Black Media Powerhouses: Celebrating News Icons of the Past, Present, and Future

black media powerhouses

I was a TV reporter in the early ’90s. I was the only person of color at the first station where I worked.

When I landed at my next station, I was one of two African-Americans in the newsroom. The other was a photographer.

We immediately bonded and still are friends today.

Since then, newsrooms have made progress creating a more diverse workforce. But there’s still work to be done.

The American Society of News Editors last fall surveyed 598 newspapers and 63 online-only news sites and found that minorities accounted for 16.31 percent of employees at daily newspapers, compared with 16.65 percent last year. In digital-only newsrooms, 24.3 percent were minorities compared with 23.3 percent last year.

Another survey — this one conducted by the Radio Television News Directors Association and Hofstra University — found minorities in TV news jumped more than a full point to 24.4 percent, compared with a year ago. Yet, it hasn’t kept up with the pace of minority growth in the U.S., which according to the survey, has grown 12.1 points. Minorities in TV news increased half that — at 6.6 points.

This got us thinking.

Who are the African-Americans writers, reporters, and editors whose stories we read and watch every day?

It wasn’t long before we came up with nearly a dozen of our favorites. Then, I posed the question to friends, and the list doubled within hours.

Below are 25 outstanding journalists who stood out to us, 10 of whom we profiled. You may recognize some names; others are up and coming.

Our goal was to include a range of journalists, representing various mediums and who cover different types of news. We know there are many more talented and deserving Black journalists. We welcome additions to this growing list.

Those Who Paved the Way

Bernard Shaw

The award-winning journalist began his career with CBS as a political reporter in the early 1970s and served as Latin American correspondent with ABC News, before joining CNN in 1980. Shaw served there as lead news anchor for two decades, covering stories like the Persian Gulf War, Tiananmen Square protests, death of Princess Diana, Oklahoma City bombing, and impeachment of President Bill Clinton, to name a few.

One of Shaw’s most memorable and controversial moments was while serving as moderator of the 1988 presidential debate, when he asked anti-death penalty Democratic candidate and Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis whether he would support the death penalty of a man who raped and killed his wife. It was considered among the turning points of the election, which ultimately was won by George Bush. Shaw retired after 20 years with CNN in 2001.

Ed Bradley

For four decades, the salt-and-pepper-bearded, earring-wearing 60 Minutes correspondent brought us compelling stories from around the world. Bradley’s storytelling ability landed him a reporting job with Philadelphia’s WDAS-FM after college. It wasn’t long after that NY’s WCBS radio hired him, and he remained with CBS News for his entire career, transitioning to the network TV division in 1971. Bradley worked in CBS’ Paris, Saigon, and Washington bureaus, winning a George Polk Award for his story about Cambodian refugees. In 1981, he got a call from Don Hewitt, 60 Minutes founding executive producer, inviting him to join the news agency.

The Emmy-award winning Bradley was a consummate interviewer. Segments have included Muhammad Ali, Timothy McVeigh, Michael Jackson, Robin Williams, and Lena Horne. He also reported on the rape allegations against Duke University lacrosse players, which won a Peabody award.  In 2006, Bradley died due to complications from chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He was 65.

Gwen Ifill

The longtime PBS anchor, Ifill was the moderator and managing editor of Washington Week and co-anchor of the daily PBS NewsHour. Ifill covered seven presidential campaigns and moderated numerous live events and town halls centered around issues like gun violence, and race and voter concerns.

She was the only African-American and only woman to moderate the 2004 vice presidential debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards. Four years later, when the 2008 vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin came around, nothing had changed as she was again the only female person of color.

Prior to joining PBS in 1999, Ifill worked the political beat for NBC News, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

After a year-long battle with cancer, Ifill passed away Nov. 2016.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault

When she was barely a teenager, Charlayne Hunter-Gault knew she wanted to be a journalist.

Ironically, when she became one of two of the first Black students to enter the University of Georgia in 1961, Hunter-Gault was the subject of the story. The experience fueled her desire to report on stories of civil rights and social injustice.

Hunter-Gault started out as an investigative report and anchor with WRC-TV in Washington, DC. After a short time there, she moved on to The New York Times as its metro reporter and focused on Black communities. She’s best known for her work with The MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour with PBS, where she won Emmy and Peabody awards for her series on South Africa. She was one of the first Black women on national television at the time. Hunter-Gault left PBS in 1997 and joined NPR as its Africa correspondent. Today, she’s based in South Africa as the CNN bureau chief.

Today’s Pioneers

Joy Reid, MSNBC

Would it surprise you to learn that the MSNBC host of her own show AM Joy, didn’t start out in journalism? Reid’s plan was to pursue medicine, but after losing her mother shortly before she began college, she changed course and went into filmmaking at Harvard University. In 1997, Reid left her job at a business consulting firm in NY and went to Miami to kick off her journalism career as a morning show producer. From there, she co-hosted a morning talk show on Radio One before taking on the managing editor position at The Grio. Reid joined MSNBC in 2014 and serves up news and analysis on her weekend show, AM Joy.

