The woman in the locker room
How Rana Cash — Minnesota Vikings and Lynx editor for the Star Tribune –came to be one of the few female NFL editors in the country.
by MADDIE DEBILZAN | Journalist
Rana Cash is competitive, and she’s tough. As a track runner at Florida A&M, she didn’t have much time to report. So she did what she could: interviewed teammates and football players in the cafeteria, or after practice, or during a warm-up jog. Since she fell in love with journalism her freshman year of college, she’s been running full-speed. She became sports editor of her college newspaper. She earned five internships before she graduated, and landed her first job at the Miami Herald after graduation. Now, she’s living out her dream job, covering the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Lynx as an editor for the Star Tribune.
What does a week in your job and life look like?
“Right now, it’s pretty busy when you include the Lynx and a playoff run on top of the Vikings season. I’m in daily communication with my writers. We have three reporters on the Vikings and one on the Lynx. Early each week, we try to come up with a plan. What are we blogging about throughout the week? We have to think: Can we shoot video at the Lynx practice today?
“Our writers for the Vikings came into the office today and we did a podcast. So now my job is to put it on the site and promote it. I manage the social media part as well. And then, at some point, I have to sit back and be creative and think big picture: What can we do next Sunday?
“We have a story coming out on Monday that we’ve been working on for a while. We will do a wrap-up for Thursday’s paper. Right now, there’s a lot of thought being put into the Super Bowl. For an event like that, you have reporters from musical entertainment, traffic, business… There won’t be a department that won’t be involved in some way with super bowl coverage.”
What is one failure story that stands out to you?
“This is a long time ago and there have been many others since. I was covering the University of Texas as a beat writer. I was the football and men’s basketball writer for the Dallas Morning News, and I lived in Austin. There was a lot of competition between the basketball writers for the University of Texas. That was probably the most intense and competitive beat I’ve been on as a reporter. There’s a basketball player for Texas named T.J. Ford. He was really, really good. There was all this talk about ‘How long is he gonna be there?’ It turned out when he finally decided to go to the NBA, a television station in Houston broke the story. And, you know, it was hard to catch up because you had to have his phone number or at least contact his parents in order to confirm the story.
“I just couldn’t catch up with the story because I didn’t want to quote the station. It was a big deal because my bosses questioned how plugged in I really was and how well-sourced I was. It made them reconsider what beat I was on. So it was a confidence crisis in my career, and it taught me a lot about making sure I’m well-sourced.”
“This goes back a while as well. As a reporter, there was a basketball player at Baylor who was killed by one of his teammates. And the coach at the time, his name is Dave Bliss, he tried to contrive a story about this player, that he was a drug dealer. I mean, it was a really messy story. The coach ended up losing his job.
“But in this whole investigation of this story, I got a hotel room in Waco, Texas and I basically posted up there, and I ended up getting a tip from a policeman that these two basketball players, who were friends, purchased some guns from Wal-Mart, and they were target shooting out in the country on this huge property. So I went out to the property and talked to the property owner who had a trailer out there. Nobody else did that. At that point, I don’t even believe the police had talked to the property owner.
“We actually won a APSE award (Associated Press Sports Editor). The coach, named Dave Bliss, was fired and could no longer work in the NCAA. A few years ago, he got a coaching job at a small Christian school in Oklahoma, and he got fired there, too. He’s the worst.”
Can you tell us your path from high school to where you are now?
“I’m from Florida. I went to college on a track scholarship at Florida A&M University. I was interested in physical therapy and journalism, but I was intimidated by the PT process, honestly. I tried to work for the school newspaper, but it was a challenge because I was a student athlete on scholarship and it was difficult to cover things going on around campus on top of traveling for track meets and going to practice. So I decided to write about the football players because they got out of practice the same time we did, and they were in the cafeteria at the same time I was. So I started writing about them and the basketball players and my teammates.
“Then I became the sports editor of the school newspaper. One of our profs owned a local black newspaper called the Capitol Outlook and I started freelancing for him, too. I became the sports editor for that paper shortly afterwards. Then I started applying for internships, and I also wrote for my hometown newspaper, and there was a business magazine in town and I did a couple stories for them.
“I got an internship in Fort Lauderdale after my junior year in college. I was always doing stuff like that. And then I came back to school and did an internship at the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper. My first job was at the Miami Herald, and I wrote about the football teams and athletes in those particular sections. And then on Friday nights I covered high school football.”
