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So What Do You Do Jawn Murray, Entertainment Reporter?
This Black Hollywood expert dishes on scoring high-profile gigs and how salacious blogs have helped his career- May 11, 2011
Now celebrating his 12th anniversary in the industry, entertainment news guru Jawn Murray enjoys notoriety as one of the most recognizable experts on Black Hollywood -- but please don't confuse his inside reporting with the dreaded "G" word. "I guess I technically am in the gossip industry, but I really hate that term," he explains, "because for one, I studied journalism and, for two, 'gossip' has such a negative connotation to it."
Fresh off of a successful stint as a columnist for AOL Black Voices, Murray reluctantly penned his last column for the site after becoming less than thrilled by new creative restrictions imposed by the Huffington regime. With that turbulence behind him -- some are already speculating that Arianna and her crew will dump Black Voices altogether -- Murray is pushing on with his radio gig on the Tom Joyner Morning Show and excited about new possibilities ahead. Here, the self-proclaimed one-man machine talks blogging, business, and his Nancy Grace regret.
Name: Jawn Murray
Position: Celebrity journalist
Resume: Launched career while still an undergrad at Norfolk State University (go Spartans!), penning an entertainment and lifestyle column for EURweb.com. Served as entertainment news reporter to eponymous radio shows for Doug Banks, Bo Griffin and Rolonda Watts. Recruited by AOL Black Voices in 2004 to pen the "BV Buzz" column that ultimately helped drive 75 percent of the site's traffic to the entertainment news section. Former entertainment go-to guy for the now-defunct Star Jones Show on TruTV. Regularly appears on CNN, MSNBC, VH1, BET and TV One and currently featured on the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show. Penned stories for New York Daily News, OK!, Uptown and In Touch. Named one of the "30 on the Rise" by Ebony and recognized as one of "40 Power Players Under 40" by NAACP.
Birthday: April 21
Hometown: Warrenton, VA
Education: Studied journalism at Norfolk State University
Marital status: Single
Media idol: Oprah Winfrey and "anybody who's ever really worked in entertainment news"
Favorite TV show: The Game
Guilty pleasure: Watching professional wrestling
Last book read: "I just started Star Jones' Satan's Sisters. Before that, I read Kirk Franklin's The Blueprint."
Twitter handle: @jawnmurray
So, when you were an undergrad at Norfolk State, were you the man with all the juicy gossip on campus?
When I was in school, I left for a year to intern at a radio station in Washington, DC called WPGC. Around that time, the Internet was really taking off, so I developed an online newsletter because I had worked with Michele Wright, the midday host there, helping to produce content for her entertainment news segment. And so that's kind of how I got bit by the bug. So I set out to be a one-man Access Hollywood, so to speak. When I went back to school, it was funny because artists would come to town to perform, and people were surprised that they gravitated to me the way that they did. But they didn't necessarily recognize that I had this year to kind of build these industry relationships even while I was in school.
You've held down multiple high-profile gigs. How does each new venture come into place? Do you go out and pitch yourself or do companies generally come to you?
I had been writing a number one column for EURweb.com called "Jawn's Juice," and at that time, they were probably the most prominent urban entertainment portal on the Web. We were reaching lots of people. So when AOL acquired Black Voices, they originally approached Karu F. Daniels about coming on as an entertainment columnist. But when he heard the description, he thought I was better suited for the opportunity and he actually recommended me for it. What was funny was that a year later, Karu joined the company in a different capacity and became my boss.
|"I guess I technically am in the gossip industry, but I really hate that term."|
Tom [Joyner] and his team had invited me to come on his Tom Joyner Morning Show cruise as a personality for three years. And so there was an incident with Bobby Brown that ultimately led to him getting separated from Whitney Houston and I went on the show -- I believe it was in September 2006 -- just as a subject matter expert just to talk about their split. Tom liked the way I did entertainment news in a very talking-to-my-friend kind of way, and I made everybody on the show laugh. They literally made me an offer to join the show that same day.
Are you choosing to keep your focus on the Black community or do you have plans to broaden your interests into, say, an Extra and Entertainment Tonight?
