Sports columnist and broadcaster Jemele Hill would still choose journalism as a job today even knowing what she knows now, but when it comes to the state of journalism, she’s disappointed.
“Writing and storytelling is all I ever wanted to do. And I love this job just as much now as I did when I was getting paid $30 a story as a freelancer so that won’t change,” she told TheWrap. “Just because something frustrates you, it doesn’t mean you don’t love it. The reason it frustrates you is because you care so much about it.”
In a recent interview with TheWrap about her new memoir “Uphill,” Hill shared her insights on the field she has worked in for more than 20 years.
“I certainly see people who are very committed to the craft of journalism. I’m overall disappointed with where we are. I’m disappointed frankly, in our lack of courage,” she said. “I’m disappointed in how we are playing a huge part in keeping people under or ill informed, disappointed in how misinformation is so easily peddled and has been turned into a cottage industry to the point where the things that are right in front of people’s faces, the things that are tangible things, undeniable facts, there are outlets and avenues in which they can divide those facts and double down on their ignorance.”
Hill attended college at Michigan State University, graduating in 1997 with a major in journalism and a minor in Spanish.
“I remember coming up in journalism school and as I got more experienced in the profession, there was a certain code that we were supposed to do this job by, and a lot of us don’t know the code,” she said. “A lot of us have abandoned the code. And it’s cost people’s lives. That’s not to say the media is solely responsible for these things, but it is to say, we are complicit. We’re not just complicit, we’re accessories in some of what has happened and how very serious issues in this country are covered.”
Hill began her journalism career in 1997 as a general assignment sportswriter for the Raleigh News & Observer. From 1999 to 2005, she worked as a sportswriter with the Detroit Free Press, covering Michigan State football and basketball. In 2005, she pivoted to the position of sports columnist at the Orlando Sentinel, becoming the only African American female sports columnist in North America. She details this experience in the chapter of her book titled ‘1 out of 405,’ signaling to her lone position at the Sentinel out of 405 daily newspapers.
“I was the only Black female sports columnist at a daily newspaper in North America that was one out of 405 daily newspapers, and I wrote, of course, about my growth and development as a writer, but I also wrote about the fact that that’s very isolating and, frankly, embarrassing for my profession that that was the case,” she said. “I’m a good writer, and a good columnist and a good reporter, but I ain’t that damn good where I’m the only one or should be the only one.”
“It said a lot about where the industry was. It said a lot about the lack of value that they frankly put on Black voices that they frankly, put on women’s voices in sports,” she added. “I thought it was an important turning point in my career because I was making the pivot from being beat writer to columnist.”
After moving to ESPN Sportscenter, “The Undefeated” and then “The Atlantic,” Hill compares journalism to sports in that the most important thing to get out of writing is reps. She advises beginning journalists to train more by focusing on those reps and less on the desire to ‘build a brand.’
“I would say focus less on becoming a brand, which I don’t even understand what that means, and focus entirely on doing the work. The work is your brand. You do great work, people will find you, people will read you, people will listen to you,” she said. “You have to be about grinding and making sure you’re getting repetition to do that job better. We are in a field of repetition. You’re only gonna get better at it, the more you keep doing it. And so if the focus is on that, and operating with integrity, I think you will be okay in the long run. All those things that you imagined for yourself, you will get them.”
And even after practice making progress, Hill gave the example that writing her book provided a journalistic challenge of framing her story.
“The old school journalist in me always thinks there should be — any story you tell — there should be a beginning, middle and end. And there comes a point that beyond just thinking about the book emotionally, I’m thinking about it structurally,” she said. “I didn’t know where I was going to go. I would say the two hardest things to write were the introduction and the end, I was like, ‘Should I bring it fully up to speed now, should I stop at a certain point? What’s my kicker like, in terms of how you end it?’ I got it after a while.”