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10 Questions with Ole Miss Grad Sharyn Alfonsi

Sharyn Alfonsi (second to right) is pictured with Extreme Splitboarder Jeremy Jones (to her left) and his two brothers. Alfonsi is working on a story about Jones for 60 Minutes Sports in Lake Tahoe, California. 60 Minutes Sports Producer Keith Sharman took this photo.

If you want to make it in the career path of your choice, be prepared to work your tail off. Sharyn Alfonsi graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1994 and has since made a name for herself in the world of journalism. Alfonsi began her career in Fort Smith, Ark., where she worked as a reporter, weekend weather anchor, photographer and editor at KHOG/KHBS-TV. However, her journey didn’t end there. Alfonsi has become an Emmy Award-winning journalist and currently works at “60 Minutes Sports.”

Hotty Toddy: What was the deciding factor in your choice to attend Ole Miss?

Alfonsi: I wanted to play football and I thought I could make the team as a walk-on. Actually, I just fell in love with the campus. The moment I saw the Grove, it was done; I was going to Ole Miss. I also visited the journalism department. It wasn’t a school then, just a building that was pretty gnarly and rundown. Dr. [Jim] Pratt took me around and showed me the student-run radio station and TV station. There were no, few, actual adults anywhere. Students were running it and having a blast. I wanted in.

Hotty Toddy: What would you tell your freshman self?

Alfonsi: Oh, I’d have a sit down conversation with my freshman self and tell my freshman self to relax. I was a woman on a mission — always busy, occasionally stressed. You shouldn’t be stressed at college, especially at Ole Miss. Also, I’d plead with myself to do something with my hair and take off the Birkenstocks. Birkenstocks are not a good idea, ever.

Hotty Toddy: Did you have a favorite restaurant or bar in town when you attended Ole Miss? What was it, and why was it your favorite?

Alfonsi: There was this wonderful place called The Gin. They had great live music. We would dance on the tables and sing country music  — Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings — at the top of our lungs. It would be packed and you’d get all sweaty and then cool off on the outdoor patio with a $5 pitcher, which was pretty much heaven on earth. I lost a pair of cowboy boots — still unclear how, my feet must have been hurting from dancing — on the patio there; I still miss them.

Also there was this restaurant, bar, movie theatre called The Hoka. It was just funky and laid back. Willie Morris would be there holding court; students eating nachos — still the best nachos I’ve ever had — just a wild group of people.  You could literally bring in a cooler so you’d have your favorite drink next to you while you watched movies. I believe you could sit on a couch in the theatre, although, I think the couch was pretty sketchy.

Hotty Toddy: Ole Miss students and alumni seem to be a tight-knit family while in school, and even years after graduation. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

Alfonsi: Definitely, I still keep in touch with my Ole Miss pals and I pledge allegiance to all things Oxford. I’ve been known to scream ‘Hotty Toddy’ out the window of a cab in New York City, if I see someone wearing Ole Miss gear. I had a soldier come up to me in Baghdad and say, “Aren’t you Sharyn Alfonsi?” I was like yeah — he then yelled at the top of his lungs, “Well then, are you ready?” It was awesome.

Hotty Toddy: In what ways do you see Oxford and Ole Miss has changed since you attended and what has stayed the same?

Alfonsi: It’s still the most charming Southern town, but you can tell it’s been discovered. There are condos, lofts where there used to be warehouses. Ole Miss has really grown up as well. I was recently in what was Farley Hall, now the Meek School of Journalism. It used to be this sort of crumby, ol’ building with a radio station tucked in the basement. Now, it’s state of the art — looks like network headquarters. Stunning.

Hotty Toddy: What inspired you to get into the journalism field prior to your time at Ole Miss, and what is it that drives you in your career now?

Alfonsi: There’s a long tradition of storytellers in the South. I like telling stories. It’s that simple. “60 Minutes” is one of the greatest platforms in the world to do that. We have access [to] the most talented cameramen and the luxury of time to tell stories well.

Hotty Toddy: While attending Ole Miss, what did you aspire to do post-graduation?

Alfonsi: This sounds so hokey, but honestly, I always wanted to work at “60 Minutes.” You can ask my parents. I’ve seen every show, ever. In the Alfonsi house it was football and “60 Minutes” — appointment viewing.

I was in high school when I saw this story on “60 Minutes” where Meredith Viera interviewed a casino owner. Through the course of the interview, he got so rattled, I think he threatened to strangle her [or] her producer. She was so calm the entire time. I remember thinking it was so powerful. I wanted to do that — the interview, not get strangled.

Hotty Toddy: What was your first job out of college, and what moment would you consider was your “big break” in the journalism world?

Alfonsi: I was the weekend weather girl at a station called K-HOG. K-HOG. Seriously. I worked 7 days a week for $12,000 a year and I couldn’t have been happier. I knew I was on my way.

The idea of “big break” in journalism is a fallacy. It doesn’t happen like in that awful Michelle Pfeiffer movie. You aren’t plucked from obscurity. News is a grind. You have to work hard every day. If you work tirelessly, you get ahead. There are no shortcuts.

Hotty Toddy: Early in your career, were there times when your nerves got the best of you before an interview? If so, how did you face those fears?

Alfonsi: I’m sure there were, but I don’t recall. Fear focuses you, right? I do remember the first time I anchored the “CBS Evening News.” You’re on the desk that belonged to Walter Cronkite — that was not lost on me. I got chill bumps when I sat down in the chair and definitely sat up a little straighter!

Hotty Toddy: What advice could you give to the soon-to-be graduates of Ole Miss?

Alfonsi: Work your tail off and be kind. Great things will happen.

Story contributed by Taylor Kamnetz, Ole Miss journalism student, tkamnetz@go.olemiss.edu.

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