Journalist receives honor in civic leadership

by Katherine Burns / Beacon Staff • October 15, 2015

This past Wednesday, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones received the Emerson College President’s Award for Civic Leadership and spoke about her experience covering social justice and civil rights issues in her career.

President M. Lee Pelton, who presented Hannah-Jones with the award, noted her work’s impact, particularly in her coverage of segregation in public schools for ProPublica, while introducing her.

“[Hannah-Jones’] career demonstrates in many consequential ways exactly what it means to demonstrate and live, in her own life, creative courage and advancing social justice,” Pelton said in his speech.

A Q&A conducted by writing, literature and publishing associate professor Kimberly McLarin followed the presentation of the award.

Hannah-Jones said in her acceptance speech that she never subscribed to the idea of being a completely objective reporter in work, and that instead journalists are charged with being fair and accurate. She said that it can be more difficult for black reporters to write about issues of race, because their perspectives are often challenged more than those of white reporters.

“People assume they see your bias, and when you are a white male journalist I think people assume you have no bias because that’s considered normative or neutral,” Hannah-Jones said.

The event was held in the Semel Theater, and around 60 people attended.

Ashley Dunn, a sophomore communication sciences and disorders major who attended the event, said it was interesting to hear Hannah-Jones’ perspective on how social media changed the rise of activism movements.

“The development of social movements has changed over time with the introduction of new media, social media, and she talked about a lot of that influence within her work and within the journalism community,” Dunn said.

Hannah-Jones said in an interview with the Beacon that she was surprised when Emerson approached her for the award.

“I am honored that anyone thinks that what I’m doing is worthy of acknowledgement and I write about things that are deeply entrenched and issues that have been dead issues for a while,” Hannah-Jones said. “The fact that people think this work is important and want to acknowledge it, I’m very grateful.”