Before becoming Senior Deputy Editor at ESPN, Cristina Daglas found herself on a winding path to a career in journalism. With little previous experience in sports journalism, though, it’s not where she imagined ending up. But the path to the Deputy Editor’s desk isn’t one she would change for anything.
Daglas attended a large high school in the suburbs of Chicago. During this time, she was certainly less than confident in her ability to succeed at a prestigious higher education institution.
“I went to a huge high school full of very, very smart kids. I did not think I was one of them,” Daglas said. “So I applied to all of the very nice state schools and I threw in the University of Wisconsin and the University of Illinois as kind of what I thought were reaches. Surprisingly, I got into both of them.”
While Daglas’ eventual choice to attend Wisconsin came as a result of unexpected application approvals, her love for journalism was not a last minute development. From an early point in her high school education, Daglas found journalism to be an outlet for her curiosity that no other subject could quite fulfill.
Her eventual journey to the upper echelon of journalism began with a simple class recommendation on the subject from her mother, who was a neighboring school’s guidance counselor. The class would inspire a life-long passion that many youths desperately yearn to discover for themselves.
“I took [the class] and I ended up loving it because, to me, it was an excuse to ask really invasive questions,” Daglas said. “I was just relentlessly curious and had a lot of interests. For me, [journalism] was an excuse to explore anything. I fell in love with it very quickly.”
Daglas continued to pursue journalism at the university level with the Badger Herald, where she quickly ascended through the ranks of management. Daglas finished her career at the Herald as Editor in Chief after working her way up from her first position as a reporter for the colleges beat — a higher education section which no longer exists at the Herald.
Surprisingly, given her current position at ESPN, at no point during her tenure at the Herald did Daglas work directly with the sports section. It was a plethora of experiences in primarily magazine journalism that prepared her for the opportunity ESPN presented.
“I think I’ve always been the type of person who moves very quickly,” Daglas said. “I was never terribly fearful of any of the opportunities that came and always just figured ‘why not try this stuff?’ On the one hand, it was being purposeful about all of your actions and, on the other, being open about what people came to you with.”
A formidable education that included a bachelor’s degree from Wisconsin and a graduate degree from the University of Missouri was just the beginning of this experience, as Daglas quickly moved up the ladder at multiple magazine publications. The most notable of her former jobs include editor positions at Milwaukee Magazine as well as D Magazine in Dallas, Texas.
Her propensity for success at these positions did not go unnoticed. After only a year at D Magazine, ESPN reached out to Daglas to offer her an opportunity to work with ESPN Magazine. The decision they presented Daglas with was not a difficult one for her to make.
“With the talent that was with ESPN Magazine at the time in terms of writers, it was just unreal,” she said. “When they listed out all the writers I could possibly work with I was like, ‘how could I turn this down?’”
Daglas made it clear to ESPN right away that she was no sports fanatic. Aside from being a lifelong Cubs fan, Daglas had little experience following sports in her professional life. They didn’t care though. She knew stories, and that’s what they were looking for in an editor.
After spending time with ESPN Magazine, Daglas took on the role of Deputy Editor for online publications and, shortly after, rose to Senior Deputy Editor. Even with her lengthy experience on the job, certain aspects of her new position were understandably intimidating. Specifically, Daglas would now work directly with industry legends such as the Senior NBA Insider for ESPN, Adrian Wojnarowski.
“It was totally daunting,” Daglas said. “I think that learning a new beat and learning any of that stuff is tough. Getting to this level and dealing with someone like Woj [Adrian Wojnarowski] every day, sure that can be daunting,”
Yet, Daglas always fell back on her talents as an editor that cemented her spot at ESPN in the first place. It’s why they hired her, and it’s what makes her one of the best at what she does.
You don’t always need to have the sports expertise of Zach Lowe or Adrian Wojnarowski to make a meaningful impact at a sports publication. You just have to be able to uncover the compelling narratives that are there for the taking.
“You have an expertise as an editor in different ways,” Daglas said. “It doesn’t mean you don’t understand the material, but it does mean that I have come to terms with the fact that I will never analyze a basketball game the way Zach Lowe does. And that’s okay.”
Time and again, Daglas’ passion for uncovering compelling narratives propelled her through the ranks of any organization she worked for. Even with underlying talent, few would doubt such a rapid career progression could come without stalwart challenges.
One of the most profound barriers, especially within sports journalism, is a lack of women in the industry. According to a report released by the Associated Press Sports Editors in 2018, in which ESPN’s staff statistics are included, just 10% of sports editors are women. While ESPN was a clear industry leader in diversity hires, the problem remains salient in the aggregate.
“It’s definitely male dominated and it is challenging,” Daglas said. “I kind of maintain that it’s just going to be more challenging as a woman in the field. You just have to work a little bit harder to gain that respect. But that’s okay, I enjoy doing that.”
Clearly, Daglas earned that respect through her hard work and personal talent — it’s what has allowed her to be one of many trailblazers in her field. But there’s always more to someone than their journalistic prowess.
Perhaps most important to her success is Daglas’ willingness to follow that profound level of curiosity wherever it may take her. The same inherent curiosity that inspired her love for journalism is instrumental in understanding her professional ascent. When asked whether she had any advice for aspiring journalists, Daglas offered some personal wisdom.
“You have to be passionate about this and you have to work harder than everyone else,” Daglas said. “Be open to opportunities that maybe aren’t incredibly in line with what you were thinking. Maybe you have the happy accident of ending up at ESPN in sports.”
Daglas began her journey as what she called a “punky high school student” with a penchant for curiosity. What makes her journey to her current position so compelling is that we can all see a piece of ourselves within it.
No matter the subject or endeavor, we all desire to find something in our lives that we can work hard towards in earnest. Cristina Daglas found that passion, and it has carried her to the heights of journalism.