Media Minds: Michael Holmes, ESPN Features Producer

Michael Holmes has been with ESPN for over nine years working as a producer and editor. He has won numerous EMMY’s and awards for his work, including a Lonestar Emmy for his segment Her Voice on University of Texas basketball player Imani Boyette’s use of poetry to cope with childhood depression.

What makes a compelling story?

For me, compelling stories are ones that challenge your perspective, which usually involves showing the audience examples of either the best or worst of humanity. Whether you’re outraged about corruption you were previously unaware of or amazed by the strength of the human spirit, it should impact you in a way that makes you want to share it with others and/or take action yourself.

What story, in your career, are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of a piece I did for our SC Featured brand called “Her Voice.” It told the story of how University of Texas basketball player Imani Boyette (née McGee-Stafford) used poetry to cope with childhood depression and eventually turned to slam poetry to tell her story. Here was a highly successful college athlete sharing that she had been molested as a child and attempted suicide multiple times between the ages of 10-18, yet her response to these traumas was to reopen incredibly painful wounds in hopes her story could reach others in similar situations.

How did you get your start?

I got my start at ESPN thanks to the recommendation of Lisa Fenn, a friend who was a very talented feature producer at the company. I had previously worked as a video coordinator for a few college football programs. But the more I was exposed to the feature world, the more I wanted to be out in the field conducting interviews with athletes and finding creative ways to tell their stories. When ESPN created a hybrid producer/editor position, I jumped at the opportunity.

What's your biggest pet peeve as a producer?

As a producer, it’s overprotectiveness. There are so many meaningful stories out there that could have a significant positive impact on society, and sometimes we just get shut down by either the subject or their PR out of fear. People identify with struggle and learn from seeing someone overcome, but you can’t have one without the other.

What story do you wish you would have been able to cover or do you hope to be able to cover?

I would love to cover stories of social injustice. There’s an excellent E:60 piece that producer Beein Gim did with Jeremy Schapp on the working conditions in Qatar in preparation for the 2022 World Cup that I absolutely love. It’s one of the best examples of what journalism is supposed to be and the impact it can have.

Why is journalism rewarding to you?

I consider being entrusted with telling these stories an honor, but it’s the impact that these stories have that is the real reward. Knowing that what I do connects with an audience and informs their perspective makes my job worth doing.

When did you know you wanted to be a journalist?

I don’t know if I actually ever decided. I figured out I wanted to tell impactful stories when I was a student at Baylor University, but I was leaning more towards independent film or documentaries.

What famous historical figure do you wish you could have interviewed and why?

This may be taking the easy way out, but I’d have to say Jesus. He has to be the single most influential figure in the history of the world.

How has social media changed the way you work?

Social media has become one of the quickest and most efficient ways to stay informed. It’s also a great distribution tool and source of feedback; of course you have to take some of it with a grain of salt.

What’s your news source?

NPR. I find they are incredibly fair, fact focused, and chase the stories I didn’t even know I wanted to know about. As a feature producer, I’m especially intrigued by shows like This American Life. Ira Glass has such an unorthodox yet captivating method of story telling.

What’s the biggest challenge facing journalism today?

Social media has definitely increased the speed with which the news is delivered, but it’s also created an atmosphere where the race to be first has been over-emphasized at the expense of accuracy. Anyone can report the news on social media, but not everyone is beholden to journalistic standards and once you “break” a story, true or not, it spreads like wildfire.

How much time do you spend on social media a day, a week and how has it benefited your reporting?

I’m regrettably on it every day. I say regrettably, because I’m one of those hypocrites that bemoan smart phones, yet am always using one. Twitter is great for following events as they happen, but it also gives insight that we might not otherwise have.


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