Meet Rashida Jones, the first Black executive to lead a major television news network

BY Preta Peace Namasaba November 30, 2023 7:26 AM EDT
Pictured: Rashida Jones -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBCUniversal/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Rashida Jones, who has served as the president of MSNBC since 2021, has become a trailblazer in the media industry, marking a historic achievement as the first Black executive to lead a major television news network. Her journey to this groundbreaking role is characterized by resilience, determination, and a commitment to exceeding expectations.

Growing up in a suburban neighborhood in central Pennsylvania, Jones was one of the few Black students in a predominantly white school. Despite constant underestimation, she excelled academically, consistently making the honor roll and showcasing her prowess in various subjects.

Jones recalls these experiences, stating, “I was constantly the best writer with the best handwriting, the best at math. And I think people just assumed certain things—not only because of who I was and where I lived, and they didn’t know us—and constantly proving people wrong, by actions, not by words, is just something I’ve always kept in mind, and I’ve always operated that way,” as shared in The Daily Beast.

Jones’s interest in journalism began to blossom during her pre-teen years. Fascinated by information and news, she developed a habit of reading two newspapers daily and even started a neighborhood newsletter in the third grade. Initially considering a career as an English teacher, she joined the high school newspaper club and eventually became the editor of the student paper.

Her journey in media continued at Hampton University, where she pursued a major in mass media arts. Early professional experiences included an internship at WTKR Channel 3, a local CBS affiliate. Jones swiftly transitioned to a full-time producer role, handling the premier 11 p.m. newscast. Post-graduation, she ventured into roles as a weekend producer and director of live programming at The Weather Channel before becoming the news director at WIS-TV, an NBC affiliate in Columbia, South Carolina.

Jones’s trajectory led her to MSNBC, initially joining as an executive producer for daytime shows. Recognizing her talent and leadership skills, she ascended to the positions of managing editor and senior vice president of specials for NBC News and MSNBC. In these roles, she managed both dayside and weekend news programming, playing a pivotal role in covering major events and breaking news, including spearheading the network’s coverage of COVID-19 during the pandemic and overseeing the 2020 presidential election coverage.

In 2021, Rashida Jones etched her name in history by becoming the president of MSNBC, breaking barriers as the first Black executive to lead a major television news network. In her current role, she oversees all aspects of programming, editorial units, business development, technical operations, and MSNBC Films. Notably, she led the launch of the MSNBC hub on Peacock, expanding the network’s streaming footprint. Jones is also committed to investing in the expansion of MSNBC’s digital content to reach new audiences.

Reflecting on her journey, Jones acknowledges the challenges she still faces, stating, “I’m still routinely either the youngest or the only person who looks like me in a room, and at this level and with the track record that I have, there’s a lot less convincing industry-wide about what I can do and what I’m capable of, but—in real life, in work life—people make assumptions and I just let it roll off my back,” as expressed in The Daily Beast.

Rashida Jones’s ascent in the media landscape stands as a testament to her resilience, dedication, and ability to shatter glass ceilings, paving the way for more diverse and inclusive leadership in the industry. As she continues to shape the narrative at MSNBC, Jones remains a powerful force, driving innovation and amplifying diverse voices in the world of news and media.