Is it important to get an internship outside of sports?
“I’d say so. You have to know a little about courts, police reporting, features. Writing on news is probably more important than an internship covering the weekend community festival. If you were able to cover cops or courts, it would be very helpful in sports writing, because often times players get into trouble and you need to know that stuff.
What excites me the most is learning new things. And we’re in an age now where we’re learning so many new things and there are so many digital tools at our fingertips.
What excites you the most about what you do and do you ever get sick of covering sports?
“What excites me the most is learning new things. And we’re in an age now where we’re learning so many new things and there are so many digital tools at our fingertips. I love the challenge of audience engagement.
“How can you grow digital subscriptions at a place at the Star Tribune, which is a paid website? How do you get them to put down their credit card and pay $4 a month? And just from a journalism standpoint, every single day is a chance to start over again every day. I love that.
“There’s more competition than we’ve ever had. The energy in journalism today is really exciting.”
That’s what sports are. Just people who play games.
Do you ever get bored covering sports?
“I wouldn’t say I get bored doing sports, but I get interested in doing other things as well. I am interested in so many things that I like dipping my toe in the waters of news when the opportunity presents itself. I’m really interested in stories about race relations and social justice. And really at the end of the day, we like to write about people, meet people and learn about people. That’s what sports are. Just people who play games.”
How do you balance your work and stress with your social life? How much of your job do you take home with you? Do you dream or have nightmares about your job?
“I take a lot of my work home with me. I’m always thinking about work. Having your phone right in your pocket, you’re never completely turned off. And that’s harder today than it ever has been because it’s very stressful to disconnect. Particularly when you’re on a beat like the Vikings. It’s constant.
“So what I try to do personally is to not to be on Twitter or Facebook on Saturdays. I read the stories in the paper instead of online. I disconnect digitally. I sit down and watch a college football game instead of tweeting about it, or I get away from sports entirely and go to a movie or park or something.”
Tell us about your mentor or someone who influenced you on your journey? Tell us a story.
“I don’t really. I have some peers and I bounce ideas off them. I’m in Poynter, NABJ – National Association of Black Journalists. We’re all doing completely different jobs, but we all have this commonality in that we’re in the media, and so there are challenges or questions and we bounce things off each other.”
Even if you’re not in a writing job at the moment, if you have expertise or a niche — as opposed to sitting on your couch and writing what you’re thinking — that’s an opportunity to develop your voice. The more you write, the better you write.
What do you wish you had known when you entered the job market?
“I wish I’d known more about 401K and investments. I grew up in a household where that wasn’t talked about. I wish I had more confidence and aggression as a reporter early on in my career. I think young reporters can be very passive or overly aggressive.
“I would be a completely different reporter if I weren’t an editor now. I do sometimes wish I were a reporter. I miss writing. I miss the interaction and being out of the office talking to people and breaking news. But I like being on this side of it, too. You can manage the situation and help shape the coverage.
“Even if you’re not in a writing job at the moment, if you have expertise or a niche — as opposed to sitting on your couch and writing what you’re thinking — that’s an opportunity to develop your voice. The more you write, the better you write.”
Do you have any advice for developing sports journalists?
“You can always do features in sports. You should think of one or two stories that will require reporting that goes beyond the field, like an enterprise story. You need to come up with some kind of project. Something that has a newsy feel to it that requires you to interview people in the community.
“It should be more on the investigative side, but you aren’t trying to shut down the institution, either. The only way you’re gonna get a news story is if a player gets arrested or suspended, or a coach gets fired, or there’s a big fight. That’s the newsiest story you’re going to be exposed to right now. So think more enterprise, and take your time. And kick butt with them. Use those as examples of work you can do that’s not on the field.”
I learned a lot from talking to Rana – the most important being that she never stops. This interview alone was split up among three phone calls. She could only talk for a few minutes at a time because she had other calls or appointments. I used to think being a sports editor would be easier than being a sports reporter – you don’t have to go to as many games, don’t have to perform as many interviews, etc. But Rana’s constantly thinking about work, constantly going through social media to stay up-to-date on content, constantly thinking big-picture and small-picture all at once. She has to force herself to turn her phone off once a week so she doesn’t get too bogged down, to go for a walk or to sit at a park or to read a book. It sounds like she’s passionate about what she does, so she doesn’t mind if her career is her life. I’m not sure if I would be able to handle the chaos similarly.
This interview has been edited and condensed.