By Jahaira Arthur
Black women in journalism have felt the hardship of the industry since its inception; that does not stop the excess of talent and fight that these women of color exude. The International Women’s Media Foundation strives to empower female journalists to break barriers in the industry. The organization recently held a panel discussion, “Opening Doors: Black Women Journalists Lifting Up a New Generation” with speakers Michele Norris, Karen Toulon, Nikole Hannah-Jones and Yamiche Alcindor and moderated by Michel Martin (NPR’s All Things Considered, Amanpour & Company).
These women are all Black journalists carrying on the legacy of Gwen Ifill, the first Black woman to host a national news program with PBS’s Washington Week in Review. On the panel they discussed mentors, what about the industry breaks their hearts, people leaving journalism, the exclusion of Black women and imposter syndrome. The panelists delivered an impactful message of the true horrors women, especially those of color, face in the newsroom. Combating those horrors with motivational words of wisdom and their experience of victory to inspire the next generation of Black women journalists.
Watch the full "Opening Doors" panel discussion:
All of the panelists are Gwen Ifill Award winners, an honor IWMF bestows upon women of color who have achieved outstanding accomplishments in journalism and media. Michele Norris has been in journalism for over three decades. She was the first Black woman to host for National Public Radio. She created a new form of journalistic storytelling through her comfortable and investigative style. Karen Toulon has decades of experience in the industry; she is a senior editor at Bloomberg, reporting from various global sites. A key part of her career is coaching the next generation of journalists across the sectors of broadcasting and print. Nikole Hannah-Jones is the founder of The New York Times’s “1619 Project,” which reexamines American history through the lens of Black culture and trauma from slavery. She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, who is dedicated to opening doors for people of color in journalism. Yamiche Alcindor is the host of Washington Week, a White House correspondent and political contributor to various news outlets. She works to cover the truth of social and political issues, often from an untold point of view.
In each of their confessions on what breaks their heart about the industry, there was a common thread of continually having to prove oneself. They all are constantly underestimated because they are women and of color. Norris spoke of an erasure, feeling you are erased while you're in the room because your voice is not heard. Hannah-Jones pointed to a failure in the country’s news coverage because the industry won’t listen to Black journalists and has marginalized them in their own newsrooms. There is a history of discrimination in journalism. Many Black journalists know the reality of being banned from wearing their natural hair on air, having to conform to white standards to be accepted, or having to fight to be seen, with any mistakes made held over their heads.
These women’s career contributions combat discrimination in the workplace. Toulon created a program for women to gain skills in communication and public speaking in order to overcome cultural conditioning. Where women, especially those of color, feel unqualified to speak on their area of expertise because the majority of experts are represented by white men. Alcindor prides herself on being a mentor. The support and leadership she shares with the next generation break destructive patterns of pitting Black people against one another.
Closing out with words of encouragement, Toulon pressed inspiring journalists to be clear on your purpose, emphasizing that your life story adds value to the newsroom. Alcindor promoted the idea of “finding your people,” as they will be the ones who not only help you get the job but survive it.