Pick a nice seat and get comfortable, folks. This Sporting Gals interview is a long one but SUCH A GOOD ONE.
Kari Van Horn was once kicked out of a football game, drove across country in two days on Halloween weekend, and was born with sports in her blood. Literally. She’s also covered almost the entire LA sports team family, plus interned for ESPN.
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Read on for some seriously killer advice, great stories, and inspiration on getting your own career going.
THE SPORTING GALS: KARI VAN HORN
What are you up to currently: where are you working, what are you doing, and what are your favorite parts of your job?
I am a Digital Beat Journalist at KNXV-TV/ ABC15. It feels like I just moved here to Scottsdale, but I drove across the country in two days during Halloween weekend last year. I’m very proud of my job, it was created by my News Director. The idea was to have a “What’s Trending” reporter. A journalist who could write, shoot, edit and report their own stories that appeal to the digital audience. Producing both evergreen and breaking news content.
What’s awesome is every day is different. I cover sports, entertainment (concerts, movie releases), new restaurants / bars, animal education at zoos, travel/outdoor adventures, and the history of Arizona. Getting my hands on old documents from the Wild West days has been FASCINATING. Famous cowboy shoot outs, saloon fights, insane asylums, you name it. Something from Arizona is always trending, much like Georgia when I was there. From the insane dust storms called haboobs to hosting major sporting events like the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship and 2017 Final Four, there’s always a story or storm brewing!
To give you an example about my busy world, tomorrow I have an exclusive with the head trainer — I’ll sit in on tiger blood draws *GASP* and watch a tapir paint a masterpiece at the Wildlife World Zoo. After that, I’ll rush home to shower and sprint to the Diamondbacks game for Dog Days of Summer. The next day I’m interviewing my favorite local taco stand — the business blew up so quickly that the owner bought land for an actual restaurant. The following day, I’m interviewing country music artists the Swon Brothers.
Growing up in Los Angeles, you had so many professional sports teams at your fingertips. When did your love for sports grow, and how did you nurture it?
Sports were in my blood before I was born. My parents met at CNN in Atlanta. The day I was born, my father’s coworkers decided to announce my birth like it was the top story of the day. At the end of the story, one of the anchors says, “Who knows, maybe she’ll end up being a sportscaster?” My first outing was to a Padres vs. Braves game two weeks into the world. My father was doing radio for the game and brought me into the booth with him. WHAT? A newborn in a LIVE broadcasting booth? His coworkers say the moment the broadcast began, I fell silent, my eyes grew wide and I just smiled the entire game. I played five sports in high school and did both crew and softball at USC. My brother was just drafted by the San Francisco Giants. Sports are what I know. They’re in my blood.
I remember carrying around a broom from class to class when the Lakers swept.
I was a couple rows up when the Sparks became WNBA Champions. I cried when there was 0:08 left in the 2006 Rose Bowl. 10 rows behind Snoop and his cardinal fur coat. Vince Young broke my heart and burnt sienna confetti stuck to my cheeks. USC football has my heart. The Coliseum was, still is and always will be my second home. I have a clip of Vin Scully getting fired up over the first foul ball I caught at Chavez Ravine! He loved that it was just my mom sitting with me in a section of guys AND that she high-fived me after my catch! To actually answer your question, my love for sports never grew. I was born OBSESSED.
When did you realize you wanted to be in sports media, and how did you get your first toe in the door?
I never thought of being a journalist. I grew up in newsroom across the country and it never crossed my mind. I was passionate about being a dolphin trainer. Junior year of high school, I met with academic counselors at USC because that was my DREAM university and I was going through the process as an athlete. They said my first semester freshman year I’d have to take pre-med bio, pre-med chem and pre-med physics… OH, and that I’d be the only non pre-med student in those classes. There’s a joke I like to say…I’m the reason why Physics is spelled with an ‘F’ 🙂 Needless to say, I left that meeting thinking well, what else do I know? A second didn’t pass by before it hit me like a brick in the face…SPORTS! I know sports. So that’s what I pursued. I parlayed my position as an athlete on campus into interning for USCFootball.com. Those opportunities gave me a platform that launched me into 20 internships while I was still a student. Arriving early, staying late and offering to do work that no one else wanted is how I got half of those positions.
