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Sidelines to Bylines


Shwetha Surendran

Here’s the score: Shwetha Surendran, SOC/MA ’23, is the School of Communication’s inaugural ESPN fellow. Starting in January, she will be embedded with the sports network’s investigative and enterprise journalism unit, which includes Pulitzer Prize– and Emmy Award– winning reporters.
The “career-changing” partnership will enable young reporters like Surendran—a student in SOC’s journalism and public affairs master’s program—“to move from cheering in the stands and actually get into the game,” says Dean Sam Fulwood III. “By working side-by-side with the staff of a global media leader, fellows will gain insight and expertise that will serve them well beyond their time at AU.” 
An intern with SOC’s Investigative Reporting Workshop, Surendran worked the sports beat in her native India and at Boston University, covering basketball and Formula I racing. Interviewing athletes and coaches and scrambling to meet daily deadlines was instructive—but it also taught her that she wanted to approach storytelling from a different angle. 
“The sports world is wrestling with so many things: gender inequity, transgender rights, sexual abuse, geopolitical issues. The whistle blows at the beginning of the game, and it blows at the end, but the world doesn’t stop for the 90 minutes in between,” Surendran says. “Learning how to report on and investigate these intersections responsibly, holistically, and [with an eye] towards social impact is a challenge I’ve set for myself as a young journalist.”
The yearlong fellowship—which focuses on “the whole of the sports industry and its societal impact,” says Christopher Buckle, vice president of investigative and enterprise journalism at ESPN—will help her meet that goal. Under the guidance of mentors like T.J. Quinn, who’s led coverage of WNBA star Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia, Surendran will concentrate on sourcing, reporting, data mining, and freedom of information requests, splitting her time between ESPN’s offices in DC and Bristol, Connecticut. 
ESPN and SOC agreed to a three-year commitment for the fellowship—an experiential learning opportunity that is “part of our DNA,” says Professor Amy Eisman, director of the journalism program. And her student plans to set the pace for the AU fellows to come.
“I want to tackle big, complex topics in my work,” Surendran says. “But gender and sports, for example—how do you narrow it down? How do you find and tell stories that will make people care about the issues? Good investigative reporting—especially in sports—can do that. I’m looking forward to working with such talented, creative people and learning everything I can.”