Our Call to Beneficence

S1E7: ‘The First Job Is Always The Toughest to Get’ | (Brandon Pope, Anchor, Media Critic and Columnist)

February 21, 2022 Ball State University
Our Call to Beneficence
S1E7: ‘The First Job Is Always The Toughest to Get’ | (Brandon Pope, Anchor, Media Critic and Columnist)
Show Notes Transcript

Brandon Pope is an anchor reporter for Chicago’s CW26. He’s also an award-winning television host, media critic, and columnist. 

In the years since he graduated from Ball State in 2014, Brandon has applied the skills he learned in the classroom, along with the power of networking, to stand out in one of the country’s biggest media markets. He’s also parlayed his digital media expertise into a contributing writer position with EBONY magazine.  

In this episode, Brandon talks about how his distinctive learning experiences at Ball State prepared him for a fast-paced career anchoring live newscasts and reporting on some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment. 

Brandon also reveals why he’s passionate about giving minorities a voice in his industry and why he was honored to serve as keynote speaker for this year’s Unity Week, a popular campus celebration that illustrates Ball State’s continuing commitment to diversity and inclusion.

If you enjoy this episode, please leave a review to support the show. 

Welcome to Our Call to Beneficence, a podcast hosted by Geoff Mearns, the President of Ball State University. The podcast will feature conversations with Ball State graduates and friends who are having a positive impact on the people they serve. Now, here's your host, Geoff Mearns.

Geoff Mearns: Hello and welcome back to Our Call to Beneficence. My guest on the podcast today is Brandon Pope. Brandon graduated from Ball State University in 2014, with a degree in telecommunications from our College of Communication, Information, and Media. And everyday, everyday Brandon applies the skills he learned at our university in his career as a successful multimedia journalist. Currently, Brandon is an award-winning television host, media critic, and columnist. He is an anchor reporter for Chicago's CW26. He is a contributing writer for Ebony Magazine and is he also the President of Chicago's chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. Brandon visited our campus in January as the featured speaker during our Unity Week. A popular campus celebration that illustrates our university's continuing commitment to inclusiveness and diversity. During his visit we recorded this conversation. I'm grateful for this opportunity to get to know him better and I'm grateful for the opportunity to introduce him to all of you our listeners. So Brandon, welcome back to campus and thank you for joining me in our studio.

Brandon Pope: Thank you for having me, what an awesome way to be welcomed to campus. Doing, you know kind of doing what I do for a living, you're a podcaster, I love it. It's weird that I'm on the other side of the interview chair, but, we'll see how it goes.

Geoff Mearns: Yeah.

Brandon Pope: See how it goes man.

Geoff Mearns: And I'm going to ask you some questions about your experience at Ball State and your career in journalism. But first let's talk for a few minutes about your childhood. Where did you grow up?

Brandon Pope: So I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. I was that weird Cincinnati kid with Cleveland sports teams that he's a fan of. My dad was a Cleveland guy. So, that's who I always kind of pushed for. And then my family moved to Richmond, Indiana when I was in high school. So I got a little of those Indiana roots. Hoosier values in a sense as they call them. And then that's how Ball State kind of was on my radar. I had a lot of teachers who were Ball State graduates and who raved about the university. In fact, the year that Ball State went undefeated in football with Nate Davis at quarterback. I remember my teacher at the time, Ball State guy's like, oh yeah Ball State. We're really up there, I'm just like rolling my eyes like, bruh, shut up about Ball State. He said, why don't you got to campus and check it out. Great facilities, great broadcasting school. I checked it out and let me tell you, I was hooked.

Geoff Mearns: And we're going to talk about that in just a second and in fact today as we're recording the listeners can't see it, but you're wearing your dancing Charlie gear.

 Brandon Pope: What a great logo, right? 

Geoff Mearns: It is great. Celebrates the excitement of that recent football season.

Brandon Pope: Oh, the team has done so well.

Geoff Mearns: Yeah. So dialing back a bit, I understand in some of the conversations that we've had, your mother had a profound and positive impact on your life. Continues to have a positive impact on your life.

 Brandon Pope: Absolutely.

