections within the marginalized group.

While dinner plans don’t close the significant gap between men and women in sports journalism, her efforts to engage this group of people are a testament to her leadership.

Auerbach is an inspiration to women in journalism due to her ability to differentiate herself in an industry where she is destined to be overlooked. Her reflective writing, unique perspectives, and keen ability to curate relationships each contribute to her continued success in the industry.

“She’s a woman who covers sports,” Stapleton said. “It is difficult.”

Her career is a testament to how difficult it is to be a woman in sports journalism. The most admirable thing about Auerbach is that these difficulties never stopped her from continuing on her journey.

It’s hard as a student to have the confidence to ask professional reporters for advice. It’s difficult to curate unique pitches to be on par with male colleagues. It’s hard to thrive in an industry that constantly challenges your qualifications based on your gender.

This path is difficult. But while Auerbach consistently overcomes these difficulties, she proves that each of us can do it too. Auerbach’s accomplishments serve as inspiration that there is a place for women in sports journalism.

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