Earning Her Stripes: Karen Auerbach

Karen_Auerbach_Headshot

A little chance may have led to Karen Auerbach’s journey into college athletics media relations, but the
path that she discovered has parlayed into a 15-year career that she loves.

Auerbach is the associate director for athletic communications at Temple University. She’s been at the
Philadelphia school since 2009, but like most folks in her profession, she paid her dues for several years
by working in internship and student worker roles. She also spent five years as an assistant sports
information director at Northern Arizona University from 2004-09.

Auerbach went to college at James Madison University, where she earned All-American distinction as a
member of the archery team. She discovered the talent from years of attending an all-girls summer
camp in Yellow Spring, W. Va. As a camper, she had counselors who were on the archery team at JMU
who sparked her interest in the sport. She followed their footsteps to James Madison in a move that, in
a round-about way, would lead to her career.

Auerbach confesses that, other than being a member of the archery team, she had no involvement in
the world of athletics prior to finding her niche in athletic communications. “I was an undeclared major
and served as a resident advisor my sophomore year,” she recalls. “The JMU field hockey team stayed
on my hall during their preseason training camp, and I became a fan of the team after getting to know
them. I started going to games, which led to meeting other student sports fans and going to other
games. Near the end of the school year, I saw a flyer on the window of the sports media relations office
asking for a summer assistant. The light kind of went off in my head, and I interviewed for the job. Once
I began work in that office, I never left the profession.”

She would spend two years as a student assistant in the Dukes’ media relations office, where she credits
Milla Sue Wisecarver for helping her get a strong foothold in the industry. “I’m so grateful for her
teaching me the right way to do things and for seeing my strengths,” Auerbach says. “She trusted me
and let me go way beyond a typical student office worker. Milla Sue was detail oriented, smart, caring
and just a true professional at all times.” Wisecarver worked for 38 years in JMU media relations before
retiring in 2014.

After graduating from JMU, Auerbach served a full-time internship at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.
She then took another internship at the University of Connecticut. Over the years, she’s covered just
about every sport imaginable, from basketball to ice hockey to track and field. She’s also seen the
demands of the profession change dramatically with the fluid nature of technology and social media.
“I’m young enough to have made a pretty successful transition into the world of social media, but even
for me, it seems like the focus keeps changing,” she says. “There’s live-tweeting, live videos, new apps
all the time and new ways to get our information out there. Gone are the days of finishing up a game,
posting a recap to the website and going home. Now, you’re making a postgame final score graphic,
filming the postgame press conference and posting it online, updating Twitter, Facebook and Instagram,
and converting game stats into a few different formats for the website. It can be a lot to handle,
especially if you’re covering multiple sports.”

In her current position, a typical day – though Auerbach notes she’s glad there aren’t too many “typical”
days in college athletics – starts around 8:30 a.m. Her array of duties includes preparation of game
notes and game programs, writing previews and handling other updates for the website, creating
graphics, working on media guides and attending practices to handle media requests. One of the sports
for which she serves as a media contact is men’s basketball, which requires a lot of focus at Temple.
“Basketball season is more hectic,” she says. “I’m in charge of media and credentials, and we get some
pretty heavy media coverage, as well as have nearly all of our games nationally televised.”
The extra attention required by basketball has been rewarded by a great relationship with Temple men’s
coach Fran Dunphy. “I always root for my student-athletes and nearly always like them, but what I’ve
found is that a coach you truly care about is what puts an experience over the top,” she says. “That’s
how I feel about Fran. I’ve been working with the men’s team here for two years now, and it has
reenergized my love for this profession.” In those two years, she saw the Owls go from a 9-22 record to
a 26-11 mark and a trip to the NIT semifinals in Madison Square Garden last season. “It was a great
journey, and I was proud to be part of it,” she says.

In a profession that tends to be quite male dominated, Auerbach has found herself in a unique position
where she has lots of female colleagues. She notes that half of the full-time directors in Temple’s
communications office are female, as well as both graduate assistants. When she previously traveled
with the Owls’ women’s basketball team, half of the directors at the other Atlantic 10 schools were also
women. “The female directors I’ve become close to are just great people,” she says. “I always say
female SIDs [sports information directors] just ‘get it.’ They aren’t wanna-be athletes. They usually
aren’t stat nerds. They’re just people like me who found themselves doing something they liked and are
good at, and they’re willing to work the long hours.”

Despite those lengthy days, Auerbach has found a nice balance in her life, recently becoming engaged to
her fiancé, Sam, and moving into a new home in the Philly suburbs. “I used to live in the city, but now
we’re about 10 miles out in the suburbs,” she says. “Other than the commute, I’m loving it! For the first
time in my life, I have a garden I’m attempting to keep alive and plenty of house projects to keep me
busy.” She also takes advantage of free time with a little Netflix binging. She says her current binge is
The West Wing.

Another benefit of owning a new home is that it has created a great reason for more frequent visits
from both sets of parents. Auerbach readily acknowledges the unending support of her parents as she’s
worked her way through the ranks of collegiate athletics. “My parents couldn’t have been more
supportive of my career and all of my life choices,” she says. “You do have to pay your dues in this
business, and I have been extremely fortunate to have been able to keep the focus on my job and not
worry about living paycheck to paycheck.”

Having grown up in Washington, D.C., Auerbach is a Redskins fan, while Sam, a Baltimore native, roots
for the Ravens. She also cheers for the Washington Capitals and Baltimore Orioles. “In December 2012,
a friend of my mom’s got Sam and I front row tickets at a Redskins-Ravens game at FedEx Field,” she
recalls. “I had been worried about freezing, but it was a balmy December day, and we had a blast! At
least I did because the Redskins won the game.” She notes that Sam ended up being okay with the loss
when his Ravens later won the Super Bowl that season.

Given her area of expertise, it’s appropriate that Auerbach’s advice to young women looking for a break
in athletics is to learn how to write. She notes that, although most jobs require a lot of versatility these
days, many tasks can be learned along the way. “But writing, it seems, is what sets people apart,” she
says. “I can tell from a cover letter and resume if someone will be a good writer. Bad writing, grammar
or spelling is an immediate red flag. So pay attention in school, get writing help from wherever you can,
and most importantly, read a lot! I don’t think anything makes you a better writer than doing a lot of
reading.”

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