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It's "Showtime" for Star Reporter and UM Alumna on "60 Minutes Sports"

Sharyn Alfonsi (BA 94) isn’t one to get rattled or star-struck, but hearing the voice of her childhood TV star crush outside the hair and makeup room as she prepared to guest anchor “Good Morning America” had just that effect.

“I heard a voice I knew I recognized, and it was Kirk Cameron,” she says. “I loved Kirk Cameron growing up. I had rollers in my hair, and I was like, ‘Get these rollers out, I have to see Kirk Cameron!’ I was so goofy and excited to meet him.”
Now a lead correspondent for CBS’ “60 Minutes Sports,” Alfonsi has enjoyed a busy journalism career, traveling the world and tackling assignments with a mixture of seriousness and humor, awe and toughness, humility and confidence.
Friend and colleague Mike Solmsen, senior producer for “CBS Evening News,” was impressed with Alfonsi’s talent and wit from the first time he met her in 2003.
“She’s kind of a ball to work with,” Solmsen says. “She’s not happy unless she’s getting dirty and meeting people. She’s very funny, disarming and always the first with a joke. Sharyn’s also a great writer and willing to do anything it takes to get the job done. There aren’t many reporters who are totally at ease living out of an RV, riding a tractor, covering a war in Israel, interviewing Martha Stewart, Willie Nelson or Bill Clinton. She’s at ease in all those places and with all those people.”
A native of McLean, Va., Alfonsi knew from an early age she possessed a knack for stealing the show in front of a camera.
“My parents have videotapes from when I was 10 or so of me and my brother doing the news,” Alfonsi says. “They’re really embarrassing, but I guess that’s when the seed was planted. As a kid, appointment viewing in our house was football and ‘60 Minutes,’ so I always watched ‘60 Minutes’ from the time I was little.”

Sharyn Alfonsi (middle) on assignment with the U.S. men’s World Cup soccer team in Germany

A natural athlete, Alfonsi graduated from McLean High School in 1990 with her sights set on Ole Miss’ track-and-field program. She enrolled the following fall with an interest in studying journalism.
“The first time I visited Ole Miss, I knew that’s where I was going,” Alfonsi says. “I wanted to go to school in the SEC and was visiting other schools for athletics. Ole Miss was just kind of along the way, and so we stopped in and thought, ‘Hey, this is nice.’ I ran track for four years and did gymnastics through the club program as well.”
A member of Delta Gamma Fraternity and a James Love scholar, Alfonsi enjoyed football games and tailgating. But perhaps the most memorable and formative time she spent at the university was in Farley Hall’s Student Media Center.
“I worked at the college station at the time called ‘News Team 12,’” Alfonsi says. “I auditioned when I was a freshman and was a horrendous weather girl for a couple of years. Then they let me anchor the news, run the teleprompter and kind of do a little bit of everything.”
Alfonsi with ‘News Team 12’ co-anchor Wilson Stribling

Alfonsi is best remembered by her former co-anchor for her incredible sense of humor.
“First of all, she was special,” says Wilson Stribling (BBA 94), morning news anchor and reporter at WLBT in Jackson. “When I first got to know her, we were summer school students at Ole Miss. She was a mainstay at the station already, and we got to be good friends. She was funny, bright, driven and had all of those characteristics of somebody you feel is going to be successful. She was so much fun to be around.”
Alfonsi on assignment
for ‘60 Minutes Sports’ in Hawaii

Alfonsi’s experience both behind and in front of the camera at “News Team 12” laid the groundwork for a thriving journalism career that continues to evolve, but her path to “60 Minutes” was met with the typical rigors and daily grind most aspiring reporters experience.
“The way it used to work is you would send out resumé tapes with a label on it that had your name and contact information to news stations,” Alfonsi says. “Most people would just put it in a pile or reject it, but some news directors would send back notes.
“Some would say you have too much of a Southern accent or you really need to cut your hair – you heard it all. One person actually said I looked too equine. People are rough on you and think you’re bulletproof. They forget that there’s a person inside, but the result is you get really tough. It’s so hard at first and takes a lot of hours making no money. But you kind of see what you’re made of and if you’re into it.”

Reporting Live

Alfonsi with Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins defenseman

Alfonsi landed her first job out of college in 1994 at affiliate station KHBS-TV in Fort Smith, Ark., serving as a weekday reporter and weekend weather forecaster. 
After a brief stint in Arkansas, she spent the next several years building her resumé, working for local markets in Rhode Island, Virginia, Seattle and Boston, covering career-defining stories such as the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal, Michael Skakel trial, Rhode Island nightclub fire and World Trade Organization riots.
Soon Alfonsi got the break she had been looking for with CBS Network – laying the foundation for an extensive career in network broadcast journalism.
“I worked for affiliate ‘CBS Newspath’ doing 150 live shots a day for people at all the different CBS stations,” Alfonsi says. “After ‘Newspath,’ I got hired to do the weekend ‘CBS Evening News’ as a reporter under Dan Rather. I remember the first time I sat behind the ‘CBS Evening News’ desk, which is Walter Cronkite’s desk. The music came on that plays in the beginning of the newscast, and I got chill bumps. That’s when it hit me that I was going to anchor the news. It was a great moment.”
Alfonsi with extreme athlete Matthias Giraud in Megeve, France. Photo courtesy of ‘60 Minutes Sports’ on Showtime

Alfonsi stayed with CBS for several years, covering numerous national stories during her time as a correspondent including the school shootings at Virginia Tech and the war in Iraq.
In 2006, she reported from the Israel-Lebanon border covering the war with Hezbollah and, later, the violence in Gaza. She served as substitute anchor for the “CBS Evening News” weekend edition and appeared regularly on “CBS News Sunday Morning.”
Alfonsi left CBS to join ABC News in 2008 as a New York-based correspondent for “World News Tonight,” “Nightline” and “Good Morning America.”
Then CBS came calling. Again.