 Geoff Mearns: Tell us about your mother.

 Brandon Pope: Oh, I love her. I mean, single mom, you know, my dad passed away when I was in kindergarten, so she has really been a rock the entire time. And she always went out of her way to make sure that I could seize every opportunity possible. You know, whether it was driving me to different athletic practices, or student council, you know, even long distances for different meets and things like that. It was never an issue, never a problem. She understood the value of education. She was an Indiana University graduate from the School of Music. A lot of the family is musical. But, she recognized and respected the fact that at that time I had no interest in being a musician. She even offered me to get voice lessons and I was like, I want to play Power Rangers. This ain't for me. But, the fact that she was so willing to just kind of let me find my own passions and discover myself, was amazing. And I just, she's strong, she's my number one fan and you know, you're going to make me tear up, she just, you can't have a better mom than her, she's done so much for me, I love her.

 Geoff Mearns: So I understand she had some pretty high expectations for you in the classroom.

 Brandon Pope: Oh man. Brutal. So, she always said, anything less than a "B" is failing. Which is a, that's a lot of pressure. So, I couldn't come home with anything less than a b or else we'd have a long conversation, there might be some punishments there. Maybe you can't play video games that weekend, maybe you can't go see your friends that weekend. Which made it clear to me, oh, in the classroom I got to step it up, I can't goof off, I have to actually apply myself. What did that do for me? It was sort of this mantra of always giving maximum effort. You know the legendary basketball coach John Wood, he always said that, excellence is a habit. My mom never said that, but that definitely is what she trained us for. To just do things the best you can always. And that spirit, that attitude always be your better, right? Nothing below, the standard is the standard. I think it's something that I'm going to have my kids emulate. And I'm going to, it's going to carry on, you know through the legacy, because, that's a great lesson. I hated it at the time, don't get me wrong. That's a lot of pressure when you get a b you're proud of it, moms like, ah, you could do better.

 Geoff Mearns: Yeah. So you were a good student in high school, but as you mentioned a moment ago you're also involved in lots of activities in high school. What kind of activities were you involved in ?

 Brandon Pope: I was student council president, I was doing debate teams, I was on the English academic team, I was doing football, the track and field in the off-season. So, yeah I was highly involved. And I'm sure for any single parent trying to keep up with your own schedule is one thing when you got two kids. Keeping up with your kids schedule with all these things they have to do, places they have to be, that's whole other thing. So, you know, she definitely did her best to encourage me and keep me rooted with doing those outstanding opportunities.

 Geoff Mearns: So you had a couple of high school teachers who were encouraging you to take a look at Ball State. But you applied to several colleges when you were a senior in high school. But you ended up choosing Ball State. Tell us about that.

 Brandon Pope: Oh man. I applied to a lot of schools, you know. IU, Ohio State, Cincinnati. And got accepted to them right away. But I always knew Ball State was where I wanted to go. But Ball State's got some tough academic standards. They put me on the wait list. And I'm like, what, the wait list. And so, I waited, and waited, there was some teachers and counselors who, and my old football coach, they called the university. You know trying to treaty and trying to, you know understand what's going on. We're getting down to the wire where, okay you got to make a decision. Where you going to go to college? Ball State still had me on that wait list and I knew I didn't want to go anywhere else. So I was, I was just miserable. Just like, oh. I have to go to one of these other schools. I had already seen the amazing things Ball State had and I knew right away, this is where I need to be.

 Geoff Mearns: Because you had, I mean you had visited the campus.

 Brandon Pope: I took a campus visit with Susie Smith and [inaudible] and she showed me, you know the giant green screens, and the Emmy's, and all these great facilities, nowhere else had that. And I just knew this is where I have to be if I'm going to be what I want to be. So I was, I was determined, determined, so we get to that final day. Right, my moms like, alright.

 Geoff Mearns: Because your mom had set a deadline, you're going to make a decision today.

 Brandon Pope: This needs to happen, I'm sorry if it's not what you want, but you got to make a decision because we got to start getting stuff in order right? That morning in the mail, Ball State saying congratulations you've been accepted. Decision made right there. That easy, that wow what a weight off my shoulders. Because I can't imagine going anywhere else and I was just so excited to be a Ball State Cardinal.

