Mechelle Voepel discusses the change in women’s sports

Mechelle Voepel is a senior writer at ESPN.com where she’s worked since 1996. From 1996-2008 she worked as a weekly columnist for ESPN.com while also working as a copy editor and writer for The Kansas City Star covering mainly women’s sports.

In 2008, she started working full-time for ESPN.com. Voepel covers the WNBA, LPGA, women’s college basketball and other college sports.

Voepel grew up near St. Louis, Mo., and graduated from The University of Missouri in 1984. Since she started her career, Voepel has covered the Summer and Winter Olympics, the Women’s World Cup tournament and major championship golf.

Ryan McCarthy: How were you able to find your niche with women’s sports?

Mechelle Voepel: For me it was a personal passion. Women’s sports needed professionals who were willing to give professional sports coverage and that was a battle to fight. Some people thought I you were being a cheerleader and but that’s not what I was talking about. I’m talking about being really professional, really involved and knowledgeable.

RM: What kind of advantages do you have covering women’s sports?

MV: “You do have the opportunity to tell stories that haven’t been told before. There isn’t 15 or 20 people telling the same story. There’s more chances for one-on-one interviews because there are less people. That allows you to get deeper into the subject matter and establish stronger connections to athletes, teams and coaches because you can spend more time with them.”

RM: What are some of the disadvantages of covering women’s sports?

MV: “I think it’s still undervalued work and I think people who’ve specialized in women’s sports have been through some lean times. I certainly have been when it wasn’t values and you had to fight for why you’re doing this.”

RM: How have you learned to build those relationships with coaches and players?

MV: “Whenever you’re talking to people in person you need to make the most of that time. You’re not just going there and saying ‘these are the five questions I need to get answered.’ It’s really establishing conversations with people.

Everything you have in sit down session might not translate into a story, but it can help build a relationship. I think journalism’s like any other business. You have to establish relationships with people to be successful.”

RM: How much have you seen your job at ESPN.com change since you first started there?

MV: “Early on it was trying to establish what it was and if people were going to be interested in it. Today they have a lot of traffic with online chats, polls among other things. There’s so many ways to bring in the readers. I think the website is so interactive for good and for bad. I think readers get a little bit too involved, but it’s part of the immediacy of the Internet.

RM: How important was it for you to bring a women’s specific presence to the website with the new project ESPNW?

MV: “ESPNW is really establishing itself and becoming a brand name to think of in terms of women’s sports. It’s still under the umbrella to ESPN.com and I see it as a different doorway to get into women’s sports.”

RM: Women’s basketball is your main focus, but talk about some of the other opportunities you have throughout the year?

MV: “Volleyball is a growing sport. The consumer and reader interest is growing. ESPN does the volleyball Final Four and they’re really trying to establish itself. That’s a sport that would continue to grow. The other thing I do is the LPGA which is a global tour, which has changed dramatically both in my career and my lifetime.”

RM: How much growth can you see in the next few years for women’s sports?

MV: “It doesn’t always move on a linear line. You see things change depending on the personalities involved. There’s been times in the last 10 years where the LPGA for instance there’s a surge when somebody like Annika Sorenstam that will capture the public’s attention beyond the fans of golf and women’s golf. That doesn’t mean that will sustain until after she retired, so you have to wait and see who the next person might be the next star. And that’s the same thing with all the other sports.”

RM: You’ve covered a variety of sports, but what story did you enjoy the most?

MV: “The most exciting, emotional and dramatic thing I covered was the 1999 Women’s World Cup in soccer. No one going into the event, even the people the most optimistic people going into the event, knew it was going to be a cultural phenomena and be the biggest story of 1999. And for anybody old enough will remember that team, and Brandi Chastain and that moment in the Rose Bowl. There weren’t a lot of moments in women’s sports where the whole country was paying attention.”

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