The Art of the Interviewer

Posted on May 11 2013 - 12:26pm by Isaac Chipps
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Andrea-KremerThe year was 1983. Mike Quick, a wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, had just been selected to his first Pro Bowl, the annual all-star game in the National Football League. Quick was the only Eagle selected to the Pro Bowl that year, following an abysmal 5-11 season, and the only person of intrigue on a bad team.

At the Main Line Chronicle, a young journalist named Andrea Kremer had been keeping tabs on Quick for quite some time. She decided that she wanted to interview the Eagles’ receiver before he headed off to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. But in 1983,  women were only allowed in the locker room on game days. Kremer had to get special permission to enter the locker room and interview Quick. After being granted special dispensation by the Eagles, she finally had her chance to interview Quick and talk about what she loved most: football.

The day after the 1983 season ended, Kremer and Quick sat at adjacent lockers, just talking. After a few minutes of casual chatting about football, Quick looked at Kremer and said, “Wow, you really know what you’re talking about!” Kremer was quick to respond, saying, “What do you think I’m doing here?!”

Quick recalls the interview, and said that he planned to be nice and courteous, but didn’t expect much from the young journalist. “I could tell she was a little bit timid at first,” he said. The dynamic seemed odd to Quick, who was surprised to find that Kremer not only had an extensive knowledge of the game of football, but was also well prepared. “I could tell that she had done her homework,” said Quick. “She knew some football. She knew the right questions to ask to get to where she wanted to go.”

Thirty years later, Kremer sits in a new room, a classroom at Boston University, where she teaches a graduate level journalism class called, The Art of Interviewing. This is a change of scenery for Kremer.  She has covered everything from Super Bowls, to the NBA Finals, to the Olympics.  But her drive is the same. “I only know one way to operate, full bore, 100 percent,” she says.

When Kremer broke into the business as a reporter for the Main Line Chronicle in 1982, she was the first of her kind; a women covering sports was unheard of. “I was like a horse with blinders on,” Kremer said. “I couldn’t reflect on being in a minority because it would prevent me from going where I wanted to go.”

Kremer’s gender never deterred her from being the best at her job, which is one reason why she has become one of the most well-known and accomplished sports journalists of the past generation. The Los Angeles Times called her, “The best TV interviewer in the business of covering the NFL.” TV Guide said she was “Among TV’s best sports correspondents of either sex.”  One of Kremer’s own acquaintances summed it up best.  “She came out of the womb determined.” That determination has led Kremer through a career of many firsts.

In 1984, Kremer joined NFL Films, becoming their first female producer. There she met the late Steve Sabol, who became a mentor and friend to Kremer as she was learning the art of storytelling. NFL Films was where Kremer says she learned how to tell a story. “They literally taught me how to make films, and that was a pretty big deal because they didn’t have to teach me about football. They certainly taught me about writing. But they [also] taught me how to tell stories.”

While Kremer mastered the art of storytelling, her personal story took a new turn.  In 1989 she left NFL Films to become the first female correspondent at ESPN. Under the guidance of men like John Walsh, then managing editor of ESPN, Kremer rose to become one of the most prominent journalists in the field. When discussing the people who played a significant role in her ascendency to the top of her profession, Kremer says it’s important to note that all of her mentors were men. “The important thing to understand is that I [only] had male mentors because there were no women in the business.”

Throughout her career, Kremer has developed relationships with many of world’s best athletes, including: NBA legend Michael Jordan, Olympic gold-medalist Michael Phelps, and future hall-of-fame Quarterback Tom Brady.

Kremer’s relentless pursuit of her subjects and stories is best highlighted through her relationship with another NBA legend, 11-time NBA Champion coach, Phil Jackson. Last year, Kremer interviewed Jackson at his ranch in Montana for the HBO show Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, where she has been a correspondent since 2007. It was the first time Jackson had ever allowed the media onto his ranch, let alone allowed them to interview him there. But once again, it was Kremer who broke the barrier and gained access.

Kremer and Jackson’s career arcs synched up well. Kremer was there the day Jackson was hired by the Bulls in 1989. She was there before he won any championship rings. She was there when the dynasty began, and when it ended following Michael Jordan’s second retirement. “I spent 20 years trying to get that interview. More than 20 years,” she said.

In what she calls, “staying on the radar,” Kremer continued to politely and professionally pressure Jackson into letting her onto the Montana ranch for an interview.  His answer was always a kind, but firm “No.”

One day last year, Kremer received an unexpected text from Jackson.  “When do you want to come up?” it read. She couldn’t believe it. It was as simple as that, a text message. A text message earned through a generation of persistence.

When she visited the ranch Kremer still didn’t understand why Jackson had given her access to his escape from the public’s eye. Ironically, neither did Jackson’s fiancé, Jeanie Buss, daughter of the long time owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, the late Jerry Buss.  When Buss asked the iconic NBA coaching legend, he gave her a simple answer.  “She wore me out. She just wore me out. She just kept asking and it was easier to say yes than to say no again.”

The Art of the Interviewer

Andrea Kremer talking about her experiences covering the Olympics

Kremer’s drive to be the best in the business is something that she can almost pack in her suitcase as she travels. As an adjunct at BU, Kremer is rubbing off some of her charisma and passion to her grad-students, who are amazed by her tenacity. “She’s driven always to do her best. She holds herself to the highest possible standard,” says first-year graduate student, Alex Hyacinthe, one of the students in The Art of Interviewing. “I’ve seen her on TV forever, and when I found out she was teaching a class I thought that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. You don’t get to learn from people like Andrea Kremer very often,” says Adam Jakubiak, another first-year graduate student enrolled in her course.

Last spring, Boston University Associate Professor of Journalism, Susan Walker, asked Kremer to come in and speak with Walker’s students about covering the Olympic games. After the class, Walker pitched the idea to Kremer about becoming an adjunct. After much consideration, Kremer decided to take her talents to the classroom. “I’ve been in this business a long time and I’m really proud of my longevity and I feel like I know a lot,” Kremer said. “There’s something very rewarding about sharing what you know with young people.”

At first, it was difficult not being the one asking all the questions. “There was a pretty big learning curve but I embrace it. I love, love, love challenges.” But much like the rest of her career, Kremer has overcome her struggles, and has fallen in love with her students. “I’m really impressed by the students. They’re much more engaged, sharp, and motivated than I really was expecting,” Kremer says.

Kremer’s class has enhanced her students’ skills in many ways. “I never really realized how much of an art interviewing actually is,” Jakubiak said. For Hyacinthe, the thing he’s learned most is “That as an interviewer, your job is to get the subject to speak. It’s not to be heard.”

The interview with Kremer is drawing to an end. After nearly 45 minutes of discussion ranging from her career beginnings, to her current position at BU, there is only one question left to ask. What is the best piece of advice you can give to an aspiring journalist? She leans forward in her seat, staring into the interviewer’s eye, as if she is searching for that “X-Factor” gene that only the greatest journalists possess. “Work your butt off in every way possible, for every single opportunity. Learn as much as you can about as many different aspects of the business,” Kremer says. But most importantly, “don’t accept no for an answer. Just don’t.”

Kremer’s journey to the top of the field of sports journalism was never an easy one. She truly took the road one less traveled. The odds against her were always great, but she persevered because she loved the world of sports too much to give up on her dreams.

Whenever she does hang up the pen and pad, her passion and commitment will have shaped the field of journalism. “If you have the passion for something, then you will make it happen. It may not look the way you want in the beginning, but you’ll have the opportunity to make it what you want it to look ultimately in the end.”

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