Tick, Tick, Tick

In her first story for CBS’ ‘60 Minutes,’ Alfonsi investigates claims by Hurricane Sandy victims that insurance companies were altering engineers’ reports about the damage done to their homes to deny or lessen their compensation. Photo courtesy of ‘60 Minutes’ on CBS

“CBS was starting this ‘60 Minutes Sports’ show and asked if I wanted to come back to do it,” Alfonsi says. “I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I started doing ‘60 Minutes Sports’ in 2012, and that’s turned into kind of filling in and anchoring across the street whenever they need me.”
On March 1, 2015, Alfonsi reached yet another career-defining moment, making her debut on CBS’ “60 Minutes” with an investigative story about fraud after Hurricane Sandy.
“Being on ‘60 Minutes’ was a dream that I couldn’t even say out loud, so that was pretty amazing for me,” Alfonsi says. “I got so sick the week before that I had to get a steroid shot just so I could speak. It was three days before the story was supposed to air, and I had no voice. I thought, ‘Well, God has a sense of humor.’
“That was a dream, and I loved the story because it was about fraud and corruption. We were able to give a voice to a lot of people who had been quietly and not so quietly suffering. That’s why you work late and get up early – because there are stories that need to be told.”
Alfonsi with reporter Jay Nix at the 2014 White House Correspondents Dinner

Former co-anchor Stribling couldn’t be happier to see his friend’s career grow over the years.
“It didn’t surprise me when she went on to do big TV jobs, hopscotching her way across the country,” Stribling says. “I was thrilled when she ended up at CBS the first time around and then at ABC, and now to be on ‘60 Minutes’ is, of course, the pinnacle of journalism. It’s a thrill to see her doing that and to tell people in my newsroom when she pops up on the TV monitor that the first time I was ever on TV was right next to her.”

Coming Home

While Alfonsi’s assignments have led her around the world covering international news, she hasn’t forgotten the impact that small-town Oxford and Ole Miss had on her career.

Alfonsi interviews one of the winningest college
coaches in U.S. history, Harvard crew coach Harry Parker. Photo courtesy of ‘60 Minutes Sports’ on Showtime

“There’s no way I would be where I am today without Ole Miss,” Alfonsi says. “The school gave me a platform to figure it out enough to get my first job. That campus TV station that we thought no one was watching turned out to be pretty good practice for four years. I truly believe that Ole Miss has one of the best journalism (schools) in the country. There was always plenty of opportunity.”
On May 11, 2013, Alfonsi returned to Oxford to give the commencement address for the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, securing a National Public Radio nod as one of “The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever.”
“When I was asked to speak, I literally thought, ‘You must be kidding,’” Alfonsi says. “It was so fun and just great to be back in Oxford. Some of the graduates I spoke to have kept in touch, and that’s really cool.”
Alfonsi credits two UM professors in particular for having a hand in developing her into the journalist she is today.
“Dr. Jim Pratt, who has passed away, was always a big cheerleader along with Ralph Braseth (MA 92, EdD 96), who was a journalism professor,” Alfonsi says. “The night of my ‘60 Minutes’ debut, I got an email from [Braseth] that almost made me cry. He told me he was proud of me, and out of everybody I heard from, he was the one I wanted to impress. He was great and always encouraged us to try things.”

Seasoned Advice

Alfonsi delivers the 2013 commencement address for the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Photo by Nathan Latil

While the demanding, ever-changing schedule that comes along with being a news reporter can be challenging, and sleep-filled nights are few and far between, Alfonsi wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love not being in an office,” Alfonsi says. “Being out and talking to people are the same things that drew me to the job from the first day. It’s a blast. I’ve gone places I never thought I would go and get access to things I never should have access to. In this job, you can ask people questions without generally offending anybody, and that’s kind of amazing.”
In an industry historically dominated by men, Alfonsi knows she wouldn’t be where she is today without several successful women forging the way.
The halls of “60 Minutes” have seen the likes of broadcast journalists Meredith Vieira, Diane Sawyer and Lesley Stahl, to name a few.
“I have very distinct memories of watching Meredith Vieira when I was young, who was one of the few women to be on ‘60 Minutes,’” Alfonsi says. “I remember her doing an interview with [hotelier] Steve Wynn, where she asked him a question, and he flips out, pulls the mic off and walks out. I remember thinking, ‘Whoa, that’s the power of a really good question.’ I watched her and Diane Sawyer and admired them, but I didn’t have the confidence to ever think that I could do those things. But I knew I’d like to try.”

By Annie Rhoades. Photos courtesy of ‘60 Minutes Sports’ on Showtime.

This story was reprinted with permission from the Ole Miss Alumni Review. The Alumni Review is published quarterly for members of the Ole Miss Alumni Association. Join or renew your membership with the Alumni Association today, and don’t miss a single issue.

For questions, email us at hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

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