This past Wednesday, sports journalist Jemele Hill became the second guest of the Marist Sports Communication Speaker Series. Hill began the conversation by addressing her path to journalism and then spoke about the intersectionality between identity, gender and race in sports.
“Where I am now is never the place that I anticipated being,” Hill said. “I knew very early that I wanted to be a sports writer specifically. I started working on my journalism career in about the tenth or eleventh grade. I became a member of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) when I was just 16 years old.”
Hill is currently a staff writer for the magazine, the Atlantic, and has her own podcast called “Jemele Hill Is Unbothered”, which covers sports, politics and culture. She also has a show on Vice TV called “Cari & Jemele: Stick To Sports.” Prior to the Atlantic, Hill worked for ESPN and left in February 2018 after more than a decade with the company as a columnist, host and podcaster.
Speaking about her own path in journalism, Hill reminded students about the importance of internships. When attending Michigan State University, Hill had a total of five internships and not all of them were sports related.
“The way to survive and advance in this business is to get internships,” Hill said. “After my freshman year, I interned at Lima News, a newspaper in Ohio, and actually covered cops and hard news that summer. I know that may seem unusual for someone who wants to go into sports, but I needed to get some experience in hard news.”
Hill also emphasized the benefits of being flexible as a journalist. When her career first began, she was only interested in being a print journalist with a focus in writing. She never had an interest in being on television, but realized a few months into her career that it was beneficial to be versatile. She became a multimedia journalist for ESPN by writing, broadcasting, and hosting a podcast.
“I went there [ESPN] with no desire at all to do television, I still just wanted to write,” Hill said. “I wasn’t even there a year and TV was already 40% of my job, it happened really quickly. I love doing TV because I have fun with it, I can be myself and have more flexibility.”
Students were able to ask Hill questions about her work and journalism career. Many students were interested to know how she is able to have a political voice and still be fair in her sports reporting.
“Accuracy is not necessarily going to be objective,” Hill said. “If you are accurate, if you tell the truth and say what the facts are, it’s probably going to make people pick a side. Objectivity is always something that I have felt is virtually impossible to do as a journalist because your experiences make you more aware.”
She highlighted the importance of her identity as a black woman in the sports journalism world. Remembering her early days on television, she talked about always having to be better than her male counterparts just to get to the same place. She talked about how she was often scrutinized by her male co-workers for her appearance.
“As a woman in television, you are aware of the fact that people are fixated on what you look like, what you dress like, and unfortunately, people respond to your opinions and criticisms in a much different way than they do for your male colleagues,” said Hill.
Hill also addressed some of her previous political comments on Twitter that caused controversy among the public and her employers.
“As much as I love my job, my job doesn’t define who I am,” Hill said. “At the end of the day, I’m still a black person living in this country and to act like I can just turn that off just to make some people comfortable, I would be lying.”
Hill ended by reminding students that mistakes are going to happen in journalism whether it is in television or print. She left students with the idea that they can build from their mistakes and that mistakes often become the best and most memorable moments of a career.
“Journalism is not necessarily an academic pursuit, it’s a trade,” Hill said. “We are in the profession where you have to do it over and over to get better at it. Sometimes you have to make some mistakes in order for you to get to the point where you’re comfortable with those mistakes.”
Edited by Nick Stanziale & David Connelly