When Bryan Monroe spoke to journalism students, he often started by telling them a story: He was the first person to interview Barack Obama after he was elected president and the last person to interview Michael Jackson before he died.
“They sort of snapped to attention when he said that,” said David Boardman, dean of Temple University’s College of Media and Communication.
Monroe, 55, a professor at Temple who once held leadership positions at CNN and Ebony magazine and served as president of the National Association of Black Journalists, died Wednesday of a heart attack at home in Bethesda, Md.
His sudden passing shocked the journalism world, including many who had come to know and love the well-connected, big-hearted teacher and journalist, who had a sizable Rolodex that he frequently used to introduce students to high-profile speakers, such as Soledad O’Brien.
Journalists who served on NABJ boards with Monroe held a two-hour Zoom meeting Wednesday, reminiscing about the man they lost too soon.
“He was a titan,” said Ernest Owens, president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and editor at large at Philadelphia Magazine. “He was a maverick in journalism. He never forgot he was Black and he never forgot about the Black press.”
Born in Munich, Germany, Monroe was the son of U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James W. Monroe and the late Charlyne Monroe, a teacher from Atlantic City. He was a graduate of the University of Washington and had been a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.
Before beginning to teach at Temple in 2015, he was the Washington editor, Opinion & Commentary, at CNN and editor of CNNPolitics.com, where he was involved in editorial planning and content strategy on online platforms. He previously served as assistant vice president of news at Knight-Ridder Newspapers and helped lead the Biloxi (Miss.) Sun Herald to the 2006 Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina.
He also had been vice president and editorial director at Ebony and Jet magazines. In that capacity he led coverage of the 2008 presidential election and got those interviews with Obama and Jackson. He led NABJ from 2005 to 2007 and since August had been co-leading a content and culture audit for The Inquirer.
Boardman said he had known Monroe for more than 30 years. They met when Boardman was a reporter at the Seattle Times and Monroe was a photography intern. “Bryan was someone who used his heart as much as he used his brain to make a difference in the world,” Boardman said.
NABJ posted a memorial on its website.
“Bryan has been a trailblazer in our industry for years,” NABJ president Dorothy Tucker said in a statement. “... He helped countless journalism professionals and students to hone their skills in achieving excellence in their craft.”
Owens was one of them.
He met Monroe while attending the 2016 NABJ conference as a 24-year-old freelance journalist. The following year, at the 2017 NABJ conference, Monroe helped Owens “be in a position” to interview Omarosa Manigault Newman, then director of communications for the White House’s Office of Public Liaison in the Trump administration. It was the same year that she clashed with panelists over police brutality at the Black journalists convention.
”One thing I love about Bryan, no matter how powerful he was, no matter how high he was, he was not too high to uplift people and bring other people into the fold.” Owens said. “He did that for me.”
Monroe met his partner, Abrielle Beaton Anderson, three years ago.
“He was a really loving, amazing, incredible partner and father,” she said.
In addition to his father, Monroe is survived by his daughter, Seanna, a student at Temple; son, Jackson; and a sister.