Dispel any doubt that Mina Kimes ’07 was a true-blue Yalie: upon being informed that Gourmet Heaven — known to Yale faithful as GHeav — was now “Good Nature Market,” Kimes’ mouth dropped open. “Shut up,” she said. After graduating from Yale, Kimes worked as an investigative reporter at Fortune and Bloomberg. She published several exposes that gained significant traction, before catching ESPN’s eye with a personal essay about how her love for the Seattle Seahawks brought her closer to her father. Kimes was hired by ESPN The Magazine in 2014, where she is currently a senior writer and columnist. She returned to New Haven to give a Master’s Tea at Ezra Stiles College, before sitting down with WKND to discuss her career as an investigative reporter, sports journalist and all-around badass.
Q: What have you brought from Yale into your career?
A: I didn’t do a lot of journalism at Yale, but — and this is going to sound super nerdy and strange — I really loved writing papers. Especially long ones. I loved diving into unfamiliar territory, loved the feeling of mastering an esoteric subject. My job as a features writer is very similar: I spend weeks, or months, learning everything I can about one thing, then I put those lessons into a story.
Q: You mentioned, in your Master’s Tea, that making the leap into investigative journalism was not the most comfortable move. How did you ease that transition? At what point did you realize you were comfortable doing that type of work?
A: I’m not a naturally confrontational person, and investigative journalism requires a great deal of confrontation — making calls to people who don’t want to be called and asking questions they don’t necessarily want to hear. It can be very awkward! Over the years, I’ve gotten better at subjugating my discomfort by focusing on the reasons why a person might want to talk to me, whether it’s setting the record straight or making sure his or her voice is heard.
Q: What skills did you learn in investigative journalism that have come in handy in your career as a sports journalist?
A: Working as an investigative journalist taught me to embrace my ignorance — to admit to myself, and to the people I meet, that I don’t always know what I’m talking about. This has proved tremendously useful in sports, where I’m often interviewing people with vastly different lives and experiences from my own.
Q: What drove you to write the piece about the Seahawks and your father?
A: I don’t do a whole lot of personal writing, mainly because I’ve always been so busy with my work. But that piece had been cooking in the back of my mind for a while — mainly because the team had become so important to me and my family, and I was sort of puzzling over how that had happened. I wrote the essay on a plane trip back from Seattle, and posted it on my personal website when I returned. I was really surprised that people read it, to be honest.
Q: There have been several ugly incidents of domestic violence, concussion cover-ups and morally dubious action from the NFL in the last few years. How do you reconcile your love of the sport with the league’s problems?
A: It’s not always easy! A lot of people have turned away from the sport because they’re frustrated or disturbed by these issues, and I totally get that. But I still love the game. As a reporter, I feel that I can contribute more to the discussion by engaging with these problems and shining a light on them.
Q: How is being a female sports reporter an advantage and a disadvantage?
A: I think it’s mostly an advantage. So many people write about sports, covering the same teams, players and issues, which makes it hard to be original. As a woman, I naturally have a point of view that’s different from most reporters. It allows me to relate to my subjects differently and to think of ideas and approaches that are unique. The only real downside is that strangers on the Internet are more likely to lobby personal attacks — this is a universal truth for female sportswriters — but I choose not to see that as a disadvantage.
Q: Speaking of the Internet, your Twitter feed is a phenomenal mix of illustrations, jokes and your opinions on sports, politics, news, etc. What constitutes a great tweet, in your opinion?
A: If more than one person responds to it with the cry-laugh emoji, it’s a good tweet.
Q: What advice would you give an aspiring reporter?
A: It’s very, very hard to come up with interesting and original ideas, especially when you’re first starting out. There are a couple things you can do: Read EVERYTHING, focusing on unexplored questions and angles, and talk to strangers. It took me a while to figure out how to look for good stories — it’s an entirely different way of seeing the world.