How Howard U Took Over the Media

The Mecca is making life hard for black folks trying to break through in media.

The Mecca is making life hard for black folks trying to break through in media.

Acclaimed journalist John Saunders died two weeks ago, leaving everyone to wonder about how ESPN and ABC Sports would fill the sudden void left on so many of its important imprints, like The Sports Reporters, NHL, NBA and college football coverage.

Saunders won’t ever be replaced, but his work will be carried on by Stan Verrett, a veteran SportsCenter anchor who debuted the World Wide Leader’s 1:00 a.m. edition of the popular nightly sports recap. Where racial diversity remains as a social albatross around the neck of media culture, ESPN has reveled in the effort to admit and promote black talent over the full course of its 37-year history.

Verrett is one of the most prominent figures of a growing class of HBCU alumni featured across the company’s on-air and digital platforms. He will join fellow HU alum and FOX Sports broadcast pillar Gus Johnson this fall, who along with play-by-play for college football, will also continue his run as the voice of March Madness, with an emphasis on madness.


So what does Howard have that Verrett, Johnson and countless others take from Sixth St NW to land prominent gigs in media nationwide?

Aside from a school of journalism with renowned faculty, the answer is location.

With the nation’s seventh largest media market featuring countless opportunities for internship, practicum and industrial exposure, Howard is unlike North Carolina A&T, FAMU, Morgan State and Texas Southern in that its learning laboratory, a city where most working journalists hope to one day land, is where HU undergraduates begin their professional grooming.

What other HBCU delivers to the world a Ta-Nehisi Coates — a Howard dropout who dropped into an acclaimed career as a journalist, author, culturalist and now, genius?

He credits Howard for shaping his racial identity and awareness, and against Chocolate City’s melting pot of politics, culture and economics, he sharpened his skills in rhetoric and storytelling.

It’s not impossible to do in Greensboro, Tallahassee or even Houston; it’s just much easier in the district, and moreso with Howard University on the transcript.

The Howard Brand

The aura of Howard University still resonates with companies, even those which may have heard exaggerated reports about the institution’s downfall. Maybe it is the range of programs, or perhaps it is the way the quad commands the nation’s attention for everything it does — from protest of campus social justice issues, or a race-based tragedy hundreds of miles from the nation’s capital.

Hands up: Howard U. photo of students in solidarity goes viral
A photo of black students with their hands raised is becoming a symbol of solidarity after Michael Brown, an unarmed…

There are scores of bad-ass black journalists outside of the Mecca — Charles Blow went to Grambling, Roland Martin went to Texas A&M, Jemele Hill went to Michigan State, and Errin Haines Whack went to Oglethorpe. They are changing minds and changing the world with every word they write.

But with every homecoming, every snap, tweet, post and accolade, Howard’s brand resonance in traditional and new media grows. It grows with every new gig Jamilah Lemieux announces on Twitter, or with every Pulitzer Prize Keith Alexander picks up.

And that’s just the recent work — independent of the number of HU grads working local as editors, producers, content creators on the edge of blowing nationally.

Social Media Savvy

Remember when Howard was one of the first HBCUs to put out a ‘Happy’ video?

That’s the new wave of HU influence on media. It’s not just the number of professionals they put in the media marketplace, and the opportunities for equitable coverage created through their presence; it is the pride that Howard students, regardless of major, take in being content creators.

Rarely is there an online fad without a submission from Howard students. And rarely is that submission basic in its production value, or goes without being picked up by a major news outlet. That’s major for recruitment, retention, and creating the memories that motivate students to give back as graduates.

There are rivalries and then there’s respect. It’s hard not to make a rival out of HU’s media culture, because it is way too easy to respect the school and its tradition of impacting media in a variety of ways.