Strong Women. Better World.

How to be a Sports Journalism Trailblazer with Nina Kolundzija & Asta Zukaite

May 23, 2021 University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace & Society in partnership with the U.S. Department of State Sports Diplomacy Division Season 1 Episode 12
Strong Women. Better World.
How to be a Sports Journalism Trailblazer with Nina Kolundzija & Asta Zukaite
Show Notes Transcript

Travel inside the world of sports media in Eastern Europe for this episode of the Strong Women. Better World podcast as Serbia’s Nina Kolundzija (sports journalist and host, B92) and Lithuania’s Asta Zukaite (on-air sports anchor, LNK TV) share their secrets for pursuing their passions as confident, fearless journalists. 

Carole (0:05): Welcome to the Strong Women, Better World podcast series, a global storytelling project, created by strong women using the power of sport, education, and social innovation to create a better world. Each week, we travel to another corner of the earth and we exchange ideas while exploring Title IX's ripple effects around the globe. Hello, hello. I am your host and ref, Carole Ponchon from Lyon, France. And it is my great pleasure to welcome you to the metaphorical ring, as two fearless women spar about their trailblazing journeys in sport. Buckle up and get ready to rumble. In today’s episode, we will travel to Serbia and Lithuania to hear from two strong women who share a passion for sports, journalism, and the importance of education in the lives of girls and women. In the right corner coming from Serbia is Nina Kolundzija. Nina is one of Serbia's premier sport’s journalists and serves as a reporter and host for B92, one of the country's largest news and media organizations. As B92’s first female anchor, she definitely knows what it means to open the path and be a pioneer. Welcome Nina, and please teach us how to say B92 in your language.

Nina (1:27): Hello. Hello. It's like the letter B, but we say just “Buh” and 92 is like, деведесет и два.

Carole (1:36): Great. Thanks a lot, Nina for this quick improvised Serbian lessons. And we are joined in the left corner by another media specialist, Asta Zukaite from Lithuania. Asta is the current lead on-air sports anchor for LNK TV, one of the two largest television channels in Lithuania. She knows what it takes to kick bias and prejudice out of the way when telling someone’s story, and I bet her punchline would strike anyone down in the ring. 

Asta (2:07): I’m Asta, nice to meet you. And it's a pleasure to be invited to this podcast, so I'm really happy to be here and I hope you’re gonna enjoy this podcast.

Carole (2:18): Ladies, I’m so impatient. The ring is yours. So off we go for round one of this episode.

Nina (2:28): Asta, I actually cannot believe it's a whole year, we haven't seen each other. How are you? 

Asta (2:34): I'm really good. And I'm so happy to see you Nina here. 

Nina (2:38): Okay, this was one of the toughest years for all of us. How did you spend it?

Asta (2:43): It was one of the hardest year for me. So Nina, you know, me quite good, so I lost my baby early this year, so it was really tough year for me, but I don't know, I think I proved to myself that I'm, I'm strong enough and now I feel really good. 

Nina (3:02): Yeah. I think you're stronger than you even know that because it was just several months ago and now I see you smiling and doing your project. I'm really proud of you. 

Asta (3:13): Yeah, I have a lot of jobs to do so it helps me. Work always can help people. 

Nina (3:18): Yeah. Tell me about your last project now that it’s on the air, the Dakar Rally. 

Asta (3:24): Yeah, I'm a new producer of Dakar Rally and we are official broadcasters here in Lithuania. So this is one of the biggest projects in my career and we have to create so much content now, so I had interview this morning, big interviews. So every day is full of emotions. 

Nina (3:45): Let's start now with some personal questions about traveling. If you could time travel, where would you like to go? 

Asta (3:54): I'm sure that I would go to the future maybe into the next century. I don't know, but I would love to see the future of sports, and would it be electronic sports and what would be popular there or not? So I would like just to see the changes of sports, new technologies, of course, in sports industry, but I don't want to see my future, but definitely I would love to see the future of sports. 

Nina (4:21): I love your answer because everyone would, I believe that everyone would answer like, “Oh, I would love to turn back time to watch, I don’t know, Michael Jordan, someone like that.” And you want to see the future of sports. I like that, that answer. So when you think about GSMP and the things that happen to us during that months. How do you reflect now on that period? 