ESPN is a pretty hefty name to have on a resume, and you earned it pretty early on working for ESPNLA 710. How did you land that job, and what were the best things you learned working for ESPN?
Interning for ESPNLA 710 was that ‘little kid at Disneyland’ moment! I walked down those halls doing everything I could to not press my nose on the glass like a t-baller at a trophy case in Cooperstown. I was always taking pictures with my eyes, savoring every moment. A rigorous interview process culminated in a group interview inside a glass-walled conference room with fancy spinny chairs and a million dollar view of STAPLES Center. The do-or-die buzzer beater question was, “What makes you the best candidate in this room?” I took a deep breath and spoke from my heart. Said I exemplify the qualities listed for the candidacy. That I was an athlete at USC who was a trusted friend with the players on the football team so I’d have no problem getting interviews and great answers. I was also interning at KABC-TV — responsible for Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Kings and Angels coverage so I was knowledgeable of everything happening with the teams. I tied everything together with I take pride in my work and commit 110% to everything I do. I promised my future boss no one would ever outwork me, that I’d be proud to show up early and stay late without question. I’d pick up shifts and that this position would be my first priority. Then I took a deep breath because I basically blacked out like Will Ferrell during the debates in Old School haha.
I was interviewed by a man who not only became my boss but is now one of my most cherished mentors. Four phones later, I still have the voicemail saved he left me saying I got the internship. I missed the call because I was at one of my other internships. I am very fortunate that all of the people I interned for at ESPNLA 710 turned into trusted mentors and friends.
I learned so much that it’s difficult to pinpoint one thing. I continue to learn from my mentors who are still there. I call them for advice on a monthly basis. It’s more of what I learned NOT to do. I watched everyone like a hawk. Even when they didn’t think I was watching, I was. Not like a stalker haha! Like an athlete watching film. This is what I wanted to do and I wanted to be in their shoes just a matter of years down the road. I observed how they treated other people, what to do during a crisis, how to balance work/life schedule, how to deal with attitudes, what to say and when, but most importantly, when to do the things I wasn’t told to do. I was always around. Shadowing a personality/producer, doing work the producer/talent was too busy to do, sometimes just sitting in a corner and watching the broadcasts.
I never stopped asking questions and that’s how I learned so much about the industry.
Before you even graduated, you had already covered the LA Angeles, Clippers, Kings, Lakers, Dodgers — almost the whole professional sports family in Los Angeles! What did you learn early on about covering professional sports teams?
I learned SO MUCH! I know I keep saying it, but it’s true! Locker room etiquette, how a scrum works, gaining the trust of athletes / front office members, not leaving the field/arena without my story, where to set up a live shot, what questions are important to ask during specific situations, the list continues! I started genuine conversation with every reporter waiting outside locker rooms and quickly picked out a handful of new mentors. I stuck by their sides and it bewilders me that they are now Facebook friends or confidants that I can text at any time for advice. That is the absolute coolest! Los Angeles has such a strong repertoire of accomplished journalists. I count my blessings all the time that I can look to them for advice or professional recommendations. Covering professional sports teams is an around the clock 24/7/365 job. If you’re lucky enough, you’re covering the NFL on Thanksgiving, NBA on Christmas, CFB bowl game on New Year’s, NBA on Valentine’s Day, MLB on your birthday.
You become a family of sorts because life happens and when life happens, they are there in the press box with you. I learned it is also a cutthroat world that demands every ounce of your attention and energy. You’ll rarely get a thank you and most of the people you work with fell out of love with their job years ago. There’s the select few that have that burning thirst that can only be satiated by a hard day’s/night’s work, and those are the people who are thankful to be adults living a kid’s dream. Those are the people you gravitate to that become your family. We do sports because someone wins, someone loses. It’s not life or death. Another day, another game.