 Geoff Mearns: Right, divine providence perhaps.

 Brandon Pope: Oh man, what a blessing it is.

 Geoff Mearns: Yeah. So, while you were a student here at Ball State, where there any professors who had a particularly memorable impact on you and your career?

 Brandon Pope: There were a lot. I think one of the best things about Ball State is a lot of the teachers are just great people. And become great friends. There was a teacher in particular named Dr. Beth Messner. I took a hate speech and discrimination class with her. And you know teachers, they're obviously more educated than you, they have more degrees than you, they're teachers for a reason. So it'd be easy for any teacher to dismiss a students treaties, concerns, or, you know critiques of the content right? Well, we had this assignment where she listed out all these different hate groups in America. And our assignment was to pick a hate group and write about that hate group and why they're a hate group in America. This was a list from the Southern Poverty Law Center, pretty well attributed. Well, one thing that was on the list was the Black Panther Party. The Black Panther Party from what I was raised with was, you know, the reason why we have free and reduced lunch for kids. Why we have, you know, some social welfare programs and they were, they were Civil Rights activists who were fighting for good, fighting for liberation. They're part of a rainbow coalition, you know a multi-ethnic coalition in Illinois and throughout the Pacific Northwest. So, I'm thinking, a hate group, how? So I go to Dr. Messner and I say, hey, I'm not sure the Black Panther Party should be up there. So she, okay, hey about this. How about you write about why the Black Panther Party should not be considered a hate group. And if it's good enough, then I will take it off the list and we'll never use it as a hate group again. Did my assignment, we went through it, and just the humility and everything it showed for this Doctor Beth Messner, to let a student in a sense educate her in a sense. And she took it, she read it, she like this was great, thank you so much. And she struck it from the list. That was a moment that I just, I still am taken aback by. For her to humble herself and do that. In a sense it shows that we're all learning together. And that's what Ball State fosters. So, you know Dr. Beth Messner, I love her so much. There are many others. Dr. Brad King when he was here, was great about teaching me about the value, your worth, contracts, negotiations, and things like that. Adam Cuban, you know, Lorie Byers of CCIM, this, so many great names and great people. The admissions people, Brian Meekin, I was just so impacted by the great people of this university. And their humble spirit. Their spirit of just overall love, inclusion, and equality for all. I just love that.

 Geoff Mearns: Yeah. So we'll talk a little bit later as you know about Beneficence.

 Brandon Pope: Oh yeah.

 Geoff Mearns: Since you're starting to touch on some of those, some of those attributes. So in addition to being a good student and an active student, you were involved in many activities here on campus. Why, what were they and why did you choose to be so involved in campus life?

 Brandon Pope: Man. Some would say I was too involved. I was doing a little bit of everything. I was part of News Link Indiana, the Ball State Daily News that I did some writing for. WCRD the campus radio station. Cardinal Sports Live was sports program we had at the time. Sports Link, we had digital publications that popped up, like Ball Bearings. We had a digital magazine, iPads, things like that working with new technologies. And the reason why I did all that was because I just had a sense that if I, if I wanted to best at journalism I need to learn all of journalism. I need to hone my skills in all these realms. And Ball State gave an incredible opportunity to do that. You're in a real life setting, in actual working newsrooms, doing what you're hoping to be doing when you get out of there. And the skills I learned, teamwork, how to communicate, those are all things that translated over to what I do now. If I didn't have those experiences in college, I would've been lost stepping into a newsroom. And probably wouldn't be anywhere close to where I am today because I would just, I'd be taken aback. You have journalism students from other colleges and honestly sometimes this one, who don't take advantage of the opportunities in front of them, to get some working experience. And then they're the ones that burn out and they're the ones that don't, you know, like have that passion, that zeal, they get lost. So I just didn't want to be lost in the shuffle. I wanted to learn and soak up everything I could. But also part of it too was trying to find myself and find what I was best at. I came in changing what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a sportscaster for a long time. Stewart Scott was my role model. I come to Ball State, I see that, you know news is a vast world where you can tell multiple stories, not just sports stories and I start to really hone my skills with that. And so I was just learning new passions, new ideas. My writing style and exploring, and I just loved growing. And all those organizations were a part of that. So being a part of that, you know and then forgot to mention the National Association of Black Journalists. We had a chapter that wasn't an official NABJ chapter here on campus. I became president my sophomore year and we officially made it a actual chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists and I'm very proud of that. And, I knew that it was important to be a part of a network. You know? So, all of those things prepared me for where I am today. And I just feel like any student who goes to any campus, whether it's Ball State or any other. When you have opportunities like that in front of you, you have to seize that. Because, it is going to be your life blood, it's going to be the training ground for you going forward.