Carole (4:47): Ladies, sorry to interrupt. This is the ref speaking, and I feel like I must raise a yellow card. You've just mentioned the GSMP and I bet we need to provide some context to our audience. So the GSMP stands for the Global Sport Mentoring Program. It's a sport diplomacy, women's empowerment initiative, sponsored by the US Department of State and implemented by the one and only team at the University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace, and Society. And actually the three of us are alumni of this program. 

Asta (5:23): Again, I want to be honest with you. You know, I have two types of feelings when I try to remember everything that happened there. I was pregnant there and I lost my baby, but it reminds me then I still was pregnant, but I think I proved to myself how strong I am and whatever happened to me, but GSMP made me really stronger and all my mentors at ESPN always repeat to me, “Asta, you need to be more confident because you are here at ESPN only this fact should make you really proud, stronger than anytime before.” I hope so. I hope so.

Nina (5:59): Yeah. So when you think about our team, did you imagine everything like that? Or did you have some kind of expectations over there about GSMP? 

Asta (6:08): Of course. GSMP changed me a lot. Changed my life, I think. But at this moment I would like to go back to these days at GSMP and especially at Bristol, because everything, what happened at ESPN in Bristol was, I think one of the biggest thing, because for me, it was like going to the Mars or to the moon and I had a chance to see the biggest sports TV in the US and the best in the world. I had a chance to see all the studios, talk with anchors, female journalists, so I was in my dream space. So if I had another chance, I would try to be even more active. So this experience just made me stronger, for sure. Now I realize, that all these strong women in US made me different person and Nina you was one of them, by the way. I hope that I took something from you.

Nina (7:06): Same here. You are so young and you already made your dreams come true. When we talk about your job, you've covered so many championships, basketball championships, which is also my part of job. What's your favorite memories from those championships? From those competitions? 

Asta (7:25): My number one, and of course my favorite memories for sure was in FIBA basketball world cup in China. At first, it was culture shock, the weather and temperature shock, food shock, the internet was blocked, but at the same time, having so much experience in my career, I felt amazing. You know, everything was so interesting and so different. And I really liked that everything around was messed up. So it was the first time ever that I felt so relaxed because if you are a good journalist, you need a good stories and you can find even more interesting stories in these kinds of circumstances. So our basketball team and the tournament with a big scandal, our head coach look at the cameras at our cameras and said, “there are three.” And he said, “this is a joke. It's not a basketball.” So, yeah, it was so many interesting stories around this and by the way, in China, for the first time in my life, I saw Kobe Bryant the first and the last time. So he was my hero, my favorite player ever. So of course I will never forget my experience with China and I hope I will have a chance to work in winter Olympic games, which also will be held in China in Beijing. 

Nina (8:42): Okay. During that period in the United States, I'd be listening about your LT SPOICE. Did you have time when you came back to Lithuania to work on that? Because Corona changed our lives and made barriers, if I can say so, in our, in our job. Yeah.

Asta (9:01): Definitely Coronavirus changed so many things and I think LT SPOICE, it's still a future goal. What I already did. So it was a 10 minute documentary stories in my TV news about young and talented girls in sports. It was extremely successful, but now I have a team and we are still brainstorming ideas, what exactly we would like to create. So, my dream is to create a girls agency or girls academy in Lithuania. But, you know, we will see.

Nina (9:35): That’s a great idea.

Carole (9:38): And that's the end of round one. We are now moving to round two with Asta interviewing Nina. 

Asta (9:45): Okay, Nina. It's a second round. Let me grill you with some questions to uncover your personality. First question, are you an early bird or a night owl?

Nina (9:56): Early bird, but now days, um, even more early, earlier bird, because not by choice, it's by job because now I'm doing sports in morning shows. So I wake up really, really early. It's sometimes at 4:00 AM, 4:30 AM or something like that, but I'm early bird. I like to wake up early and to have whole my day, because when I wake up late, it's like I spent the day in my bed and it's like, I wasted times. That kind of feeling. 

Asta (10:28): Yeah. I remember you always be morning girl. I'm curious to know if you could pick one sport moment that has made history, which would it be and what image comes to your mind thinking of this moment? 