Sports bring people together. They are a cross-cultural language that binds humanity despite gaping differences in religion and politics.
That’s why we play the game. That’s why we cover the game.
While stalking your LinkedIn, I noticed a super interesting fact: you speak Hawaiian Creole! Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
Hey Dakine! Hoe cuz?! Let’s get some ono grindz after this. Oh you can’t? That’s sheddy…well, I’ll catch ya later! Shoots! 🙂
I accepted the Presidential Leadership Scholarship at Hawai’i Pacific University and got to live one block from all the bars and clubs in the middle of Waikiki my freshman year of college. That was the year President Obama was elected, the supposed last Pro Bowl on da aina (the island) took place, Kanye was working down the street on 808s and Heartbreaks, Lil Wayne was the man and Kid Cudi held his first concert in a warehouse across from my Sociology lecture hall. The students at Hawai’i Pacific were 30% Hawaiian, 30% international, 30% from the mainland and…well, no one ever told us what the other 10% was haha. In most of my classes, I was 1 of 5 out of 30-50 that spoke English as a first language. My best friend was from Sweden so I still study Swedish in my free time to speak with her mom and sister. It’s almost impossible to be involved in surf culture and NOT know Pidgin. That’s what the language is called, not to be confused with the bird!
You worked in social media and digital producing before diving back into the on-camera side of things, for the NFL and Yahoo! Sports. How has your experience and work in social media and digital producing helped your career?
Understanding and knowing every side of the business strengthens you in ways unimaginable. Knowing which plays are likely to get cut and why (play calling, tremendous play, crowd reaction). Developing the craft of writing for social helps me deliver my point as succinctly as possible while catching/holding the attention of my audience. The audience consumes differently than it did five years ago. Knowing what people want to click on and WILL click on is an asset to surviving/producing today’s journalism.
A few different times in your career, including now, you’ve worked for local news stations on their sports team. What has working for a local news station taught you about the sports business?
Local news covers sports in different ways from a platform dedicated to sports 24/7. You have room to accentuate stories and really introduce athletes to their home fan base. Fans want to know the human side of their star players i.e. where they like to eat, shop, hang out. High school sports in certain areas of the country will get more traction than the professional teams. Covering high school football in central Georgia was a BEAST. Family members and people with no relation to the teams would call the newsroom to report scores or ask for updates. It’s all anyone really cared about.
Something, as a sports journalist and SUPER FAN of sports in general, I consider myself very lucky to report on and experience. I went to a high school in Los Angeles that played 8-man football and we didn’t have our own field. A handful of parents MAYBE showed up to games and the team was so bad that our friends didn’t even want to come watch. Sidenote: I cheered because it was as close to the action as I could get. Also, got thrown out of a game for spiking my pom poms and politely telling the ref he should consider reversing the call. Not my fault the play happened right where I was standing and I had a better view than the ref did. Just saying.
As a Digital Video Beat Journalist at ABC15 Arizona, you’ve been working on creating an entirely new platform to produce digital content. What has that been like, and how are you spearheading this new platform?
My current position is a dream come true. A great next step in my career that combines all of my passions. I am basically a “what’s trending” reporter. That means I cover sports, entertainment, food, animals, politics, history, anything and everything. No two days are the same! I look for stories in the community and think, “what do my friends want to see, do, eat, watch?” Then I go highlight it. It’s fun because I get to choose things I think are cool, then tell people why they should care or think it’s cool too!
Secret waterfalls, new bars, baby animals at zoos, wild west history, or the “Oceans Eleven” spy vault drilled into the side of North Mountain. I feel incredibly lucky because my bosses support me and the stories I have chosen. They basically said here’s a laptop and a camera, go make it happen! I had editing experience, but now I can add master editor and graphics designer to my resume. I edit, write, interview, and push my content on social…not all in that order. We have had extreme success with the content and it is so awesome to see the audience consuming and interacting with it like they are. It is a team effort with my bosses and I’m thankful they have placed me in positions to succeed.
