Speakers share their thoughts on race and the media
By Shonnan UsmanApril 3, 2017
On March 30, the second day of the Newhouse School’s Race and the Media event, four featured speakers gave 10-minute TED Talk-style remarks on topics relating to race and media. (Read about journalist Maria Hinojosa’s talk on the first day of the event.) The thought provoking, inspiring talks offered unique views of the role of race in journalism today.
The event kicked off with remarks from Michael Fletcher, a senior writer with The Undefeated and a former Washington Post reporter. He said he believes race underlines everything, including wider social issues like education, voter participation, incarceration rates, unemployment rates and test scores. “Informing people about these disparities, why they’re important, how they came to be, why they persist—I think that’s important to talk about and have people understand,” he said. “This kind of work is challenging because there are so many powerful narratives surrounding race.” He said race is a comprehensive issue and should be looked at from multiple perspectives.
Jesse Holland, race and ethnicity reporter for The Associated Press, said his work is about “stories I want to read.” When people ask why the media isn’t covering a certain story, Holland said, “[pursuing those stories] becomes your job.” He said stories about people need to be told, and that journalism is not about being popular. “This is not a field you want to get into if you want people to like you, because they will not,” he said. In addition to his work as a reporter, Holland is also an author. His book, “The Invisibles: The Untold Story of African American Slaves in the White House,” was published in 2016.
Michelle Marsh, a 2005 graduate of the Newhouse School, spoke next. “We speak about race when there is a crisis,” she said. She related an experience she had as a reporter in Atlanta, when she was assigned a story about a local restaurant frequented by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Despite her discomfort, Marsh pursued the story because she felt it was important for her, an African American woman, to interact with a KKK member. “Covering race may mean stepping out of your comfort zone,” she said. She also talked about covering the lowering of the Confederate flag in Columbia, the capital of North Carolina, just weeks after the church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina. Marsh went out of her way to interview not only supporters of the flag’s removal, but also protestors. “I knew those voices needed to be heard,” she said. Marsh also told the audience she loves working in journalism because, “I have a front row seat to history.”
Terron Moore, in his first public speaking experience, was the last presenter at the event. Moore, the social media director at Teen Vogue and Allure magazine, is a 2010 graduate of Syracuse University. He discussed the rebranding of Teen Vogue and his role in shaping narratives. He said he does his best to ensure that racial minorities are properly represented. “As writers, we use our words to answer the questions, ‘Who are we?’ ‘Who are we in relation to each other?’ ‘Who are we as a nation?’” He said there’s a growing awareness among new media practitioners of the importance of covering critical societal issues, not just “fluff” pieces. “We are always thinking about how to include marginalized voices, not just in editorial, but across platforms—meeting our readers where they are,” he said. Moore, who has worked for a variety of brands, believes publishers should be held accountable for accurate representation of different kinds of people.
Sunny Balkin, a freshman broadcast and digital journalism student who attended the event, said, “To progress as a society, I feel we need to diversify. The more we don’t diversify our newsrooms, the more society is stifled because progress will not be made.”
Following their presentations, the speakers took questions from the audience, and then participated in a meet-and-greet with students and other guests.
Shonnan Usman is a senior public relations major at the Newhouse School.