Find Your Passion: A Natural Born Storyteller
By Chris Bryant
Considering her last name, perhaps it’s no wonder University of Alabama journalism graduate student Allyson Angle loves finding just the right slant for each sports story she writes.
“I love sports, and I love covering games and everything, but my passion is storytelling,” says the 23-year-old St. Louis native, “just getting at what’s interesting about the person and what makes them special and what makes the story interesting.”
Finding the most powerful angle available, it seems, brings Angle contentment.
Contentment was in short supply in Tuscaloosa in the days following the April 27 tornado that blasted its way across portions of the city. Compelling story angles were not.
National media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, CNN and NBC Nightly News traveled to Tuscaloosa to report on the storm’s aftermath, including the loss of lives and the structural devastation but also the uplifting accounts of neighbors and strangers, college students and retirees, banding together to help those who were hurting.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Lars Anderson, a 17-year veteran of the iconic magazine, says a general concept for a sports story began taking shape in his mind about eight days after the twister struck.
“With the working thesis being,” Anderson says, “sports can help rebuild Tuscaloosa and help save Tuscaloosa because sports are so embedded in the culture there.”
What was also evident, Anderson says, was that Angle, who had earlier audited a UA journalism class he had taught, could both advance the story and draw professional benefit from helping report it.
“She was just absolutely critical to unearthing a lot of information that we got because she, as a former athlete there, had connections to former athletes that I generally don’t have,” Anderson says.
Angle says she jumped at the chance Anderson offered.
Drawing from her journalism skills — honed during her UA classes, internships and her leadership roles for Corolla, the student yearbook, and Alpine Living, a student-produced, multimedia lifestyle magazine – and the rapport she, as a former UA swimmer, had with UA athletes – Angle began working the phones on behalf of Anderson and Sports Illustrated.
Her first call? Javier Arenas. Alabama’s former All-American cornerback and all-time leading punt returner and current NFL Kansas City Chief, Arenas was in his Tuscaloosa home when the twister struck his neighborhood. And, five years earlier, he and Angle, both freshmen at the time, had a class together and developed a friendship.
“I had his number, and I knew he was in town, so I called him, and we set up a time,” Angle says.
That contact proved central to the story as Arenas’ personal encounter with the twister – he hid in his bathtub while the twister devastated his 15th Street neighborhood – was a key component in the story and resulted in the magazine’s cover image.
“He let me have a lot of freedom,” Angle says of working alongside Anderson. “He, would, obviously, run the show, but I asked before how he wanted me to help him, and he said, ‘if you have a question, ask it.’”
So, whether it was accompanying Anderson during interviews with UA head coaches Nick Saban, Anthony Grant or Sarah Patterson or numerous UA athletes, Angle was primed and ready with questions in hand.
“No moment is too big for her,” Anderson says.
Reading the published piece and being able to point to quotes she prompted with her own questions is “amazing,” Angle says.
“I’ve worked with a lot of young reporters with the magazine,” Anderson says, “and she displayed the sensitivity of a seasoned reporter that you wouldn’t expect from someone who is just wrapping up grad school.”
Angle also got an inside look as Anderson tweaked the article following exchanges with his editor, assisted with an online video the magazine developed for its website and even helped with the lighting for the magazine’s famed photographic shoots.
While her degree of involvement didn’t yield a “special reporting” tagline in print, Angle says the experience was “unparalleled,” and she expressed appreciation to Anderson for generously crediting her for her role in follow-up interviews he’s granted about the project to other media.
Anderson’s SI colleague, Peter King, referenced Angle multiple times in a column about the feature and referred to Anderson and Angle as “reporters of the week” in a tweet – no small claim to fame as King has more than 550,000 eager followers. In-state radio and newspapers reports have also highlighted Angle’s role in developing the story – creating a cascade of interest among her friends and family members.
“It’s been pretty unbelievable,” Angle says.
“She played a critical role in the whole story,” Anderson says. “She has a really special gift for interacting with people, and that’s a huge part of being a successful reporter.”
Dr. Kim Bissell, an associate dean in UA’s College of Communication and Information Sciences and faculty adviser for Alpine Living, says she’s witnessed Angle’s gifts and journalistic drive first-hand, on numerous occasions.
“Allyson is the epitome of what we all want to have in young journalists: she’s passionate, curious, self-motivated and an extremely hard worker,” Bissell says. “Allyson sets the bar very high for herself, and that drives her to keep asking questions and keep pushing (at sources, stories, research) until she gets the answer. I would say the skill that Allyson has that sets her apart is her work ethic and her motivation. She knows what she wants in her career, and she is going after it.”
Angle, now interning full-time at the Anniston Star, will complete her master’s degree requirements from UA in July. Prior to her role in the storm coverage, she met with Sports Illustrated editors in New York to discuss her journalism future, a meeting Anderson pushed for and which a profile Angle wrote on Heisman-Trophy winner Mark Ingram for the Corolla helped solidify.
She expects to meet again with SI’s editors later in the summer and said she sees working for the magazine giant as a real possibility in the not-so-distant future.
“Some people have told me, in the past, that I’m setting my sights too high,” Angle says about her goal of writing for Sports Illustrated. “Maybe, for most people, but I’m not most people,” says Angle, in a manner that comes across more confident than cocky. “I’m not going to let other people tell me what to do. I’m just kind of – the sky’s the limit, at this point.”
Angle, like the college town she’s grown to love, isn’t sure what lies ahead, but she remains optimistic.
“I’m just hoping for the best,” Angle says. “All I know is – I’d be happiest writing sports. Whatever ends up happening, I’ll be fine.”
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This story is part of the Find Your Passion series. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.