The road through journalism is not a straight one, and that’s evident, based on Danyel Smith’s path. Her trajectory — through hip-hop criticism, fiction and now sports reporting — celebrates nonlinear careers.
Danyel shared the highs and lows on her journey on Oct. 29 as a keynoter at the annual Journalism and Women Symposium CAMP in Roanoke, Va.
“You meet people, you work hard, you get jobs that you can’t expect, and you get laid off,” she said. “What I’m here to say is that no way is the right way.”
After dropping out of UCLA because she couldn’t afford it, Danyel bluffed her way through an interview for an internship at an alternative weekly in the Bay area. The editor of the paper gave her a shot and helped launch a writing career that would lead to Danyel’s becoming editor-in-chief of VIBE and an editor at Billboard, among other achievements.
It was a shot that Danyel hasn’t forgotten.
“Every woman that I mention, I say ‘God bless her’ after her name — and not because she sneezed but because she, like Dawn, put me on a path,” she said.Dawn Garcia, who directs the John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University, encouraged Danyel to apply just as Danyel found herself without a job. Despite feeling it might be too difficult or impractical, she took the chance. She credits the fellowship with getting her to grab her own life by the horns.
“If there was a thing to do, Dawn was there with her red wine and her cheese cubes,” Smith joked. “I will not be left behind.”
The message of reinvention in the face of a constantly changing media climate resonated with the other journalists in the room, some of whom have followed Danyel’s career.
“I’m not even into hip-hop but I followed you because of your writing,” said Callie Crossley, a radio broadcaster. “Maybe in your deepest darkest moments you had no idea how many fans you had out there, and I am thrilled for you.”
All those career twists and turns have led Danyel to a different beat, covering sports through a political, racial and cultural lens at ESPN’s “The Undefeated.” During her fellowship, Danyel also co-founded HRDCVR, which she calls a “magazine in book form” about design.
The beat may be new, but it’s not surprising that Danyel has chosen to tackle a another genre.
“If I push myself to learn, not to get all poetic, but I do believe I begin to see the light, and I know you all do, too,” she said.