I eat, sleep and breathe Black entertainment, but I also love going on shows like Jane Velez-Mitchell, Joy Behar on HLN and talking about Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera or Charlie Sheen. I really have to credit Star Jones, because when she had her show on Court TV, I was the entertainment and pop culture contributor, and she encouraged me to do stories that were outside of my regular subject matter. Her whole thing was, 'I talk to you on a personal level and we talk about everything entertainment, so I want you to convey that on my show,' which made me an overall better talent. Black entertainment is my focus, but I'm not limited to it.
In 2010, you tweeted "all those militant-nappy headed #angryblack women who didn't think Tyler Perry was worthy of doing For Colored Girls can kick rocks." The people were not amused. What did you learn from that experience?
In retrospect, I probably would not have tweeted it. It was a bad joke; anyone who knows me, anyone who's heard me on the radio, anyone who's followed my work knows that I have a snarky, sarcastic, sometimes dry sense of humor. For years, I had been the one on the phone helping my high-profile friends like Sherri Shepard when her whole "is the Earth round or flat" quote was taken out of context. So, while I've become comfortable being a visible media personality, I never realized the impact and the reach I had until I was on the receiving end of the treatment I got last fall. I learned one, that there are more eyes on me than I recognized, and two, when those amounts of people are watching what you say and do, you have to be conscientious. Some of the irreverent things you would say in private with your friends don't work on the social media platform.
Working in the entertainment business can make you a target for retaliation from celebs who are -- shall we say, resistant? -- to being a topic of discussion. What's a story you regretted covering?
I only have one regret. I was on the episode of Nancy Grace that did like this whole tabloid-y ambush on [singer] Fantasia when she was going through the situation with the extramarital affair. Going into the show, I reached out to her manager to get a statement that captured her voice. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the studio, he had released the statement to TMZ and CNN and to the AP, so Nancy Grace's show wouldn't let me read it on air. The only thing that I was able to say was that I, like all the rest of her fans and people following her career, wanted to believe the best in her. But I did not know that show was going to run these packages that were really damaging. In retrospect, I would not have wanted to do that episode, especially knowing the impact that it ultimately had on her and her saying that it contributed to her wanting to kill herself. I don't feel directly responsible because I did everything I needed to do as a journalist to be fair and balanced, but the show became such a negative situation.
|"Blogging has made entertainment journalists the good guys. I mean, we're like the Sunday school teachers because of the salacious, scandalous, inflammatory websites."|
There have been some celebrity feuds -- anybody who does anything in entertainment will tell you that celebrities are the most sensitive, insecure people you're going to deal with. And more times than none, they get mad when you tell the truth about them. I had some celebrity wives or ex-wives get mad at me. I've had a comedian get mad at my impersonation of her on the radio. I had a very public and notorious feud with [singer] Brandy, and it's funny because she and I have never met in person. It literally went from her mother wanting to be my manager to them trying to get me fired from all of my jobs. I initially reported a story on the radio that they vehemently denied, but Brandy ultimately disclosed it was true in a Sister 2 Sister magazine cover story a year later. So that's the type of foolishness that we deal with.
What, in your opinion, is the difference between entertainment journalism and entertainment blogging? Is there any difference at all?
Blogging has made entertainment journalists the good guys. I mean, we're like the Sunday school teachers because of the salacious, scandalous, inflammatory websites -- I mean, they're like the Jerry Springer Shows of entertainment news portals. I have issues with the way some people handle the whole blogging platform because anybody who's intentionally mean-spirited is just problematic for me. But on the good side of it, they've made celebrities gravitate to folk like me because they know people respect our voice and we can help them clean up a lot of the mess that's made online.
What advice would you give to other journos looking to branch out the same way you have?
Create your own audience and find your voice, because that is what makes you unique. Don't aim to be like anybody: The reason Ryan Seacrest is Ryan Seacrest is because he's Ryan Seacrest. So, while you may like aspects of why he is successful, find out how to be the best you that you can be. That'll make you stand out in the crowd. Don't do or say anything about anybody that you wouldn't want done to yourself. Maintain integrity and study the industry. Knowing the business, knowing who you are and building authentic relationships that can grow organically can take you far.
Janelle Harris is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. She documents her editorial adventures at www.thewriteordiechick.com.
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This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.
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