In a recent Variety article, Yvette Miley, senior vice president of MSNBC and NBC News, said Reid has the ability to “break down complex things to make it something that is digestible for viewers.”

“We are all drinking from a fire hose of information, and I think Joy wants to slow us down a little bit — not to go away from the news but to provide more context and perspective around the news we are covering,” Miley said.

Charles Blow, The New York Times

Charles Blow’s rise to an Op-Ed columnist at one of the most prestigious news outlets in the world began in the graphics department. Blow is an award-winning graphic artist, who started at The Detroit News before joining the graphics department of The New York Times. Under his leadership as the paper’s graphics director, The Times won a Best in Show award from the Society for News Design for its information graphics coverage of 9/11.

In 2008, Blow became a Saturday columnist for the Times, where he eloquently paints a picture with his words, like he used to with his images.

Today his twice-weekly column appears in the paper’s Monday and Thursday editions. He makes no apologies for his criticism of President Trump and often is a guest on CNN and MSNBC  going head-to-head with Trump backers and conservatives.

April Ryan, American Urban Radio Network

With 21 years as a White House correspondent, April Ryan has covered four WH administrations. She is among the Black members of the White House press corps and often is the only person reporting the impact of WH policy on the Black community. Covering the Donald Trump administration has presented new challenges for Ryan, whose questions sometimes are dismissed and discredited as fake news by WH Press Secretary Sarah Saunders and/or President Trump himself. Ryan has been called names by members of the administration and even has received death threats.

During a Washington Post live panel, “Bridging the gap: Rebuilding trust in media” last month, Ryan talked about reporting under such circumstances, citing a Martin Luther King, Jr., quote taught to her by her mother.

“She told me ‘it’s not what they call you, it’s what you answer to,'” says Ryan.

“When you say fake news and it’s targeted at people, it’s putting a target on our heads,” she said. “Just because you ask questions of a president, people look at it like I hate him or something. I’m reporting to you things you may not like, but they’re facts.”

Jemele Hill, The Undefeated

You don’t see many people who look like Jemele Hill in sports news – Black and female. But Hill has made a career of it. She first served as a sports writer in North Carolina; later, she worked at the Detroit Free Press.

“Maybe a lot of people probably didn’t know this, but I spent the majority of my career in print journalism,” Hill said, during a recent interview with the Al Sharpton’s PoliticsNation. “ESPN hired me, in 2006, to be a print columnist and so I often, you know, wrote commentary.”

Her print work lead to several appearances on ESPN programs, where she did on-air reporting of college football and NBA playoffs. Her popular podcast, His and Hers, with Michael Hill, earned her more air time on ESPN and last February, Hill landed a coveted evening anchor spot on ESPN’s SportsCenter.

Along the way, Hill was criticized for comments she made comparing the Boston Celtics to Hitler during the 2008 NBA playoffs. In September 2017, she called President Trump a white supremacist on her personal Twitter account. In both cases, ESPN suspended Hill for a period.

Earlier this month, Hill gave up her ESPN hosting gig to join the cable network’s The Undefeated, sparking questions about whether the move was voluntary.

Hill sent the record straight: “Given that it’s a site about the intersection between sports, African Americans, race, culture, it mixes all those things that I think are even more vital, now, to discuss and I wanted to do it on a platform that was deeply aligned with who as I was as a person.”

Up and Coming 

Morgan DeBaun, Blavity

Morgan DeBaun is the perfect example of millennial entrepreneurship.

DeBaun took an informal lunch gathering of fellow African-American classmates at predominantly white Washington University and turned it into online platform where Black millennials can share ideas, experiences, and commentary on various subjects. It’s called Blavity (think Black+Gravity). That was a few years ago, and just last year, DeBaun launched 21Ninety, a lifestyle brand exclusively for women of color.

For DeBaun, 2014 was a major turning point for Blavity. As national protests to the Michael Brown police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri heated up, DeBaun decided it was time to leave her full-time job at Intuit and made Blavity her focus.

Today, Blavity boasts a reach to seven million millennials a month. Its Twitter following is 200,000-plus.

Danielle Belton, The Root

Belton’s voice is unmistakable. She’s the @BlackSnob who runs The Root.

Belton has worked her way up through the ranks, from contributor to being named editor in chief last September.

Much has changed since The Root was started by Harvard University’s Henry Louis Gates and former Washington Post Co  CEO Donald Graham in 2008.

“Because [the advent of Donald Trump] took away so much of the civility and politeness in our conversation, especially around race, it didn’t seem to make sense for us to continue to be on the sidelines,” Belton recently told CNN. ” To just talk about things from this really objective, far off place … That politeness is gone and 2016 killed it.”

In 2015, The Root was acquired by Univision. Written by and for African Americans, 20 percent of its audience is Hispanic and about 35 percent is White, according to Belton.

black media powerhouses

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Brett Savage-Simon is PR Newswire’s former director of audience relations and was a television reporter in her former life. Follow her @savsimon

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