When Reina Kempt arrived at Louisiana Tech University she was a new face on the Bulldogs’ women’s basketball team and only three hours from her hometown, Baton Rouge. To that point, basketball was the focal point of her life. However, like most 18 and 19-year-olds, she had to find what she wanted to pursue after graduating. She couldn’t major in basketball. She loved writing, she used to dabble with poems and short stories, and she adored sports. Sports journalism felt the most appropriate, and after taking an introductory class, there was no going back.
“It was a pretty cavalier decision,” she said.
Kempt, 30, is now the sports director at the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, the highest-circulating newspaper in the state and the 48th largest newspaper in the country with more than 113,000 daily subscribers. And she’s the only Black female sports editor at a major metro newspaper in the country.
She stopped playing basketball after her sophomore year. She adored the sport but needed to shift her focus toward her budding career in journalism. Any free time was absorbed freelancing and interning wherever given an opportunity.
She graduated from Louisiana Tech in 2013 and soon found herself in Natchez, Mississippi, working for the Natchez Democrat. It was her first real taste in a professional setting. She handled budgeting and designing pages, covered many events, and cut her teeth as an editor.
After almost a year and a half in Natchez, she moved on, working on her page design skills and mastering Adobe’s various software to make stories come to life on paper.
She had a chance to return home in 2017 to work at Louisiana’s largest newspaper, The Advocate. They created a new position for her as deputy sports editor and within months, she flourished.
“There was always this energy, this vision, this want for more,” Joe Schiefelbein, the Advocate’s former sports editor, said of Kempt.
The Advocate was in dire need of a good page designer, Perryn Keys, the newspaper’s current sports editor, said. The fact that Kempt grew up in the region magnified her ability to contribute quickly.
They once were laying out a story on the finances of various college athletic departments. It was a great way to compare how different colleges across the SEC spend and make their money. There was a problem. How do they find an engaging image to invite readers?
A picture of a head coach wouldn’t have cut it. So Keys approached Kempt a few hours before print, asking what she could do with a dollar bill.
Within hours, she repurposed the $1 bill to replace numbers and symbols with figures pulled from the story’s reporting.
“It was a masterpiece,” Keys said. “Not everybody can do that.”
When Rana Cash left the Courier-Journal to begin working as the Savannah Morning News’ executive editor, Kempt was among the first people she recommended. And it’s not just because their names are pronounced the same.
“I thought that she could bring a lot to the table,” Cash said of Kempt’s talent and ability to provide the Courier-Journal with a different perspective.
The fact that she can usher in a new way to cover sports in Louisville fulfills Kempt. In February, she took the helm of a Black History Month project to highlight how Black Kentuckians changed the sports landscape. It was the first large project she did on her own.
The project covered athletes as recent as University of Louisville men’s basketball player Malik Williams, who was front and center during protests following the murder of George Floyd last summer. The project goes as far back as Moses Fleetwood Walker, who played major league baseball 63 years before Jackie Robinson.
But her role in ushering in diversity doesn’t end at promoting diverse coverage. When she started working in Louisville, she was without an assistant editor. So when the position opened up, she reached out to the National Association of Black Journalists and the APSE to diversify the pool of applicants. She later settled on Gabriel Stovall, a versatile Black journalist with more than a decade of experience covering sports.
Being in her position, she wanted to ensure she’s used her platform to promote the best candidates possible while fostering diversity.
“First and foremost, it was really about giving us a chance to prove ourselves,” Kempt said.
So what’s next for the rising star in sports media? Kempt has no plan set in stone. But throughout her career, she’s found ways to grow her influence, and there’s no stopping her rise within the industry.