Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Maria Santora: Changing the Game at 22

Story by Ashley Burroughs
Photo credit Maria Santora

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Lights. Camera. Action. Maria Santora is living her dream of reporting sports and news. At age 22, she has already interviewed some of the biggest names in the sports industry and she is just getting started.

 Santora graduated from Emerson College with a Bachelor of Science degree in Broadcast Journalism and minors in Sports Communication and Marketing this past May.

In her undergrad, Santora had the opportunity to cover the Yankees' spring training and last year's  Super Bowl media week. While she was at spring training, she interviewed Brett Gardner and Joe Girardi. Being a Yankees’ fan, Santora was star struck. “They are like superstars to me," Santora says.

One of her favorite interviews was with  Atlanta Falcons quarterback, Matt Ryan, at media week at the Super Bowl. “There were some big time reporters at the Super Bowl and he stopped and came over to me,” Santora says. “He listened to my questions and I mean I was a college reporter at the time so for him to even take the time and acknowledge me was insane.”

Now Santora is a sports and news reporter for KVRR Local News in Fargo, North Dakota. “Never did I think in a million years that I would ever move to North Dakota,” Santora said. In less than two months of being a reporter at KVRR Local News, she has already produced and anchored her own show.

“I like to stay as energetic and bubbly as possible because that has always been who I am. It’s usually stats driven so I think those few things that I try at least makes myself different," Santora said. 

Santora’s advice for those who want to pursue a degree in journalism is to never be afraid to move  anywhere in the country for work and to live in the moment. “Realize the job you are doing so many people are wishing they could do it and you can’t take it for granted.”

The transcription of my interview with Maria Santora is below. Click here for audio version as well.

Q & A with Maria Santora 

Q: How did you discover your passion for sports broadcasting?

A: I would have to say that it started in high school. I had a media class that I took on a whim really and it ended up being my favorite class and it was right around the time I had to start looking into colleges and my parents were asking me what I wanted to do and I was torn between speech pathology and sports journalism and after talking with my parents I kind of decided to go the sports broadcasting route. I also have also been obsessed with Meredith Marakovits and Kim Jones who have been the sideline reporters for the New York Yankees so like yeah I looked into journalism schools and found Emerson and when I went to Emerson and started doing the broadcast stuff I mean they throw into the fire right away so your first day you are already handling cameras, doing man on the street interviews, and I loved it more so yeah I guess that how it kind of started.

Q: Who do you admire most in the business?

A: I mean I definitely 100 percent always say Meredith Marakovits. One she is the side line reporter for my favorite team but I just love the way she carries herself. I love the way she asks questions and they are not your stereotypical what you would expect questions. Sometimes she really does have those out of the box questions. I like that she can kind of hold her own and I know a lot of times guys look at girls and kind of think girls do not know what they are talking about when it comes to sports but she has been one of those female reporters that I think who can really hold her own against a group of guys and be able to debate with a bunch of guys and sound intelligent and knows what she is talking about. So I think her she will have to be my all time biggest role model.

Q: So did you have a mentor while you were Emerson during that time period or no?

A: Not really, I had a couple great professors. One professor she has been in the business for 30 or 40 years and that might not even be accurate. She has been in the business forever and her name is Marsha Della Giustina. She is tough and she is one of the toughest professors I have ever had. She really really pushed us. You would think you were handing in a story and it was the best thing ever, she would tear apart. I mean it did make our work a million times better but other than her I don’t really think there was anyone who pushed me as much as she did. She is very good at seeing others potential and saying that really isn’t your best and it could be ten times better and she was always right even when you wanted to rip your hair out because you worked so hard on something and she didn’t give you the grade you wanted. She always ended up being right so I would have to give it to her I would say.

Q: So how did you mold your craft as a journalist so you could set yourself up as standing apart from others especially men in the industry?

A:  That’s a good question. I don’t know I always try to be myself. I know that I have a good energy about me and I am very comfortable talking in front of the camera. One of the things I like to do I am a big stats person. I love stats. I love numbers. So I mean for fun that’s what I like to look up. I like to look up stats about different teams, about different players. I think when I combine all of those things it kind of has made me me and I am very different from my boss and the things that I like to talk about when we are anchoring and the things he likes to talk about are very different. I have also always been told along the way to never really compare yourself to anyone else so even though my boss isn’t the big stats guy or some of my co-workers aren’t the biggest stats people. I think that’s what makes my remarks on TV different from his and it kind of makes my anchoring and my reporting different from some of the other people at my station. So yeah I try not to compare myself to anyone else. I like to stay as energetic and bubbly as possible because that has always been who I am. It’s usually really stats driven so I think those would be a few of the things that I try to at least to make myself different.

Q: How do you remember the stats and different names? Is there a fun way or a different type of way you can remember them so you don’t forget?

