Randolph Buffington, Contributor for ESPN, The Undefeated
"Everybody's in different stages of their lives. As long as you have that hunger and passion to want to get something done, people feed off of that. They recognize realness."
Randolph Buffington is a freelance contributor for ESPN, The Undefeated and digital content creator for Fox26. Randolph graduated from Heidelberg University and crafts segments about the intersection of pop culture and sports.
We sat down with Randolph to find out about his journey into media and his process of creating stories remotely.
I am a digital journalist officially based out in Cleveland, Ohio. I’ve been working here for the past three years. I got my start in college experimenting with different projects, talking in front of a green screen about things I’m passionate about—the intersection of pop culture and sports. I’m having some fun with it, telling some jokes, trying to stand out and be different.
Tell us about your big break:
One of the major things to me was the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). I went to a conference there my senior year in college. I got a lot of feedback from a lot of people who told me I was on the right path. If I didn't have those people telling me something right, it would have been a tough time for me. I needed to hear that at the time and it helped to get my motors running. In Heidelberg, we had an alumnus, John Buccigross, who was an anchor on Sports Center in Bristol, Connecticut for ESPN. He invited us down to campus. I was one of five people allowed to go. I reached out to anybody affiliated with ESPN, trying to connect. And everybody was on board because they see you in them. Everybody wants to look out for the next person. At first, we were only supposed to go on campus one day out of the week and go on set. Based off the connections I made they gave us tours. That’s just my personality in general—reaching out, trying to make genuine connections and make things come full circle. When you show love, it always come back.
The first job I got out of college was at WOIO, a CBS station. The reason I got that job was because of LinkedIn. I reached out to a reporter at the station, Damon Maloney, sent him my stuff and asked about job opportunities. They said that it was really good, that no one was really doing anything like that in their market, and they wanted to pass my stuff along to an additional manager. That manager eventually became my boss, Tamu Thomas, and she saw something in me. She took a chance on me. And it went from me telling my stories in front of a green screen to telling actual feature pieces. That’s where I honed my craft. It was a learning curve but definitely a blessing.
Can you describe your day-to-day at WOIO?
It was dope, it was the daytime news in the city, everyday was something different. My job was a little bit different in that I was able to pitch everything. I worked as a multimedia journalist (MMJ). As an MMJ you write, shoot, and edit your own stuff. A lot of times, you don't have a camera man. You're shooting everything yourself and trying to frame a story. If you wanted to tell a story about a boxer, it’s easy to ask questions about the fight and about training. But you have to think differently when you have to shoot it. You got to get b-roll of the boxer shadowboxing in a corner. You got to zoom in on him jumping rope. You got to think differently to tell the piece visually. That was a lot of stuff I didn’t know about going into it, but I picked it up.
Being a young Black man I felt responsible for telling stories about my community. I knew the stories I would want to hear as someone in that demographic.
You look at a regular news rundown, it could be anything from a shooting or crime on a day-to-day basis. My stories were about going back to those same communities and talking about the good stuff that’s happening. I didn’t want to hear about the shooting that was happening at three o'clock in the morning. I wanted to hear about the girl that was up at three o'clock in the morning passing out stuff to homeless folks. I was able to do a lot of pitches like that. And people saw that and started reaching out to me for things because they saw the brand that I was trying to build. And it worked. I think you need those types of stories. Everybody loves their local teams. It's not just about athletes. It's fun covering these NFL players and going to NBA games, but I wanted to hear about the guy at the high school level who needs to have a big senior year to take it to the next level to be a first-generation college student. We want to hear those stories as well. I think those are stories that are inspirational and can change lives if people are listening.
After working at WOIO in Cleveland, Randolph transitioned to working at ESPN, Undefeated where he covered news stories about Black athletes from varying perspectives. Early on, Randolph created segments challenging racializing in sports and challenging conventional stereotypes for what is considered a Black sport.
We see Black people play a sport like tennis, swimming or gymnastics, but we don't lock in on it as a community because of whatever stereotype we may have about that sport. These guys are ultra-talented. I posed the question, “What if we actually invested in our brothers and sisters that are really good at that said sport? What could potentially happen?” You can easily draw parallels between sports that aren’t normalized and played as much in our community and athletes like Serena Williams and Tiger Woods. If we go for it, we could take over.
Where do you find your equipment?
I use my phone for everything. Buy yourself a tripod and flip your phone sideways and start talking. Don’t even think about it. We are content creators. There are different things you can grab, like a rode mic, which you can plug into your phone and clip the microphone onto your person. Different devices like that can go a long way. Investing in a ring light would be good. The two things that really make videos pop are crisp lighting and audio. As long you have those two things, you can’t go wrong. You can go to Amazon for the green screen. I bought mine, and it cost about $40.00. Everything is relatively affordable.
What is some advice you can give people who want to pursue your career?
Don't be afraid to reach out to people. That’s how I got into the position I’m in. They were once you before. They'll see themselves in you and how hungry you are. No matter how old you are, it doesn't matter. Everybody's in different stages of their lives. As long as you have that hunger and passion to want to get something done, people feed off of that. They recognize realness. Be your genuine self and don’t look back. Go full force with it. If you see someone with the job that you want, reach out to them on LinkedIn or try to get to someone that is affiliated with them. Reach out to them personally and be genuine about it. Say, “I really love what you do, and I would want to learn more to grow.” The number one thing I would say is don’t be afraid to reach out to folks.
Are there any roadblocks or obstacles you could advise people to avoid?
A lot of people are going to tell you no, and it can get annoying. It can test your patience. But you have to know that you have it. I’ve been in connection with a mentor for the past few years through NABJ who does really good work with different talent nationally—ESPN and Fox. And he watched my reel and the first thing he said was "This is really good. I haven’t seen anything like this in a really long time. And I’m going to build you up, but know in the same breath you have it. No matter what happens in your career, you will be good because you have it. There’s this 'it' factor there. Never forgot that. No matter how many no's you get along the way. You got to know deep down you were built for this.”
What is the ultimate legacy you want to leave behind?
I want people to say that Randolph was a hard worker. He was passionate about what he did. He brought people up along with him.
You can follow Randolph Buffington here:
Social media: @randyisice