One of the hardest things to do in sports broadcasting is simply breaking into the business. What was the best advice you ever received? What advice would you give to other gals looking to get into sports broadcasting?
Man, this is one of my favorite questions! My first piece of advice is ask this question to everyone you meet. Marcellus Wiley of ESPN is a cherished mentor. I contact him every time I have a major career question because he approaches situations with experience from both sides of the camera — as an athlete and a broadcaster. He told me when preparing for interviews, that I am there for a reason. My future bosses already have envisioned me in my future role. I am a candidate because they can see me having success in this position. They know what I can do, they’ve seen what I can do. Now all I have to do is go prove them right. Show them why they can trust me, why they already love me.
I mean, WOW. What great advice, right? I just interviewed Fox Sports Arizona’s Todd Walsh about receiving his honor at the Emmy’s for 25 years in broadcasting. I asked him this question and I love his response. “The best interviewer is a good listener.” You show up to an interview with questions for your subject, but if they mention something else, ride that wave and dig deeper into that response.
The best advice I can give, straight from my heart…hmm I have two. First is to get the most out of any opportunity you are presented with.
Show up early, stay late, do things no one else wants to do, ask questions, BE HELPFUL, BE MEMORABLE.
I can guarantee anyone I have interned for or worked with will tell you that I am always around and never stop asking questions. Both can be annoying so know where to draw the line…but push the limits as far as people will let you! What’s the worst thing that can happen? Someone throws a paper ball at you or they say no. Big deal. Second is don’t disappoint the kid in the stands who wants to be like you. We have ALL been disappointed by someone because of their actions. They didn’t turn out to be who we thought they were. One of my best friends was cussed out by his favorite NBA player for no reason as he was waiting outside the bus for an autograph. He left school early that day just to meet him. One of my favorite broadcasters cussed out an audio technician during commercial break for something that wasn’t his fault. That crushed me. It’s not hard to be a good person and everyone around you is working just as hard as you are. Smile and encourage those around you.
Be unforgettable for a good reason!
You’re early in your career and have already accomplished so much — where do you see yourself going, where would you you like to end up?
Thank you so much for the compliment! Oh my stars…I’m blushing haha. I want to entertain and teach the most amount of people on a national and global scale through sports broadcasting. I want people in bars, at airports, on couches to see my face and say, “Hey! Kari’s on — turn it UP!” I want people to know that every time I am on their television sets, cell phones, and tablets that I have something important or funny to say. I want people to feel better after watching me because I made them laugh or taught them something new. I want people to chat at work or with their friends about the things I say. I want to start conversation. I want to change the perception of women in sports broadcasting. There are NFL coaches that never played elite football.
Ripping off the “Boy’s Only” sign outside the treehouse. Women are well-researched and just as qualified to tackle major sports stories and share them in ways that the Twitter egg avatar, armchair QB, and casual fan will understand.
My dream is landing a major role on a network where I can have fun with my audience! People watch sports because they are FUN! The world is filled with so much darkness. I want to shine a light on stories of achievement, overcoming hardship, and community outreach. Showcasing the heart of the individual under the jersey. Everyone loves an underdog!
I’m a woman of Faith and am so thankful for the truly amazing mentors God has placed in my life. I try to text or message them on Facebook regularly to tell them how much I appreciate them! My professional journey has been rather incredible so far, but that is because of the bosses that took a chance on me. I love the question in interviews, “Why are you the best candidate?” I’m an athlete at my core and love proving myself to my management. Whatever God has in store for me is where I see myself going and where I would like to end up. I believe my story was already written and I’m just flipping the pages as I go along! Whatever it is, I’m excited and will be prepared to step in the box for the first pitch!