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Bria Jones

Interview by Aranda Gehringer.

Audio Transcription

Aranda Hanks Gehringer  0:09  
Hey, Bria, how
are you?

Bria Jones  0:11  
Good. How are you doing?

Aranda Hanks Gehringer  0:13  
I'm good. Thank you again for taking the time, especially out of your Friday, right before a holiday weekend. I appreciate it. Like I kind of told you - 30 minutes, I'm thinking, nothing crazy. I have quite a few like questions to kind of get you thinking back to being involved with the Teen Appeal and everything and then just kind of want to talk about what you do now. And maybe how the Teen Appeal got you started on that path. So I'm going to kind of dive in a little bit and you just feel free to tell whatever stories let me know if you think I'm missing anything. And I'm gonna record this just for class purposes.

Bria Jones  0:58  
Yeah, okay. Awesome.

Aranda Hanks Gehringer  1:02  
So can you tell me a little bit about where you grew up? Are you originally from Memphis? And a little bit about all of that up until high school.

Bria Jones  1:12  
So originally, I am from a little town called Blytheville, Arkansas. It's about, I would say, once you cross the bridge, like 45 minutes from Memphis. But when I was seven, we moved from Blytheville. And I moved - my dad. So my dad's family is from Texas, a military family. So they were stationed in Arkansas at the Air Force Base in Gosnell. So once that closed, they moved to San Antonio, and then eventually my mom ended up moving to Memphis to be a teacher. So I kind of split my time between San Antonio and Memphis, but most of my time was in Memphis, and I went to, uh. Came here - eventually, I ended up at White Station Middle, and then I moved around a lot. So I went to three different high schools. I went to White Station my freshman year. Then I moved to San Antonio for a year with my dad. And then I came back to Memphis and I finished my last two years at Cordova High School. Shoutout to Cordova. But yeah, so that was kind of my introduction to journalism right there. Because Cordova, they had a newspaper there called The Wolf Tales. So we had the Cordova Wolf Tales, and then we had a journalism class. I believe that was the name of the class. But I don't even know why - It's just something I always wanted to do. I liked writing. So I was in that class. And then the teacher introduced us to the Teen Appeal. And we went, I don't know if I did it for one year or two years, but I know at least I went to one summer camp. I remember that for a fact. And then, so I think I guess I went to, maybe I guess it would have been junior and senior year, because I remember contributing my senior year as well. But yes, I contributed junior and senior year, but it was through a teacher and one of our teachers who taught our journalism class. She introduced us to Teen Appeal. And then I went to the summer camp, and then I guess the rest is history.

Aranda Hanks Gehringer  3:48  
And what do you remember, I guess about going to that camp? A few other people have talked to us a little bit about what it was like and some of the activities they did. But do you have any memories that really stand out from being at that camp?

Bria Jones  4:02  
As far as memory goes, it seems so long ago, but I remember it was cool to be on a college campus. It was a struggle to always get a ride. I think that's - I think maybe the first time I didn't have a ride, the second time I did. So it was definitely a good experience. You know, coming together I remember in the first year I did a , I believe it was - not, I don't want to mess his name up. What was his name? I believe Marcus Matthews - does that name sound familiar?

Aranda Hanks Gehringer  4:49  
Yes, yes.

Bria Jones  4:51  
Okay, yeah. So he was the instructor. But it was just - it was just nice. There was other people you got to meet - you know, other teens from across the city. Obviously, you know, we were all there interested in journalism. You know, you guys can write your stories. I never won any of the prizes, but, you know, it was always cool, like maybe hoping to see if I could win, you know, because they would have - at the end, it will be something for like best lead or you know, best whatever kind of story they were. You know, they would kind of judge the stories and you could win something at the end of the camp. But it was a unique experience, you know, coming to the Teen Appeal, going to, I guess, the Student Union, you know, having lunch on the campus, and just kind of, you know, hearing from other journalists. And then I also remember that we always went on a trip to The Commercial Appeal. So that was always cool. Just to kind of see, you know, exactly how the paper was made, to talk to other professionals. It was overall - it was just a good experience. It was - it was my introduction to journalism. A
nd I'm trying to remember exactly how it went down. But I still can feel myself in that. I see the pictures of the hall now. So it's still there, it was kind of like, I guess, the lecture hall, maybe in the journalism building. We’d meet there every single day. And that was just kind of, you know, my start to everything. I remember Otis Sanford would stop by. And then even now, the graduate advisor that I - that was there for my first time, Elle Perry. You know, she's now the president of the Memphis Association of Black Journalists. And I met Elle, you know, when I was in high school through the Teen Appeal. And it's funny, because now I still have copies of the Teen Appeal in my closet, just from the articles and stuff I was a part of. So it's like, I still have those things. And even, it was funny to look back. Like, it's like I was a part of this. It's like, you know, I have at least maybe 10 issues of the Teen Appeal in my closet. And then I guess I don't know how many times - if I did it once or twice. I know I participated, junior and senior year. And then during college, I also came back and I was - I participated as a - not an advisor, but like I was in college, and I came back to help. And it was nice - I don't know exactly what the title was, because I wasn't a grad advisor, but it was nice to come back. And I still, I still remember those memories of, you know, hey, I was once a part of the Teen Appeal, now coming back and working with students. You know, inner city students in the city of Memphis. And this is just like I was coming back to, you know, talk to them about the passion for journalism and kind of, you know, help them figure out where to go from there. And it's funny, because, you know, one of the girls from the camp, you know, we still communicate, you know, we’re still talking about journalism, and, you know, she's working at various newspapers and, you know, working at the National Civil Rights Museum, and, you know, we're always, you know, it's like, oh, my gosh, hey! You know, it's funny, because, you know, we met, you know, through the Teen Appeal. So it's just kind of one of those things where it was just a good introduction to journalism and a good networking tool as a kid.

Aranda Hanks Gehringer  8:52  
Yeah, absolutely. I was gonna ask if there's anyone you still kind of kept in touch with. And that's kind of been a pattern that we have been noticing a lot when we're talking to people, whether it's from like, they were involved as students, or maybe they worked with the paper, as a grad student, or as a coordinator or something. It just seems like a lot of these connections have carried through into people's adult lives, too. So it's really cool to hear about. I guess even going back to you were talking about how  you still had issues of the paper in your closet even - are there editorial topics that you guys, that you remember you all talking about a lot or is there like a piece you wrote that you can recall? Anything like that, I guess?

Bria Jones  9:41  
You see, it’s funny because at that point in time in my life I was focused on entertainment. So all my contributions were - I'm just looking back like,  I did like, you know, prom, you know, fashion. I did like spring weather, winter weather fashion. And you know, o those are kind of the articles that I wrote and participated in. I think my cover story was probably prom. I think that was the cover story I got to do, like prom fashion. And then of course, it was just like, it was nice looking back, and I was looking at some of the other things. It was nice to see, you know, because now I'm more focused on hard news. But they touched on, you know, some good topics, and you had a variety of students. You know, it wasn't just, you know, White Station and Overton. Like you have, you had a mixture of, you know, different high schools, and those bylines. And even, I was looking, it's funny to look back, because there was also a column in there called, like, “What's Hot and What's Not,” as far as music. And it's just funny like, oh, wow, this is who we were listening to, you know, just like, oh, this is so long ago, like, this was a song that was hot. You know? But it’s nice. And I think one of my favorite things is, I think if it was one of the grad advisors or not, but somebody did a compilation of all the seniors. And they asked us questions, and it's funny, like to go back and look at that. But they asked us, like, you know, several questions, you know, about our future and our plans, our goals, and it's just funny to kind of, you know, look back and see, you know, some of the things I was aspiring for at, you know, 16-17 years old.

Aranda Hanks Gehringer  11:47  
That's a very good segue into what I wanted to talk about. About you then graduating and going to school. Do you feel like the Teen Appeal and getting that hands-on experience contributed to, I guess, your decision on what you were going to study or what you do now, even? Like, where you decided to go to college and what all of that looks like up until now.

Bria Jones  12:15  
Yeah, I mean definitely. Yeah, I guess I always knew that I was going to go to college. Initially, I just didn't know where I would necessarily want to go. I've always been interested in - since I was a kid, writing has been like, whatever I wanted to do, I knew I was going to write. Like, I didn't know what it was. I didn't know if it would be books, magazines, newspapers, I didn't know what I was doing. I just knew that I would be writing, I didn't necessarily know that I would be a TV reporter. That kind of came as a curveball. But I knew that I was going to be a writer. And that’s just the foundation of, you know, news reporting in itself, like you have to be, you know, the writers. It goes - I write every day. So with the Teen Appeal, it was just, it was a wonderful introduction. And as a high school student, it gave me an opportunity to, you know, be published, which is not something that, you know, is happening, I don't even think that's happening anymore in the city. Because, you know, I went back to Cordova recently, I don't think they have the Wolf Tales. I don't even know if the Wolf Tales actually published. But I know that we worked on it. And we said we were writers. We were part of it. But when I'm thinking about it, it was just such a wonderful opportunity to, you know, it got my feet wet, it got me, you know, that was my, my first byline was with the Teen Appeal. So, you know, that was something that I will never forget. And then going off to college, and joining my college newspaper, it just kind of let me know, like, “Oh, these are some of the things that are out there. And you can actually do it.” You know, cause some of those things can be intimidating. It's like, “Oh, you know, I’ve never wrote, I've never written for the paper before:, like, you know, you know, I'm scared or I'm nervous, I'm weary. But it was like, I may have felt all those things, but I had already had experience with the Teen Appeal. That gave me a little confidence and a boost to just be able to, you know, “Hey, I do want to be involved in school paper. And I can do it, you know, on this level, because, you know, I was able to learn how to do it in high school”. So the Teen Appeal, I think was just the foundation for all of this. It was just a really good experience and I'm, you know, thankful for it. I always talk about it when I look back and I think about, you know, the experience. Um, you know, kind of just like my humble beginnings. So the Teen Appeal - I actually was awarded a scholarship.Though I think the scholarship was through SPJ. But it was through like, not through, I'm trying to figure out how to say this. The Teen Appeal, in some kind of way, I was awarded a scholarship from the Society of Professional Journalists through the Teen Appeal. And that helped me you know, that was, you know, it was something that, you know, I can put towards my tuition because I went to St. John's University in New York City, which was expensive. So looking back, I don't know about all that. But I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world either. But, you know, I was awarded a scholarship from SPJ. And I went to college. And it was something that, you know, helped me, you know, get books and stuff like that. It was something that, you know, went towards my tuition. So I'm grateful for that. And eventually, I think - what was it, my junior or senior year? I ended up becoming the president of the Society of Professional Journalists. I ended up becoming the Entertainment Editor. I started as a contributing writer, then I worked my way up to Assistant Editor. And then I became the Entertainment Editor for my college newspaper, my junior-senior year. And so, yeah, I just think all those things - the Teen Appeal was a great introduction to preparing you for that.

Aranda Hanks Gehringer  16:38  
Yeah, absolutely. I would imagine it gives you such a, I mean, like you were saying a leg up on getting into the school, deciding you want to be a part of the college paper, you just have all this experience that other kids your age probably didn't. And you're just able to dive in so much faster. It's really unique. I guess bouncing off of that even: do you recall when you heard about the Teen Appeal’s funding coming to an end, and that the program would be closing? Is that something that maybe you remember?

Bria Jones  17:09  
I don’t remember exactly where I was, and like how long ago, but I remember feeling disappointed. I think I remember because I think at that point in time, I think Elle may have been over the program.

Aranda Hanks Gehringer  17:28  
I think you're right, yeah.

Bria Jones  17:30  
And I remember her telling me that it was coming to an end and, you know, I was, I was saddened because, you know, other students, and this is, you know, journalism, it's important, it's necessary. You know, that work, the work that we do is instrumental to our society. And it saddened me to know that other students would not have the same opportunities, because that's, that's what it's really about. You know, you need opportunities to be able to grow to, you know, to be able to even believe that you can possibly do something, you know, everybody has, you know, dreams and desires and goals. Sometimes, it's just as simple as getting the opportunity to achieve them. And, you know, that's what you really need. You need opportunities, and it saddened me to know that, you know, the journalists of tomorrow, no longer have that opportunity. And I hope, you know, there are at least I don't know, if your research, you know, how many, you know, students, you know, publications out there, how many new students or how many schools even have newspapers? I know, at least I'm seeing more and more of the schools have TV stations, which is great. You know, but it was, it saddened me to know that students would no longer have the opportunity that I had at the Teen Appeal, because it was just such a really good opportunity.

Aranda Hanks Gehringer  19:13  
I mean, even outside of the Teen Appeal giving you this outlet to pursue something you're passionate about, like giving you this place to write and learn about journalism. What do you recall about even the benefits of like networking or meeting kids that didn't go to Cordova or were from other parts of the city? Um, because that's a really unique element to the Teen Appeal that it seems like other high school newspapers, they provide - other high school papers provide you the opportunity to write but you're really not getting out there and meeting other Memphians, other people from your city

Bria Jones  19:49  
Yeah, you know, it was a week-long camp. So we got to definitely, you know, talk to people from other walks of life. Uh, it was a diverse group. I will say that, you know, some of the people that I went to Teen Appeal with, you know, we're not close or anything, but, you know, I still am friends with them on social media. I get to see their lives, you know, from afar. These are people that, you know, I haven't seen since the Teen Appeal camp, but, you know, I know who they are. And I remember them from the Teen Appeal. And even when I see you know, Mr. Matthews on social media, or Elle on social media. I know like, “Oh, these are the people that I met from the Teem Appeal.” And it was a good time to, you know, get to know people. It was almost like going to college for just a week in high school. You know, it's that experience of newness. A fresh start, a new beginning, and an opportunity to, you know, meet folks outside of your world.

Aranda Hanks Gehringer  20:58  
Yeah, absolutely. Can you tell me a little bit about postgrad and what your career has looked like, after finishing college up to where you are now.

Bria Jones  21:10  
Um, so okay. So when I was in college, I went to college with the mindset that I wanted to work for the New York Times. I wanted to be a Black Carrie Bradshaw. But also, I really wanted to be Oprah and Barbara Walters, I just had a lot going on. But I was - I wanted to be everybody.. But I had a teacher in high school that said, “when you talk, people listen.” And it wasn't until maybe - so I went to college, and I was doing journalism, or I think I switched my - my major ended up being ultimately communications with a minor in business and journalism. And so, I started because communications allowed me to take, like more TV presentation classes and stuff like that. So I ended up - I got some internships, like my first internship was at the Wendy Williams Show. And then I went on to do my senior year, I interned at Viacom. And my first semester I did MTV and my last semester I did VH1. And I left there, and I decided, like my junior-senior year, I was like, “Okay, this is gonna be a leap of faith, like, you're gonna have to get out of your comfort zone. But you're gonna be a television reporter, like, that's what you want to do.” So I was trying to figure out how to make that happen. And I came back home to Memphis. And through that, I ended up getting a job as a digital producer at one of the TV stations here, and I did that for a year and a half. And then I built a newsreel - a reporter reel. And eventually I sent that out. And then I used that to get a first job. And I got a part time job actually, so it was a struggle. So I left my full time digital producing job to be a part time reporter/digital producer in Monroe, Louisiana. And then from there it’s been a roller coaster full of ups and downs and adversity. But you know, here I am still standing. So I have no complaints. Did you have questions? Do you want me to go into detail about how I got to Memphis?

Aranda Hanks Gehringer  23:45  
No, that was perfect. Honestly, I kind of also just wanted to ask you about, I guess, advice you would give a, let's say even like a high schooler that maybe has that same passion you have for writing, or maybe is thinking about pursuing journalism or communications in college. Is there any advice you'd give them?

Bria Jones  24:06  
Yes. I mean, because after Louisiana, I was told no so many times. I wanted to come to Memphis. I was told no, to the point where somebody actually, you know, got back to me that, you know, they didn't want to hire me because of my size, the way that I looked. Which was devastating. And I ended up going to Flint, Michigan. And I didn't want to go to Flint. I had been to Michigan one time - in Detroit for a work conference - but I had never just been to Michigan and I didn't know anybody there, but I went. I've moved to Flint, Michigan, and it was one of the best things I've ever done for my career. And then that prepared me and eventually I got the call to come here to Memphis to News Channel 3. And while I was denied at one point by all the stations in town, I ended up ultimately getting a job at the number one station in Memphis. And so my advice to any young journalist would be to know what to want, know what your goals are, know what your dreams are, and don't let anyone tell you that you can't do what you want to do. You will hear no, but use that as the fuel to continue to be relentless in pursuing the desires of your heart. I think that would be my biggest piece of advice. Because you have to be fearless in the pursuit of what you want. And there will be people, there'll be roadblocks. You know, some people just won't get it, and that's okay. They don't have to get it. But as long as you get it, and you know what you want out of life, and you know where you want to take your career. Just hold on to that, believe it, and keep going. That would be my biggest piece of advice to keep going. Don't stop. You literally have to be fearless in the pursuit of your dreams.

Aranda Hanks Gehringer  26:18  
I love that. That's perfect. I guess my last question would just be, what do you hope is on the horizon for the rest of your career? I mean, you're obviously here in Memphis, like, that's probably been celebratory in itself. But what do you want to do with the rest of your career in news and in broadcast journalism?

Bria Jones  26:38  
For the rest of my career in news and broadcast journalism - oof! Um, I want my own platform. I love local news but I would love to be able to venture out and have my own platform.I don't know exactly what that looks like. I'm still trying to figure out what that looks like. But I would love to have a more elevated platform to be able to tell stories from all across the world. I don't know if I want to necessarily do international, so maybe all across the country. I think that maybe that'll be the better word for that. I would love to be able to share stories from all across the country on a national platform. Yeah, that’s what I want to do.

Aranda Hanks Gehringer  27:46  
Awesome. Is there anything that I haven't asked that you just love to mention about the Teen Appeal, about the process, about journalism? I want to make sure I'm definitely not leaving anything out that felt important to you.

Bria Jones  28:01  
I mean, I think that you covered it. Well, I just hope that you know, I don't - is the Teen Appeal coming back, or what’s the focus of this project?

Aranda Hanks Gehringer  28:11  
Yeah, so this is for our graduate program at the University of Memphis. This is for our multimedia reporting class this semester, actually. And this all started because our professor wanted to shake up a little bit how the class usually is designed. And he is really interested in podcasting and telling stories that way. So obviously, he's familiar with the Teen Appeal, even though when he joined staff at Memphis, the paper had already come to an end, because of Otis and all the other people who were so involved. And I think, honestly, the hope of all of this is to draw some attention and to maybe even find funding or a way to bring the Teen Appeal back and get the Department of Journalism and Strategic Media at the University of Memphis involved. And just to provide that outlet again to Memphis youth, because it's that same thing you keep talking about that has popped up in all these interviews we've been doing from people that were involved in the 90s to the later 2000s. People keep talking about how unique the connection and the culture building behind the paper was. And just how cool it'd be to even get grad students involved to teach high schoolers these skills and then launch their career in the exact same way you did. So we're in the very early stages, but he's really hoping to carry out further research even after this class and maybe bring the paper back to life. Yeah.

Bria Jones  29:44  
Yeah. Well, that would be awesome. I would love to see the Teen Appeal come back. You know, it was, I think it's something that Memphis needs. The young journalists need the Teen Appeal. You know, it’s the paper of the future. They need to bring it back, yeah. I hope you guys can work on that.


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