How Morehouse is changing representation within the media one graduate at a time
By: C. Isaiah Smalls, II
Just under a mile away from The White House, there hangs a sign in the Holocaust Museum listing the early warning signs of fascism. Among the 14, the one that reads “controlled mass media” stands out the most. Disguised as nationalism, Hitler was able to rally support through the vast distribution of propaganda in newspapers, books, posters and even cinema.
More than three quarters of a century later, the mass media’s influence has grown tremendously. From network television to social media to the internet, people can now consume news in more ways than ever. Unfortunately, however, the percentage of Blacks within media has not experienced the same exponential growth.
This lack of representation is what drove the creation of Morehouse College’s Journalism and Sports program. On Wednesday, February 15th, the program held its second annual “Rising Stars in the Media” event showcasing four recent graduates who have pursued different careers in either journalism or communications. This event provided students an opportunity to not only hear the challenges and advantages associated with being a young, Black male in a primarily Caucasian environment but also engage with the panelists at the event’s conclusion.
The importance of this event cannot be understated. Per the Pew Research Center, Blacks only made up 4.7-percent of all newspaper employment and 11-percent of television newsrooms in 2014. Where this discrepancy becomes extremely ironic and even more apparent is in the field of sports journalism.
“Just being a young, Black male in a landscape of mostly older, white males; that’s a huge challenge,” said Quincy Young ’13, a NBA associate producer at Bleacher Report, “to the point where I am pitching ideas weekly for things that my managers or senior managers might not have any context for.”
Young, who originally came to Morehouse in 2010 as a transfer student, found his passion for sports journalism through Ron Thomas, the program’s director. During the 2010–11 school year, Thomas took his sports reporting class, of which Young was apart of, to Turner Sports. There, Young knew he had to capitalize:
“When he [Thomas] announced the tour, I saw it as my opportunity to get my foot in the door,” Young said, “‘like now you’re in the building, you know you need to try to make something happen on this tour.’ A lot of my classmates, you know they had on their jeans and their t-shirts and [it] was just a regular class for them but for me, it was my opportunity.”
The trip connected Young with the right people in the hiring department and he was eventually hired as a logger for NBA TV. After graduation, Young worked briefly for ESPN before ending up with Bleacher Report. Exposure, says Young, was the key to finding his passion:
“Before meeting Mr. Thomas, I had no exposure to the journalism–production world at all,” Young said. “…I would read the publications, I would read Sports Illustrated, I’d watch SportsCenter, you know, but I didn’t know what it took to put that together. So him just opening that door to my life, made me realize what I wanted to do with my life.”
What is ironic about the situation is that with the advent of new technology, sports media companies are still figuring out new ways to both keep and relate to their consumers. The problem is that the majority of the industry doesn’t possess the younger generation’s perspective.
“My greatest asset in this industry is my culture,” Young said. “It’s where I come from.”
According to reports issued by Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, approximately 86-percent of all editors, columnists and reporters were white while the NFL and NBA are primarily black with percentages of 69.7 and 81.7 respectively. This disparity is egregious; it shows why players like Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson and Adrian Peterson are labelled incorrectly or have received bad reputations. Without having someone that looks like them in the media, they have no one to defend their actions or offer an alternative narrative.
Despite the lack of current representation, this alternative narrative is key to both equal representation as well as increasing profitability.
Companies like Bleacher Report and ESPN are slowly beginning to realize this. Bleacher Report excels at reaching millennials by scouring the world of amusing memes, fascinating fight comps and outrageous opinions that is social media. Through keenly observing social media, they are able to react and produce content that relates to whatever trend currently dominates the realms of social media.
In May of 2016, ESPN launched The Undefeated, a website designed specifically to cater to Black audiences. Additionally, ESPN recently named Michael Smith and Jemele Hill to host their prime time 6 o’clock SportsCenter.
The more popular Black culture becomes, the quicker it becomes monetized. This is the reality of being Black in America; the solution therefore lies in having members of the Black community in the media controlling the narrative.
Morehouse’s “Rising Stars in the Media” panel exemplifies their commitment to changing the narrative. Every graduate from the Journalism and Sports program serves a one giant step towards equal media representation. Though the journey has been long and weary, change will never come if each generation pushes the onus onto the next.