By Haley Broughton

Nikole Hannah-Jones came to MU to discuss the most effective way to cover racial issues as a responsible journalist. Hannah-Jones has received many notable awards for her investigative journalism; she was named Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists and named as one of The Root 100 – the top 100 most influential African-Americans in forging new paths in politics, social justice, science and sports. She currently writes for the New York Times, but her reporting has also been featured in ProPublica, The Washington Post, Essence Magazine, NPR and many others.

She spoke to journalism students about what makes good reporting when it comes to hard to cover issues. Although she mainly discussed how to cover race and systemic problems, her tips could be applied to any topic student journalists have trouble writing on. Hannah-Jones emphasized that journalism isn’t just what happens, but who’s behind it and how the situation got to the point it did.

Race was the main focus of the discussion. Although there definitely is more coverage on segregation now more than ever before, newsrooms themselves are still dominantly white, says Hannah-Jones.

“Can we be credible with a news room that looks like this when our community doesn’t?” Hannah-Jones said. She isn’t saying that newsrooms need to be all people of color. What she means is that some stories tend to be ignored because white people simply haven’t faced the same issues people of color have faced since the establishment of the United States of America. “Race is the original problem of this country,” Hannah-Jones said.

“There is a revolution,” Hannah-Jones said when discussing social media and citizen journalism, “and I mean it. I don’t like hyperboles.” Citizen journalists have more ability than ever before. There is no necessary middle-man process for them to go through when they catch something on film- they just post it directly to the web.

“People are feeling free to tell their own stories,” said Hannah- Jones. She said it is the power of the internet that allows them to do so.

Nikole Hannah-Jones explained the power of citizen journalism through real life examples. She explained how citizen journalists began the #blacklivesmatter movement. Two black women from different places came together on Facebook to explain their immense upset towards Michael Brown’s death. Antonio French was an alderman who live tweeted the events in Ferguson and thus provided a counter-narrative to the mainstream media’s reports of what was going on. #iftheygunnedmedown was a movement begun by young black men who saw the main stream media using pictures that portrayed young black men who had been killed by police as thugs. All these events were brought to the main media’s attention by people using their voice via social media. Without the work of citizen journalists, many stories would be pushed under the rug.

The main stream media tends to blindly agree with what law officials say, according to Nikole Hannah-Jones.

“If law says it, we believe it. We [as journalists] should never be deferential to any power, ” Hannah -Jones said. She criticized journalists who she says won’t ask what needs to be asked to get to the truth of the story.

Using the David J. Leonard quote ,“Racism gets reduced to intent, as if intent is all that maters,” as her lead in, Nikole Hannah-Jones stressed that when covering societal problems it’s crucial to ask if the person in power knew what happened and if they knew that actions they chose to take led to the outcome being that occurred.

The importance of true, analyzed and interrogated data was a central idea throughout the discussion. When an authoritative figure makes a claim, it is the job of the journalist to discover the truth behind said claim.

“That’s what we should do as reporters… we don’t believe what anyone tells us”, Hannah-Jones wrote on segregated school-districts in her piece “Segregation Now” for ProPublica. While researching schools in Tuscalosa, Alabama she found school district maps drawn to purposefully segregate low-income black student from higher-income white students. According to Hannah-Jones, the head of education told her that black children don’t get equal education. “We still have classrooms full of black children 60 years after Brown v. Board.”

According to Hannah-Jones, the main reason people refuse to discuss issues is because it’s easier not to. In conclusion, she stressed that without investigative, critically thinking and always digging for more journalists, too many stories go untold.

She closed her presentation by addressing the MU students. “As journalists, if we are not speaking for those who are invisible to power, we our not doing our jobs,” Hannah-Jones said.

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