In our ninth edition of Behind the Byline, our interview series helping you get to know the journalists who bring you the news, we talk to assistant sports editor Stefanie Loh on the drama of sports journalism, being a woman of color in the field and more.
Stefanie Loh came to the United States from Singapore to attend the University of Oregon, and she quickly fell in love with Seattle while visiting.
Since then, journalism has taken her to a staggering 39 states and introduced her to countless new people, including her wife, whom Loh met while reporting a story.
But she kept her eye on Seattle because — like her — it’s outdoorsy. It’s innovative. And it’s gay friendly, which is important to Loh and her wife. It took her nearly a decade to get back here, but now it’s not a city she would voluntarily leave.
You may be familiar with her as our Washington State University football reporter, but Loh recently left behind her beat-writer days to take on the role of assistant sports editor. After taking us into the journeys, victories and defeats of countless athletes, she’s on the other side of the interview this time.
Q: What was your first job in journalism?
My first job was covering West Virginia football for this paper in Morgantown, West Virginia, called The Dominion Post. I was just blanketing the country with my résumé when I graduated because I came out of school in 2007, when there were no journalism jobs to be had. I didn’t even really care which sport or where. And that was the job that I got.
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I always watched football in college, but I watched as a fan. I remember starting my first job and thinking, “Oh my god, I’m this giant fraud, I have no idea what I’m doing.” But I learned.
I discovered that I really, really enjoyed covering football, because there’s so much inherent drama in the sport, both on the field and off. What really stuck out to me was how much every single game meant. You can’t have a bad week, because if you have a bad week, you might not be playing for the national title, especially at the college level. So that inherent drama wrapped into this 12-week season that we spend the rest of the year hyping just kind of sucked me in. Football became, and still is, my favorite sport to watch and to write about.
Q: You’ve covered West Virginia, Penn State, San Diego State and Washington State football. Which was your favorite?
It’s hard to say because there’s always the good and bad of every team. I can tell you the times I’ve just wanted to tear my hair out and just shake the coach, and I can tell you the times I wrote a really cool story or developed a relationship with a kid that was really meaningful. I don’t know if I can pick one.
Q: What’s something people don’t always know or understand about your job?
This is my pet peeve: There are people who think that if you’re a beat writer following a team that you’re supposed to be the PR person or the cheerleader for that team, and I hate that because that is not my job. They write you emails like, “Why are you being so negative?” My job is to report on what’s happening with that team, whether it’s good or bad. I don’t control the positive or negative tenor of the news; I’m reporting the news.
Q: What is it like to be a woman of color in journalism, and also in sports writing?
I talk to a lot of college kids who are trying to get into journalism and the question comes up a lot, because it is still a rarity to see women in sports, and to see women of color in sports. For the most part, in my career, it’s only helped me, because I approach it thinking that my different perspective gives me a multitude of different ways to connect with people. That can be very helpful, because I can talk to an 18-year-old football player and approach him differently than one of my male colleagues would. I did a story on Nathan Adrian, who was an Olympic swimmer from Bremerton, and I connected with his parents really well because his mother is Cantonese and so am I. As a reporter, you should be going into stories and situations trying to find ways to connect with your subject because you want to show them you’re a person. If you show them you’re a person, you’re going to get better stories.
Q: Is the world of sports reporting unique compared to other kinds of news? How?
Yes and no. Sports often gets looked upon as like the toy department because we cover fun things, and we don’t have to deal with knocking on somebody’s door the day after someone dies or things like that. We don’t do that frequently, but it happens.
I think sports is a microcosm of society, so I don’t think sports reporting is really that different than any other sort of reporting. I think the beats are a little more defined, because if you’re covering the Seahawks, then that’s your thing, whereas in news, even if you’re covering technology, there can be so many different aspects that people can swoop in and help with certain stories. But with sports, you’re really given the chance to own something and turn that beat into what you want to make of it. That is a very valuable thing, but it can also be a very life-sucking thing because you get married to your beat and sports happen at all hours of the day.
Q: What does going from reporting to editing mean to you?
It took me a while to wrap my head around the change because I’ve spent the past three years cultivating WSU football as my beat and getting to know all the main characters and I felt like I was finally at a good place. If something happened, I would know who to call and how to dig out a story, and it was hard to give that up.
But I was sort of at the point where I was looking for a different challenge and trying to figure out what to do next. I didn’t feel ready to give up journalism because it’s this horribly addictive thing, but I thought it would be interesting to do it from a bigger-picture point of view to help plan what we cover, the direction we drive the section, the kinds of stories we tell and how we do that.
Q: Who is another journalist in the newsroom whose work you admire? Why?
Probably [food writer] Bethany Jean Clement. She always makes me want to go eat. I don’t always agree with her, but she’s always entertaining, and I love the fact that she takes food writing and turns it into this work of art on its own. She just has this flair for telling stories about food that goes beyond your typical restaurant review.
(Editor’s note: Want to get to know Bethany better? Check out our Behind the Byline interview with her and Tan Vinh.)
NOTABLE STORIES BY STEFANIE LOH
Since Sue Bird revealed that she’s dating Megan Rapinoe, the two Seattle sports stars have become an iconic couple within the LGBTQ community. Here’s a glimpse at what life is like for them. (June 22, 2018)
Even as records fell left and right and the Cougars piled up W’s, senior year didn’t go as smoothly as Falk had hoped. Perhaps that’s to be expected, as he has had to fight for every shred of success he’s enjoyed. (November 20, 2017)
With Shaquill, the Seahawks’ third-round pick, locking down the starting right cornerback job in Seattle, and Shaquem coming off the best and final season of his college career, both Griffin brothers are thriving despite being apart from each other for the first time in their lives. (December 29, 2017)
Last December, 18-year-old Harrison Maurus of Auburn became the first American man in 20 years to medal at the International Weightlifting Federation World Championships. His meteoric rise could end in gold. (May 4, 2018)
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