Sports journalists, battle, don’t lose your souls, Jemele Hill advised

May 3, 2021

Jemele Hill is a sports journalist who is a contributing writer for The Atlantic magazine. 

During an April 30 Morgan State University J-Chat via Zoom, she discussed her career before and after ESPN. Hill explained why she attended Michigan State: She chose them because of their journalism program, not because she was a fan of their sports team. It was the best journalistic program in the state. 

Another reason why Hill chose Michigan State was because they had the largest college daily newspaper in the country. She didn’t have any affinity for the sports team. But, once Hill graduated, she became a big fan because she didn’t have to write about them. 

Hill also answered these questions:

What was it like to follow Stuart Scott?

She discussed working with her friend and mentor Stuart Scott. He was disliked and discouraged by brass for bringing cultural lingo to ESPN. He used to tell her that negative feedback should not discourage her and co-anchor Michael Smith. The duo decided that they would not do television in a way that would make everyone else happy and comfortable. They would do it their way or they wouldn’t do it. 

 

Hill left the Sports Center because she grew tired of fighting and explaining her Blackness every day. Hill and Smith were dragged into a culture war. Conservatives alleged ESPN was too liberal and political. Hill and Smith were able to battle without losing their souls. 

 

She’s very proud of the way they handled the situation. Hill advised two dozen multimedia journalism students that they should know who they are before going into a reporting job because if you don’t, what happens there could change who they are. 

 

Which of her core skills transferred over and what did she have to learn from scratch?

Only the methodology changes, the core of what you do, never changes, said Hill. A journalist is a journalist. The core principles can't change. The core skill set has yet to change.

All you’re learning is how to deliver what you’re trying to convey. Hill didn’t have to learn how to have an opinion or how to critically think. Podcast print and TV interviews are the same. 

 

How liberating has it been to branch off from ESPN?

Hill said she became the best journalist she’d ever been at ESPN. She will forever credit ESPN for that. She was just a writer when she arrived, but by the time she left, she did TV, podcasting and radio, which prepared her for what she is doing now at The Atlantic. She learned everything she needed to know to move on. Hill went from a front-facing writer to an entrepreneur. It’s OK to think of yourself as a business, and that’s most liberating. 

 

How does she manage to stay grounded? 

It’s always important to stay on your mission. Be authentic, said Hill, having access and providing opportunities to other people, especially Black journalists. Having an opinion comes in handy, but stays rooted in your truth. 



You know you're a real journalist if you can write a critical piece on your friend, she said. 



How did you cope with all your career changes?

The big thing is that you have to go in humble. When Hill started hosting, a humble thing happened. The first time she hosted, there was nothing in the prompter. Her mind went blank and the co-host stepped in. 



She learned to carry her script in her hand. She learned how to roll with the punches and to be better prepared for things that may go wrong. 



Overall, Jemele Hill gave great advice to future journalists and also expressed that she was able to transition her career because of all the skills she learned while reporting at ESPN.




The writer is a multimedia journalism student in the Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication