TV and print journalist Brandon Pope, 30, is the host of “On The Block,” a local newsmagazine premiering Thursday at 7 p.m. on WCIU-Ch. 26. He entered “The Mincing Rascals” rotation in the spring of 2021. This narrative is an edited version of his answers to my questions, which began with “Who is Brandon Pope and how did he get into this racket?”
I was born in Cleveland, raised in Cincinnati and moved around the state of Ohio a lot as a kid, eventually ending up in Richmond, Indiana, just over the Ohio border. I have one sister who is two years younger than I am.
My father passed away when I was in kindergarten. He was an engineer. My mother raised us as a single parent. She was a very serious singer who toured and sang in shows — “The King and I,” “Les Miserables,” “Phantom of the Opera” and so on. But once I was born, as she explains it, that got put on the back burner. She made her living as a nurse, but always emphasized to me the importance of following your passions and your dreams.
I became interested in journalism through watching SportsCenter on ESPN, seeing anchor Stuart Scott and saying to myself, “Hey, here’s this cool black guy on TV and talking about stuff he loves, let me see if I can do the same thing.”
So at Richmond High School, I made a documentary about one of my good friends who had cerebral palsy but still was a mixed martial arts fighter. I won a Phantoscope High School Film Festival award for it — Phantoscope is a juried competition for high school filmmakers in the United States and Canada. It was my first big honor, and I thought, OK, maybe this is a field I can get into.
I went to Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, in 2010 planning to pursue sports journalism but realized quickly that my interest was in storytelling of all sorts.
I was a journalism and telecommunications double major with a minor in Spanish, and I got involved in all aspects of campus media. TV, radio, newspaper.
Some people told me to focus on just one, but the reason I’ve had the options I’ve had is that I built a broad resume and learned to operate in all three. I’ve never been pegged as just a TV guy or just a radio guy or just a newspaper guy.
Versatility is everything, right? I had a great mentor at WRTV, the ABC affiliate in Indianapolis where I interned for a while. His name is Chris Proffitt, and he told me “Hey, Brandon, it’s not narrowcasting it’s broadcasting.” You want to be able to appeal to as many people as possible.”
I also interned in the newsrooms of WTHR-TV, the NBC affiliate in Indianapolis and WCPO-TV, the ABC affiliate in Cincinnati. But my best learning experience was when I covered the Summer Olympics in London in 2012 and provided content for multiple outlets across the country.
Say there was an athlete from Evansville Indiana, for example. I would contact publications and stations in the area and offer them video or written pieces about those athletes.
After graduation in 2014 my first job was at ABC57 in South Bend, Indiana. At first I worked the midnight to 9 a.m. news shift, then weekend anchor shifts, and then I became the Notre Dame sports reporter, covering the football team and traveling around. That beat required a great deal of versatility — I did a lot of enterprise features as well as game stories and had to be on top of recruiting, athletic department politics, what alumni were up to and so on. And of course everything had to be done fast. It was a real journalism boot camp, but it honed my skills in ways that made it easier to answer the call up to Chicago.
The South Bend station is owned by the same company that owns WCIU here in town, and at the beginning of 2017 they asked if I could try out with them. So for about seven weeks I drove up and filled in on a show they had at the time called “You and Me in the Morning.”
I never got much feedback, but kept being asked to come back. It was weird. When my contract was ending in South Bend, I had a job offer to be part of the investigative team at WREG-TV, the CBS affiliate in Memphis. So I pressed WCIU for a decision, and they eventually came through with an offer.
At first I was part of this incredible show called “The Jam.” I started out as their news guy but that quickly transformed into a lifestyle, entertainment, arts and culture beat. I was the guy who would interview the big celebrities coming to town, cover cool things happening in the city and go on fun little things like doggy cruises. Sadly, “The Jam” came to an end as a result of the pandemic, but we’re now building something new in its wake.
It’s called “On The Block,” and it’s a partnership between our station and the online news outlet Block Club Chicago, which does amazing hyperlocal journalism.
We’re tapping into their neighborhood-style storytelling and bringing it to TV in a weekly newsmagazine that dives into issues that traditional TV news doesn’t really have the time for.
I’ll be the host and I’ll be reporting for some segments as well. But he true stars of the show will be the Block Club Chicago reporters. My role is mostly to facilitate and help present their work. Jon Hansen, another Mincing Rascal, will be creating video versions of the inspiring stories from his “It’s All Good” podcast.
I’m a person with many passions. I love politics, I love sports , I love culture. I love the arts. And I’m blessed to have found a way to be able to pursue all those things. And I was blessed to have a mother who encouraged me to follow my dreams.
I mean, we all know journalism isn’t the most lucrative career, and some parents might say why not medicine? Why not engineering? But my mom , she understood. She got push back from her parents when she wanted to study music at Indiana University, but she did it and she found success. So she supported and encouraged me at every step along the way.
When I’m not working these days I love just to just chill and play video games like Madden or NBA 2K. I love hanging with friends playing board games and catching up. I find myself rewatching a lot of classic TV shows such as “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation” “and Seinfeld.”
If anyone was skeptical about the reboot of the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air “ on Peacock, I urge you to drop that skepticism. “Bel Air” is an incredible piece of work and I’m really excited to see how they move forward with that show in the second season.
I’m also into “Moon Knight” on Disney+. It’s Marvel’s latest offering but it’s different than anything Disney and Marvel have put out yet. It has a lot to say about mental health. It’s a game changer absolutely and a must-watch
Finally, “Atlanta” on FX starring Donald Glover. The show is hard to describe. On one hand, it chronicles his character’s journey to find a way to survive and make an income by promoting his cousin, who is a rapper. But it also has self-contained narratives unrelated to that overarching plot, that go deep into societal issues and cultural issues and world issues through dark humor and satire. The most recent episode, imagining an America where Black Americans have gained reparations, is perhaps it’s best story yet.