Overby Center

STUDENT VOICE: ‘Sisterhood’ helped me understand working journalists

By Christina Waisner, UM freshman

Typically when one pictures the editor of a newspaper, she pictures an older white man.

This panel, however, includes only black women––each accomplished in her own right. Jewell Walston, for example, is executive editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times, Katrice Hardy is executive editor of the Dallas Morning News, and Mary Irby-Jones executive editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal.

What makes these achievements so incredible is that only 60 years ago, the very university they are now speaking in as experts would not have allowed them an education. Even the moderator, Marquita Smith, brought up this point, asking about how James Meredith––the man responsible for the integration of the University of Mississippi–and his legacy have inspired them.

“I felt stigma as an intern,” Katrice Hardy said.

Though discouraged, she remembered why she went into the news industry in the first place: she wanted to make a difference. Eventually, she realized that simply by virtue of her identity––a black woman––she was, in a way, doing just that. Just like her fellow panelists, she was breaking barriers by daring to do what no other individual like her had done before.

This breaking of barriers did not come without its obstacles, however. In a time of significant political and social upheaval, where differences in race and gender are becoming points of political contention, it seems inevitable that this would present significant challenges to any minority group hoping to enter the field. Jewell Walston, in particular, noted that it does open the way for criticism.

For example, following the George Floyd protests, Walston refused to cover Back the Blue rallies, causing many to question her legitimacy as an unbiased source. She, however, cited the fact that Back the Blue seemed to be created in direct opposition to the George Floyd protests, and thus decided that giving the opposition attention would only take away from the importance of the issue as a whole.

This, in turn, sparked a discussion about protecting democracy in the United States, and the journalistic duty to find the balance between protecting the people and upholding societal order. Mary Irby-Jones brought up the interesting point that, when considering these things, the public often forgets to consider the impact such a burden can have on reporters.

“We are asking journalists to work in the middle of experiencing the same trauma as everyone else,” Irby-Jones stated.

Though each Overby event has, in some form or fashion, touched on journalistic topics, “A Sisterhood of Editors” has been the first to spotlight what it is like working as a journalist specifically. It had never dawned on me the challenges I may face in the workplace as a woman, but, like them, I will try to keep my mind on why I want to be a journalist: even despite what trauma I may face, I want to make a difference.

All truth breaks barriers, so it makes sense that journalists should strive to do the same.