A: Okay so at first it was really really hard for me to remember. I have a very good memory so when I was learning about a few teams when I was in Boston and covering The Celtics everyday I knew nothing about The Celtics at first and my internship was like okay well you are going to be going there everyday so basically figure it out and so I made flashcards like I was studying for a test and wrote down as many statistics as I could about every player, about the team, about their history. I kind of learned it that way and then obviously watching the game so often because I was watching games more than I have ever had. You kind of just pick up on things on your own and you kind of learn things. Even the stats camera tells you so yeah. It started kind of studying for a test and made flashcards and that has always been a really good studying tactic for me. I did that when I moved up here too because I didn’t know North Dakota sports. I hadn’t never watched a NDC football. I have never watched the University of North Dakota and so I came out here made my flashcards again and studied my flashcards and obviously I have been watching it a lot more but I mean there are some teams now that I don’t have to make flashcards for and I just know things from watching but when I am thrown into an entirely new city a team that I have never watched I found that flashcards have been my best friend?

Q: What has been your most surprising or interesting interview you have ever had being a journalist?

A: That’s really hard. I have been really fortunate. I have had a lot of great internships in Boston. So for Channel 7 I was interviewing for the Boston Celtics and Red Sox players and the Bruins players on a regular basis. And then for school I got to go to the SuperBowl and spring training. I got to interview some really really cool people. If I had to pick one wow okay. I would say I am going to give you a few options and you can decipher for me. Matt Ryan who is the quarterback of the Falcons. He was obviously in the SuperBowl last year and he is just one of those super down to earth people. He went to school at BC so I interviewed people from BC before I left. Everyone just said you are going to love him when you meet him. He is just one of the nicest people and he really was. There were some big time reporters at the SuperBowl and he stopped and came over to me. He listened to my questions and I mean I was a college reporter at the time so for him to even take the time and acknowledge me was insane. But he was awesome and then obviously like I keep telling you I am a big Yankees fan. I got to meet Brett Gardner and Joe Girardi in spring training and I was shaking. They are superstars to me and the fact that I got to interview them. I was star struck the entire time and was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to get my sentence out but yeah so anything them related I guess would be my top 3.

Q: So tell me more about your experience going to the SuperBowl? That’s amazing, such a great opportunity.

A: it was nuts. Emerson has really good connections. They send kids to the Oscars, the Emmy’s, MLB spring training, and SuperBowl and that was for our news organization called WEBN and so they pick two students to go every year and I actually was the News Director for sports so spring training trip is my trip so I plan the entire thing. I pick the people who went and organized everything. The SuperBowl someone else ran and I was fortunate enough to get picked. We went for the week of the SuperBowl. We didn’t go to the game but we went to media week the week before and it was one of the toughest weeks. I mean you are getting up at the crack of dawn and driving to these places sitting with the players for- I mean they gave you media availability for a short period of time so you are running from player to player getting all the sounds you need. You are coming back and editing it all, you are writing articles and getting it up on the website as soon as you can. It is a ton ton of work and in the middle of it you are kind of like I can’t believe I am here.  You kind of forget you are at the SuperBowl because you are so involved with your work. I mean I got to interview some of the greatest names in football from the Patriots I got to interview Matthew Slater, Danny Amendola, Like I said I interviewed Matt Ryan. So I mean I got to interview the biggest names on their team which was really cool and I got a lot of great stuff for my reel for that obviously since I was doing stand up and web stories everyday so yeah it was honestly one of the coolest experiences of my entire life but it was a lot of work at the same time.
Q: What advice would you pass down to others who would want to pursue the same career as you?

A: So yeah KVRR at Fargo, North Dakota. Never did I think in a million years that I would ever move to North Dakota. Everyone always told me that you would have to go to a really small market and move to the middle of nowhere and I kept telling myself yeah I am okay with that and then when it came down to doing that I kind of panicked. But one piece of advice is do not be afraid to pick up and move because KVRR has been an awesome opportunity for me. The month and a half I have been there, I have anchored alone. Produced and anchored an entire show by myself when my co-workers weren’t there. They have thrown me into the fire and kind of let me do what they do which is awesome. One do not be afraid to move to anywhere in the country because you are going to make it your home no matter what. So that was kind of my biggest thing about feeling home in Fargo and you will so that would be one piece of advice and two I just feel like you always have to have fun with it. I wake up and I actually enjoy going to work everyday which you hear so many people hate their job. And I think I am so lucky that I don’t have that feeling. I feel like you have to wake up everyday and kind of realize what you are doing for a living is awesome. There are some days I wake up and watching a baseball game for a living and that’s awesome. I think sometimes you just need to sit back and enjoy the moment and realize the job you are doing so many people are wishing they could do it. And you kind of just can’t take it for granted. It is awesome.

Q: Well, thank you so much Maria for your time I really do appreciate it.

A: Oh my god! No problem

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