 Geoff Mearns: Yeah. And so we're going to talk about your television career. But before we do, you had a singular experience at Ball State. You traveled to London.

 Brandon Pope: Yeah.

 Geoff Mearns: To cover, in 2012 to cover the 2012 Olympics that were held in London.

 Brandon Pope: Man.

 Geoff Mearns: Tell us about that extraordinary experience.

 Brandon Pope: Oh man. I'll never forget that experience. London is like my, probably my favorite city in the world. Right behind Chicago. And to be there for the Olympics, the rich cultures, all coming together. But also, to do it as a working member of the media, you know, to be shoulder to shoulder with people I watch on TV. And not, you have to train yourself not to be a fan. In that moment you're a colleague. In that moment you are on their level. That pressure, wow, but they say pressure creates diamonds right? And that's what happened to me throughout that entire Olympic experience. I remember the first day I did it. First time we had a media event. Where you had, you know, all these journalists together talking athletes. I was nervous. Of course I was. I'm a student, I'm a sophomore maybe, maybe I just turned drinking age, I don't know. I was young and I just had never done anything like that in my life. And then a few days later, Chris Taylor, amazing professor over at Sports Link, surprises my team, says hey wake up, I'm like six o'clock in the morning. And we're going to go do a really big assignment be ready to work. We walk into this basketball gym. Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Lebron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, all these basketball.

 Geoff Mearns: Couple names you have heard of.

 Brandon Pope: Oh yeah. And I'm just frozen, I'm just like, oh my gosh. Big Lebron James fan over here. So being able to talk to Lebron, the great Kobe Bryant, coach K, but also having to check yourself and say hey, this is your moment, you got to seize this, no you're not here to take selfies, you're not here to be a fan. You got to ask questions, you're on the same level as NBC and all these other folks. What an, that right there, trial by fire is what they call it right? They throw you right in there and you kind of have to choose whether you're going to fly or fall in that moment. And a lot of the sword, because when you're able to work with people at the highest level of the field, and you're only in college, ah, that gives you so much rich experience for the future and that's what the Olympics did for me. And the team we had, the professors we had along the way, guiding us, helping us through, you know, we definitely made mistakes. But, those professors were there to guide us and help us and shape us and mold us. So Ryan Sparrow and that whole entire team, it's an experience unlike any other, I remember at that time Ball State was the only college in the country that did something like that. Sending students to the Olympics, who would've thought, what a nightmare scenario you would think. And later I think, you know the next year maybe Penn State tried it and some other schools, but Ball State was the first. And I think we made a name for ourselves, I'm really proud of that experience.

 Geoff Mearns: Right. We're leaders and now others are following.

 Brandon Pope: They sure are.

 Geoff Mearns: So your first job, professional job after you graduated in 2014 was as a reporter for a television station in South Bend. How did you get that job?

 Brandon Pope: Oh man. I got it through social media honestly. I was going months, and months, and months without a job, you know your senior year of college. Everyone's asking you, got anything lined up? Got anything lined up? No.

 Geoff Mearns: Yeah, that question gets harder and harder as the days go by.

