Journalist of the Year honor ‘still sinking in’ for Hill

Jemele Hill (left), 2018 NABJ Journalist of the Year, and Rochelle Riley, columnist for Detroit Free Press, welcome NABJ attendees to their hometown of Detroit for the 2018 NABJ Convention on Wednesday. JAZMIN GOODWIN/NABJ MONITOR

By SIERRA PORTER

NABJ Monitor

 

DETROIT — Jemele Hill knows plenty about what happens when journalists become a part of the story.

“She’s been writing, reporting, an anchor for ESPN and worn multiple hats,” said Sarah Glover, president of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Glover said Hill has done great journalism, and because of her fearlessness, Hill was chosen as the 2018 Journalist of the Year.

“Jemele attended her first NABJ Convention in 1992 here in Detroit, and to now be honored in her hometown of Detroit is incredible,” Glover said. “So we’re excited to lift her up and celebrate her.”

Hill said she is proud to celebrate a “surreal moment” as NABJ’s Journalist of the Year.

“It’s pretty incredible, and it’s still sinking in,” Hill said after her Intersection of Racism and Sexism in Sports panel Thursday.

Hill has dealt with criticism and harassment for her strong views on political and social matters. However, she said her work experience didn’t change as much as people would have thought after her comments about U.S. President Donald Trump and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

“It wasn’t extremely difficult to get back into the swing of things,” Hill said. “It kind of helped that before I came off suspension, then-president of the company John Skipper and me, had a breakfast meeting and cleared the air, so I felt positive coming back to work.”

On Sept. 11, Hill made a series of tweets critical of Trump, including describing him as a “white supremacist.”

Hill’s employer, ESPN, issued a statement saying Hill’s comments “do not represent the position of ESPN. We have addressed this with Jemele, and she recognizes her actions were inappropriate.” On Oct. 9, ESPN suspended Hill for two weeks for a “second violation of our social media guidelines.”

In a series of tweets, Hill suggested that fans upset with Jones’ threat to bench any player who does “anything that is disrespectful to the flag” should boycott the advertisers who support Jones.

On Jan. 25, ESPN announced that Hill would anchor her final “SC6” also known as “The Six” on Feb. 2 and begin a new role as a columnist at The Undefeated.

Kevin Merida, editor-in-chief of The Undefeated, said he is excited to have Hill on his team.

“(Hill) is an extraordinary journalist, one of the most versatile at ESPN,” Merida said. “She is a brilliant commentator, columnist, host, interviewer, overall content creator. I was thrilled to have her join The Undefeated.”

In an interview with The Monitor, Hill acknowledged that she understood why she was suspended. In fact, she said “she felt no anger and was aware of the level of scrutiny she was facing.”

She also said her strong comments about Trump came out of a debate with a Twitter user.

“I was back and forth with someone on Twitter, and I said the comments about the president,” she explained. “I think that this person didn’t get it, and it was a lot of things happening in the country at the time. We were pretty fresh off of Charlottesville, and it was just an emotional time. For me, the emotion boiled over.”

Often journalists are taught not to become a part of the story. However, for Hill, her comments made her the talk of national news.

When Hill walked into one of her favorite restaurants in Hartford, Connecticut, she saw her name and face on major news outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, and the network that employed her, ESPN.

“I had to get used to the fact that things that I said, my life, and who I was, was getting reported on pretty much every day,” she said. “It didn’t make me change how I do things or who I was; it was just another thing I was going to have to deal with.”

She recommends for journalists wanting to speak their mind to do it through the stories they cover because the results may not be the same for everyone else who gives commentary on political or social matters.

“I wouldn’t recommend everyone to do what I do because everyone isn’t equipped to do it, and two, everyone’s not equipped to handle what comes along with it, but certainly in journalism, I would say our reporting is our activism,” Hill said.

In the future, Hill said she hopes to venture off and tell stories in an authentic way, rather than to be restricted.

“I’ve done sports for now 20 years, and I’ve always loved sports, but I think I will approach that moment when I don’t think I will necessarily need to do sports, and that it’s OK for me to try something else,” Hill said.

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