Behind The Scenes

Huddle up: Jemele Hill offers advice on “career branding” to NABJ attendees

ESPN's Jemele Hill (blue dress) led one of the NABJ's "Branding Exchange" seminars, designed for small groups of journalists seeking career advice.  (Kimberly Jarvis/ESPN Images)
ESPN’s Jemele Hill (blue dress) led one of the NABJ’s “Branding Exchange” seminars, designed for small groups of journalists seeking career advice.
(Kimberly Jarvis/ESPN Images)

BOSTON – ESPN commentator Jemele Hill has experienced a great deal in pursuit of her goals as a sports journalist, a calling she’s acknowledged as her own since she became a member of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) at the age of 16.

“. . .I’ve gone through the same career anxiety that you’ve had, some of the same career pitfalls. . . This is what I got out of it, this is what I’ve learned, and here’s how I made myself better.”
Jemele Hill on why she participated in a 90-minute “branding exchange” seminar with fellow NABJ Convention attendees

Through the years, she’s evolved from taking prep scores over the phone for Detroit newspapers to becoming a beat writer, columnist, feature writer, podcaster, television co-host and a sideline reporter. Hill’s career ambitions have changed with the times, but her mantra has remained essentially the same: Be the best Jemele Hill she can be.

Or, as Hill says Oprah Winfrey once advised, “Always bet on yourself.”

In her typically candid style, Hill engaged a small circle of journalists who registered for Friday’s “Branding Exchange: #NABJBranding” seminar held during the organization’s annual convention. For 90 minutes, Hill detailed her evolution as a journalist with eight peers who sought her advice on “building a brand.”

At one point in her career, Hill wanted to be the “next” Gary Smith, the acclaimed features writer for Sports Illustrated. Once she earned the opportunity to work on extended features – even winning an award for one as a North Carolina newspaper reporter – Hill realized that form of reporting wasn’t her strong suit.

Likewise, “I couldn’t do a SportsCenter highlight to save my life,” the Numbers Never Lie co-host told her audience. “What I am good at is giving my opinion.”

Building credibility, seeking mentors and advocates, realizing personal strengths and weaknesses were among the ideas Hill shared with the group. She welcomed the chance for the quiet discussion and feedback.

“Doing something small and as intimate as this really appealed to me,” said Hill, who like other ESPN employees also has served on NABJ panels in ballrooms filled with hundreds of attendees. “Just letting people know that ‘Hey, you’re not alone. I’ve gone through the same career anxiety that you’ve had, some of the same career pitfalls. . . This is what I got out of it, this is what I’ve learned, and here’s how I made myself better’.”

Hill was among a handful of journalists leading these small gatherings during the five-day gathering including – among others – DeWayne Wickham, NABJ founder and dean of journalism at Morgan State University; Kevin Merida, Managing Editor of the Washington Post; and Danese Kenon, Indianapolis Star photojournalist.

“Jemele is someone who not only created a brand, but is someone able to move that brand across mediums,” said Ken Lemon, a reporter for WSOC-TV in Charlotte, N.C. and coordinator for the NABJ seminars. “For Jemele to move from print to television to audio to do the things that she’s done, that’s something we needed to share with these other young journalists and public relations people.”

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