Nina (10:41): My favorite sport is basketball, but if I have to choose one it's because that guy's from my country. And I think that moment changed the history of tennis. It's when Novak Djokovic beat Roger Federer in the Wimbledon finals, when he saved two match points. And I think that, actually, that moment changed the history of that sport because if Roger Federer beat Novak Djokovic, if it was different final, Roger Federer would be the greatest player of all time. But Novak Djokovic changed that. 

Asta (11:14): You know, I always have goosebumps when you're talking Serbian basketball. 

Nina (11:21): And you supported Novak Djokovic with me when we were in the United States.  

Asta (11:27): Always. Always. I'm a big fan of you and of Novak. It’s combined. Okay. Getting back to some reality. I know that the media industry, especially that of sport is very much male dominated in Serbia, and I actually remember when you introduced yourself at the GSMP and you mentioned that, and because I have the same in Lithuania, so I'm curious to know what is the number one behavior or comment that drives you mad?

Nina (11:54):  Well, when they ask you, did you really choose what you're doing? Or someone told you you should, or you have to do that. Like, it's, for some people it's impossible that women really love sport and sport journalism. So that was at the beginning something that bothered me most. Some people think that women choose for journalism to get married, to find husbands in, in the world of sports, which is also commentaries I hate to hear. That those two most of all. And when they doubt that we really know sports and the rules of the games. 

Asta (12:35): And what about discrimination? Do you still have this?

Nina (12:38): I didn't have that in the television I work for. I really did not, but I know that some of my colleagues, female colleagues did have, and I believe they have nowadays too. Usually when we travel abroad, when we go to big competitions, usually male reporters travel. In that press conference room, you will find like 95% of male reporters.

Asta (13:04): We have the same. Yeah. The same feelings, the same memories, I think for all the competitions. 

Nina (13:10): Yeah. When I think about basketball reporters from the international competition, I remember a few. 

Asta (13:16): But in this fact, you know, I'm really proud of myself and I’m really proud of yourself. 

Nina (13:20): Yeah, thank you. For example, from my country from national TV station, main national TV station, we never had female sports reporter on international competition, which is unbelievable for me, really. And it's not fair because I have colleagues in that television and I know their work in going and reporting in covering those stories. 

Asta (13:44): Okay, Nina, let's continue. I'm into this idea of building more streamlined path for women in media. So from one pro to another, I'm curious to hear from you, what would be your number one advice to aspiring female journalists around the globe?

Nina (14:01): Well, not to pay attention on commentaries, to follow their dreams and to work every days. They will have ups and downs, sometimes more downs than ups, but just not to give up. And that's the most important thing. 

Asta (14:16): Okay. And one final question. How are you a better sport journalist as a result of your GSMP participation?

Nina (14:24): I think I'm more self-confident and thanks to GSMP, I had time to reflect on what I did in my career. And I think in United States, I realized that I did some really good things. I never thought about that because you know, every day you keep working, working, working, and you don't have time just to slow down, take a look back and say, “Okay, I did interviews with that, that, that.” And that's really good thing because not many of my colleagues had the same chance and opportunity. 

Carole (15:00): That's the end of round two. We are now moving to round three with the ladies discussing about empowerment. 

Asta (15:07): Okay. Let's have a lightning round before our buzzer sounds. So what's your definition of empowerment, Nina?

Nina (15:14): Being smart, self-confident, solidary, and open-minded. What about you? 

Asta (15:22): I would say try to be the best version of yourself. I always try to inspire people. So you may never know how powerful your words and actions are, or even realize the impact they make on other lives. So empowerment is an unstoppable force for good.

Carole (15:42): Ref speaking here. I could not help but end this friendly fight with a sincere thank you to our audience. And guess what? The winner of today's episode is communities around the globe who are benefiting from greater equality and inclusivity. Thank you ladies for your priceless time and energy. You're the stars here and today, so I leave you with the final words. 

Asta (16:07): It was such a joy to share these few minutes with you. So I wish we could stay longer and know we will. Thanks to our audience for tuning into this episode. 

Nina (16:18): We hope you enjoyed and feel inspired. Feel free to share your questions and comments on social media. Remember you can listen to more episodes on your favorite podcast platform.