Journalism can tell true stories of people of color: CNN anchor

Apr 14, 2021

Abby Philip realized her passion was in journalism and not cardiovascular surgery her junior year upon walking through The Harvard Crimson halls.

A trip to Mississippi and Tennessee cemented this passion. 

"We traveled to the place where Emmett Till was killed," she said Friday during the Georges Conference on College Journalism, a zoom event sponsored by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University.

There, Phillip realized modern journalism was built on the foundation of reporters of that era retelling authentic stories of what they saw and experienced.

Years later, as a CNN political correspondent and weekend anchor, Phillip still remembers the importance of minorities being able to authentically retell their experiences through journalism.

A 2015 McKinsey report showed companies in the top quartile for gender, racial, and ethnic diversity were more likely to have greater financial returns. This should be important for the newspaper industry, which has seen a substantial decline in the past decade

However, according to Pew Research, only 23% of newsroom employees are people of color, while 40% of the U.S. population are people of color.

A lack of diversity extends to management within the news industry, impacting editorial decisions and retaining a diverse staff.

Phillip said physical representation of minorities is only part of the story, but the importance of diversity in newsrooms is also about adding value. “Who is not sitting here at this table right now?” said Phillip. “It's OK [to say], 'I have something to say.”

Taylor Blatchford broke the news when students at her alma mater, the University of Missouri, protested racism. Blatchford, now a news producer for the Seattle Times, said it is important for newsrooms to invest in their journalists.

"[You must] really [create] a staff culture where people felt that they could come together with issues," she said. Blatchford also emphasized the importance of building bonds with the community when journalists cycle through so quickly.

Willoughby Mariano, an investigative reporter, and Austin Bogues, a reporter for the Asbury Park Press, said finding somewhere that values diversity can be a unique experience.

Mariano said that as she worked as a journalist, she had to be aware of others' perception of her limitations as a result of her race and gender. “Pigeonholing is a problem,” said Mariano. “[But] ultimately, through camaraderie and support, I ended up on an investigative team," said Mariano.

As a student at Hampton University, Bogues became connected to the community of Black journalists through mentorship from his professors and his involvement in the National Association of Black Journalists.

As he compared his rural upbringing to his Hampton colleagues’ backgrounds, Bogues became more aware of the nuances within racial groups. “You can be very specific when labeling someone,” he said. “Because I am Black, please don't use urban as [an] euphonism.”

Bogues believes that appreciation and acknowledgment of these nuances between and within minority groups strengthen newsrooms.

“[Diversity] is about lived experiences and ideas,” said Mariano. "You can see stories differently and rejuvenate coverage.”


Trae Mitchell and Tariq Turner represented The Spokesman [MSU] online news site at the campus journalism conference.