 Brandon Pope: It gets harder and harder and so I graduate and I got friends that got jobs lined up. And I don't. And so you start having that self-doubt creep in, you start thinking, hum, maybe I'm not cut out for this, maybe I'm not as good as I thought I was, maybe I should start thinking about doing something else. So, my girlfriend at the time, who was a Ball State grad, she had graduated early and she working in New York at Brooklyn Magazine. So I got, I'll just go to New York and hang with her. And I'll just leave the dream, I'll go to New York, I'll find a job and rise to the ranks of anchor at New York One in 30 days, it's going to be perfect. None of that happened. But what did happen is, I went to the National Association of Black Journalist conference in Boston. Hoping maybe I'll find a job here. That week the news director from the station in South Bend, ABC57, calls me up. Says, hey, saw your stuff on LinkedIn, on Twitter, YouTube, liked it a lot, want to talk to you about a position here. Okay. Next day, on the phone with him and the GM. Third day, they offer me the job. Just like that. And I was literally days before thinking, I got to go into PR or I got to, I got to maybe look at some other type of jobs and throw this TV dream away. But that's how it started. I tell every student, the first job is always the toughest to get. And it's always the biggest challenge because those shadow beliefs creep in. The self-doubt creeps in. And that's the moment where you start to feel your lowest. But you have to really lean on and be confident in your self and the skills you've built. And that's what I did, got that job in South Bend, and you talk about trial by fire, that job was tough. I was what they call an MMJ, multi-media journalist. Running my own camera. Writing my own scripts, shooting my own video, editing my own stories. You do that and after that everything becomes a lot easier.

 Geoff Mearns: And you got recruited from South Bend to go to Chicago.

 Brandon Pope: Exactly.

 Geoff Mearns: How did you get that opportunity in Chicago? That's a step up.

 Brandon Pope: It is a step up. Fortunately, you know, our company had a station in Chicago and they saw my stuff online. And they said, hey we would like you to come up and try out. They didn't tell me what I'm trying out for. They said they can't reveal what the project is, but, they had a show at the time called You and Me in the Morning. They wanted to me co-host it, so I drove out to Chicago, not a far drive, about an hour, an hour and a half from South Bend. Did three shows, having a hotel out there, then they had me come back the next week, do some reporting out in the field, so live remotes. I was out at the White Sox Stadium talking about beers and stuff like that. I was like, this is fun. Still had no idea what I was actually trying out for. I come back a third week. They're still not telling me anything. They're not even giving me feedback, they're not saying, oh great job, see you next week. Gets to a point I'm just like they got to tell me something, what's going on? My contract was starting to expire in South Bend. I had job offers in Memphis, I had job offers in Dallas and I was like I got to start making decisions. Finally they say, yeah we'd like to offer you a position. We're going to be launching a new morning show. Want you to be a reporter for us. And just like that, I made that big move. The fortunate thing is I knew Chicago well. Partly because of Ball State. Our NABJ chapter with Dr. Maria Williams-Hawkins as an advisor. We would go to Chicago and take trips to see the Chicago Tribune. We had conferences at Northwestern. And so, I already kind of had a little bit of knowledge of Chicago and the area. I had friends there already from working in South Bend, I had weekends I spent there. It was such an easy move and I never would've thought, what was I 25 when I made that move? That that would be a move I'd make at that age. I'd always saw Chicago as a place I would get to when I'm 50. I just turned 30. So, just to be there I am incredibly humbled, blessed and I already know every person that's crossed my path, every opportunity that's crossed my path. It's set me up for this. And I'm just very proud of that journey I've had to get here. No doubt.

 Geoff Mearns: So you're also now a contributing writer for Ebony Magazine and you've interviewed some famous people. So tell us who's the most interesting or intriguing person that you've interviewed?

 Brandon Pope: That's a tough, that's always a tough question. I'll give you two. One of my favorite interviews is Leslie Odom Jr. from Hamilton, but also just a great star, amazing talent. But this man, we've interviewed about four, five times now, so we kind of have a rapport. Always insightful, always some really good contextual and deep thoughts on our current climate in America. Race in America. The role of artists in today's society. And what the role of art is, and why it's important to challenge and push and things like that. He's always a captivating interview and just a great person to talk to. Most recently, I had the honor of talking with Dr. Nikki Giovanni. I was doing a project on mental health. And the man who I'm highlighting, he has a podcast on mental health. And his mentor is Dr. Nikki Giovanni, she inspired him to do it. So I got a chance to have a phone conversation with her. She wasn't able to get her video up. But being able to sit with this legend, this literary legend who's, you know who is best friends with James Baldwin and so many other greats. And get her in conversation about the things we're going through today. And to just laugh with her and talk with her. That was a, that was a really awesome moment. And that's probably one of my favorite interviews that I ever done and that just happened two or three days ago.

