#89: Being the Only Black Man at a TV News Station, with Mario Boone

Today’s guest is Mario Boone, a science writer for a science organization in the Washington, D.C., area. In fall 2020, Mario gave a presentation as part of the Association Media & Publishing virtual annual conference. The session was about how to attract and embrace diverse employees. During Mario’s portion, he talked about what it was like to be the “only one”—in his case, the only Black man, often the only Black person, working at TV news stations in the U.S., which is how he started out his journalism career.

I thought it would be informative and important for Deliberate Freelancer listeners to hear what Mario had to say, and he graciously agreed to talk with me about his experience working in TV news—the racism, the microaggressions, the fact that, as a Black man, he was not allowed to make any mistakes. These are important conversations for all of us.

Before becoming a science writer, Mario worked in at least five TV newsrooms, working his way up from small to medium to large markets. He was often the only Black man at the news station, sometimes in the entire TV market, until he landed a job in the bigger market of Orlando, Florida, where there were other Black reporters.

He talks about the intense pressure of being a Black man at those stations, how much hasher he was judged compared to his white counterparts. “It is a like a pressure cooker, and it’s tough, and you have to have very thick skin to survive.”

Mario went to college at an HBCU—a historically Black college and university—which he says was like a “utopia” that doesn’t exist in the real world. There, nearly everyone was Black and was supporting him and wanting him to succeed.

Mario developed an ulcer because of the physical toll of the stress he faced in newsrooms. He also wasn’t making much money, so on top of the racism and pressure, he had to worry about paying bills.

By the time he got to the Orlando station, he was not the only Black journalist in the market, so he received support from other reporters. But the competition was extremely high and intense, with no room for error.

Mario shared one microaggression he faced as a Black man at every news station he worked at: A regular problem was photographers (cameramen) refusing to do the extra work and use the equipment to light Mario properly for TV cameras. He would complain and have to get management involved to get the photographers to light him properly. This led people to call him a “diva” and label him as a complainer.

As a general assignment reporter, Mario said he was given what he called the “Black beat,” the stories that happened in predominantly Black neighborhoods or were about Black History Month or Martin Luther King Jr. Day. “I’m not in a box; I’m not only capable of telling the stories that have to do with Black issues, and you shouldn’t want that. Everybody in a newsroom should be able to tell a story regardless of who the subject is.”

He believes that was a disservice to the entire newsroom because it did not allow diverse voices to cover a variety of issues and bring new angles and approaches to a story.

That also meant that Mario wasn’t given the city-wide stories about, for example, the mayor’s budget or other happenings in city hall. This limited him, not allowing him to be fully a part of the team.

Mario left TV after he felt like he accomplished everything he wanted to accomplish. He was ready to try something different. He is now working as a science writer for a science organization, and it’s the happiest he’s been professionally.

He wants to tell his story to help young Black reporters know about the realities of TV and what to expect. “I always feel if I can share my little bit of what I’ve experienced professionally, personally, and that helps a Black journalist, especially one who is just starting out, then I have an obligation to do that.”

Mario talks about how Black people are often put in a position of educating white America on what is acceptable in terms of race. “That is exhausting,” he says. Living every day in America as a Black man is exhausting enough, he says. Adding the so-called responsibility of educating white people about what they can say and do is too much.

It’s also lazy for white people to be let off the hook and not do the research themselves. Also, if they expand their pool of friends, they can learn by observing and listening to all different types of people.

This expectation from white people increased after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and the outpouring of Black Lives Matter protests. Mario wanted to ask “where have you been?” Racism has been going on for a long time, but some white people seemed to just discover it and had a lot of questions.

Mario is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), which believes strongly in helping mentor young Black journalists. It also advocates on behalf of Black journalists. For about seven years, Mario has been a volunteer instructor for the NABJ four-day multimedia journalism short course at North Carolina A&T State University campus in Greensboro, which immerses about 25 Black college journalists in a TV newsroom setting. It also provides students the opportunity to have frank conversations with professional Black journalists and get a “helping hand” about the politics of a newsroom, what they should wear, how to wear their hair, how to handle racism, and more. It’s one of Mario’s most rewarding experiences.

Resources:

HBCU = Historically Black College and University

National Association of Black Journalists

NABJ four-day short course at North Carolina A&T State University

Mario on Twitter

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