By Deborah A. Purnell
The first few months of 2013 seem packed in terms of career highlights for veteran news correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi.
So far, the 1994 University of Mississippi graduate has landed her dream job as a contributor for Showtime’s “60 Minutes Sports” and was chosen to deliver the keynote address at the 2013 graduation ceremony of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, slated for May 11.
While Alfonsi said she is honored to return this spring to Ole Miss, she wonders if it’s a mistake.
“I honestly haven’t gotten over the shock of the request. I still think a mistake has been made,” Alfonsi said with a laugh. “But I will admit that I am beyond honored, and even thrilled, that my alma mater wants me to come back as a guest speaker.”
Alfonsi is the school’s third commencement speaker, following in the footsteps of 2012 speaker Andy Lack, former NBC News president and CEO of Bloomberg’s multimedia group.
The university’s journalism department became the Meek School of Journalism and New Media in 2009, thanks to a $5.3 million gift from Ole Miss alumni Ed and Becky Meek. Dan Rather, former CBS News anchor and “60 Minutes” correspondent, was the speaker for the inaugural graduation ceremony in 2011.
“There is a buzz about Sharyn among media elite,” said Will Norton Jr., dean of the school. “And it is such a privilege to welcome back one of our own who is such a great reporter and well-respected journalist.”
Alfonsi began her journalism career as an Ole Miss student in 1990. Back then, the self-proclaimed journalism nerd said she spent every hour of her day with NewsWatch, a live, student-run broadcast.
“I worked every job, including teleprompter, anchoring, reporting, camera operation and more,” she said. “I spent more time at the Student Media Center than at my sorority house. But once I graduated, I knew I was ready for my trade. I knew how to use the equipment and was more than ready for my first paying job in Fort Smith, Ark.”
Alfonsi credits two Ole Miss professors for her success: Ralph Braseth and the late Jim Pratt.
In fact, when Alfonsi landed her first job at KHBS/KHOG, an ABC-affiliated station in Fort Smith, Pratt sent a congratulatory note.
“If I had to pick one word to describe Dr. Pratt, that word would be encouraging,” she said. “He made a point of pushing us to try harder, to work harder. It was Dr. Pratt who encouraged me to take advantage of everything the then-Department of Journalism had to offer. In fact, he was the one who gave me my first tour of the campus and of the NewsWatch broadcast studio. I still couldn’t believe students were running the place. I was sold.”
The one word Alfonsi used to describe Braseth was “hard-hitting.”
“Ralph Braseth kicked my butt in shape. He was tough, but he also had this cheerleading spirit,” Alfonsi said. “He was one of my favorite teachers ever because he forced us to use all the tools of this trade. He’s why I graduated from Ole Miss knowing how to work a camera and how to do production. Ralph gave us a working knowledge of the broadcasting world. He’s the reason I got my first job and he’s not shy about reminding me of that!”
Braseth, who was a member of the Ole Miss journalism faculty for 18 years before joining the School of Communications at Loyola University in Chicago in 2009, said it would take more than one word to accurately describe Alfonsi.
“Sharyn was one of my first students at Ole Miss,” he said. “She lived in the Student Media Center and was able to handle every position at the TV station. It’s hard to imagine where people will go when they walk away from Ole Miss with a journalism degree, but I knew that for at least a few years, Sharyn would be a journalist.
“She is tenacious and she gives Ole Miss students the knowledge they can go toe-to-toe with anyone, anywhere, anytime. From an Ole Miss sophomore with big beauty queen hair to one of finest reporters I’ve known, it’s been great fun watching her go.”
After a one-year stint at KHOG, Alfonsi quickly moved up to work as a general assignment reporter for WVEC-TV in Norfolk, Va. (1995-97), where she traveled extensively with the military, and as a reporter for KIRO-TV, the CBS affiliate in Seattle (1998-2000), where she covered the World Trade Organization riots.
She was an anchor for CBS affiliate WBZ-TV in Boston, where she covered the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal and the Michael Skakel trial, before joining the parent network in New York in 2003. Alfonsi left CBS to join ABC News in 2008.
The move to Showtime in February is something of a homecoming for Alfonsi. She was a correspondent and anchor for CBS News, and “60 Minutes” produces “60 Minutes Sports,” a sports newsmagazine that airs on sister network Showtime. At “60 Minutes Sports,” Alfonsi will do more in-depth reporting.
“This is my dream job,” she said. “It’s the one I’ve always wanted. It’s all so new to me. When I saw my name on the storyboard, I had to pinch myself. I grew up with CBS and have always loved its programs. Now I’m back. It’s like coming home and if this is a dream, don’t wake me up.”
Alfonsi and her husband, Matthew Eby, are the parents of two children, a 3-year old son, Wyatt, and a daughter, Flynn, 1.