 Geoff Mearns: So, tonight, you're going to deliver the keynote address during our annual celebration of.

 Brandon Pope: I am?

 Geoff Mearns: Yep, you are. You better be ready. So, before I ask you about your remarks, what does it feel like to be invited back to campus to speak to the university community, faculty, staff, students, guests on a very important occasion? Did you think that was going to happen when you graduated in 2014?

 Brandon Pope: I never did. Especially not this soon. I did not have that tracked from life at all. I am just incredibly grateful for the opportunity. And the honor. The journey I had at Ball State was a really special one. It wasn't always easy. But to have this campus that I love and the community that I love welcoming you with open arms and inviting me to speak and trust me with that platform. It's a huge noble responsibility that I don't take it lightly. And I'm just so happy to be here for it.

 Geoff Mearns: Yeah. So, I'm going to ask what your core message and we don't need to issue a spoiler alert, because by the time release the podcast it will be well after you speak this evening. So, what is the core message that you want to deliver this evening?

 Brandon Pope: The core message is about embodying the spirit of Dr. King. Ultimately, I've always held the belief that we all have the capacity to be something great, to be a change agent. To be what Dr. King was for America during that time. You know. And so I'll be talking about how students, staff, and anyone in attendance, can channel the things going on around them and the problems of our day to find solutions. How our strength is in our difference and inclusivity and diversity and why it's important to value that and kind of build this multi-general, multi-racial coalition and embrace what Dr. King called that long but beautiful struggle. And recognizing what the beauty is in that struggle. Because oftentimes you hear beautiful struggle, those are two words that counteract right? Dr. King was intentional in that wordage. Why is there beauty in that struggle? That's something we're going to be talking about.

 Geoff Mearns: Good. So I want to ask you now a final question and it's the.

 Brandon Pope: Oh boy.

 Geoff Mearns: It's the same question that I ask all of my guests and it's about beneficence.

 Brandon Pope: Okay.

 Geoff Mearns: And, you know beneficence is the iconic statue that represents Ball State.

 Brandon Pope: Benny.

 Geoff Mearns: Benny. Students refer to it as Benny. Beneficence means as you know the quality of doing good for others, what you're speaking about just a moment ago. Doing good for others through service and through philanthropy. As you reflect on your young life and your budding career. What does beneficence mean to you?

 Brandon Pope: Beneficence to me means always being willing to serve others. And being of service to others really requires servant leadership. You know, selflessness, being able to have empathy, look at people as human beings, and work across, work across the aisle or across the table with those people as human beings. Being a servant for the greater good is dropping ego, dropping petty disagreements aside and realizing we have a collective responsibility here. And everything I do I try to do in service to others, how can I be of service to others? So whether it's, you know my journalism career and the stories I tell. Whether it's the organizations I get involved in, like My Brothers Keeper, or Big Brothers Big Sisters. It's all about how does this serve someone in need or the greater community. And that's what beneficence means to me. That's a value that Ball State holds. I mean they have a whole statue dedicated to it. And that's a value I've always held and it's something taught to me by my family. And it's something I'm going to pass on for the rest of my life. Beneficence, servant leadership, being there with empathy for others.

 Geoff Mearns: Well thank you Brandon, I really do appreciate you spending time with us, we're proud of all that you've accomplished and we look forward future successes and service to others down the road as well. Thank you Brandon.

 Brandon Pope: Thank you so much President, appreciate you being able to do this, this is awesome.

 Geoff Mearns: Thank you.

 You've been listening to Our Call to Beneficence. A podcast hosted by Geoff Mearns, the President of Ball State University. Check back again soon to hear from another Ball State graduate or friend. At Ball State University we fly.

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