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January 9, 2024

Breaking Into the News Business

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GLENN MARSHALL SPECIALIZES IN TELLING other people’s stories, but his own is pretty remarkable. The young television reporter who found his career in the toilet—literally—after just a couple of years is now a seasoned and respected fixture in one of the country’s leading markets.
The morning newsman on Chicago’s WGN-TV (channel 9) serves as an example to others on how to overcome setbacks and pursue your dreams, no matter what. His message: “Keep a humble mindset, dream big and don’t give up when someone tells you that you’re not good enough. You’re gonna hear a lot of that in your career, whatever it may be.”
Growing up in Chicago’s Matteson suburb, he originally wanted to pursue acting, but his parents weren’t enthusiastic about supporting that. A friend’s father suggested he look into radio because he had a great voice, so he did that and found his way into the production side of things. He never actually studied journalism formally, but he soaked up what he could learn from the reporters he got to work with.
A year after graduating college he got his first reporting job in a small market, but it wasn’t a stellar start. Having been hired to replace the only Black guy at the station, he found himself facing discrimination. He was canned after 15 months. “I got fired on my day off,” he recalls.
The small town was “not what Chicago is when it comes to the progressiveness,” he says. “It’s totally different out there… they’re very conservative in their ways and it could be racist. I went through a lot of things while I was out there.” He tried to make things work, despite feeling like they were trying to set things up to get rid of him. Eventually “it was like, we need to just separate. We need to just walk away from this.”
Marshall ended up staying in town for another nine months, during which time he got a job installing toilets at a church. Then he spent some time working as a rehab counselor with teens until a television opportunity opened up for him in Boston.
“I’ve definitely been through some things, but it never stopped my journey.”
Working as a producer prepared Marshall to face the camera.
More Black journalists are needed because “we need our people to tell our story,” Marshall says.
BALANCED REPORTING
During his four years in Boston as a general assignment reporter he got to cover some big stories—the murder trial of former NFL star Aaron Hernandez and the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. From there he went to Atlanta for two years before returning to Chicago in the summer of 2020.
He covered shootings at his previous stations, but nothing like at the level in Chicago, he says. “It went for months on end where every single day I was either outside of a police station or I was outside of a hospital every morning, covering a shooting or something happening where someone was injured, or someone died,” he says. “I know violence is up across the country, but specifically with Chicago, it’s just been extremely crazy with how much is going on.
“I don’t know what’s going on in the city, but something definitely has to change with the mentality that it’s quicker to pick up a gun than to solve your problems in a respectful way.”
For all the focus on crime, Marshall believes his station does a good job in balancing the bad news with some of the good things happening in the community. “We show a different side to what’s going on,” he says. “You have to do that. I have people send me stories all the time, like this person is doing this, or toy drives are happening because of Christmas, and we’re out there. You have to have that balance to show, ‘Hey, it’s not just bad here.’”
Still, he shakes his head about how widespread violent crime in Chicago is, citing a 13-year-old girl shot downtown while hanging out with her sister. Back in the day, he notes, if a young person got into trouble, parents or someone at school would talk to them about it.
“Now the community gets scared of these kids,” he says. “These kids are running the blocks and the streets, and it’s not like they’re 17 and 18 years old. We’re talking about 10-year-olds that are out here carjacking people, 10 and 11. You’re so far away from getting a driver’s license, but you’re out here doing that. It’s ridiculous.”
Marshall believes it’s important for more African Americans to be involved in the media. Since 2020, they have “been able to shine when it comes to covering news,” he says. “Everything that we went through in 2020 was hard on Black people. A lot of stations used that to push Black people to the forefront in covering news. You look across the country and see more Black anchors, more Black reporters, whereas when I was starting off, I was the only Black reporter at a station. Now you’re going to see maybe there’s two or three there.”
Even with competition from social media and other platforms, journalism remains “a viable career because we need our people to tell our story,” he says. There are just different ways to do that now. “TV can be working for a local news station. TV can also be going to YouTube and different things like that, doing video podcasts, whatever it may,” he says, “but we still need us to cover those stories.”
COMMUNITY IMPACT
Marshall’s road to success offers some insights and encouragement to those setting out in pursuit of their dreams. First lesson: there’s not just one way to get ahead. “A lot of times you will hear, ‘You’ve got to do this,’” but “that’s not the key to your success… there’s no one way. So, you have to be persistent, stay humble and dream big and just go for your [dreams].”
He also emphasizes the importance of networking early. “Find people that you see that you feel are good at what they do and follow them. Reach out to them—if they don’t respond, that’s OK… You still enjoy their work; study them, imitate them, emulate them for a little while and then begin to build yourself so that you will know at least something going in.”
Marshall tells of working with a reporter while starting out in Chicago as a producer who was a big help. Marshall would write his own versions of whatever story they were assigned to, which the reporter would critique.
He has some words of caution for young people looking for the kind of mentors and guides he benefited from. “I think this generation that we’re seeing coming up beneath me, they’re not humble,” he comments. “They think that they’re always right. They think that they have everything together. Realize that all the feedback that you’re going to receive, it’s not going to be positive, but it’s all going to be beneficial towards making you something greater.”
Be willing to hear some hard truths, and also accept that some doors will be closed on you because not everyone is going to want to help, he adds. He recalls an older journalist who repeatedly turned down his requests to tag along before finally agreeing.
“You have to stay persistent with these people because when somebody sees that you really care about learning and growing, they see that potential in you, they will want to support you,” he says. “Some people will make like they don’t have time, but if they’re willing to make time for you, you have got to make it worth their while.”
When someone has some tough things to say to you, take what you can to learn from the situation but then “just continue to do what you have to do to prove them wrong.”
Having achieved as much as he has, what’s next for Marshall? “Honestly, in my career I have done basically everything that I’ve wanted to do,” he answers. “The only thing that I have not done is anchor a full show, but I really don’t have a desire to be an anchor.
“I love being in the community, talking to people and connecting with people. One of my goals that I have for being here in Chicago is to create something that will have an impact beyond journalism. I see that there’s a need for our kids so much, and I’m still trying to figure out what it is that I can do…
“I’ve always said since I got into journalism, I want to make an impact in the community.” Having done that elsewhere, “I’m trying to figure out how I can do that here in Chicago.”
GLENN MARSHALL: My WayMaker
In high school, my best friend at the time, his big brother was Sean Long, a program director for a local station here in Chicago. He allowed me to get access to different people in the journalism field, in the media, in broadcast. He opened up those doors to show me that, yes, you as a Black kid from the South suburbs can make this happen and make something happen for yourself.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2022 issue of WayMaker Journal.