UNC alum and The New York Times magazine writer, Nikole Hannah-Jones, was named a MacArthur Genius Grant fellow for her work and documentation on resegregation of the United States, particularly rooted in housing and education. Her work has received vast recognition, winning her a National Magazine, Peabody Award and George Polk Award.
Hannah-Jones is also working to diversify newsrooms by co-founding the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, which provides training and fellowships to investigative reporters of color.
Every year, the MacArthur Genius Grant awards 20 to 30 individuals with a $625,000, no-strings-attached award that serves as an investment to innovative leaders.
Staff writer Ramishah Maruf spoke to Hannah-Jones about how the MacArthur Genius Grant will help her to expand her work.
The Daily Tar Heel: Your work has a clear theme — resegregation. What went into you focusing on that topic for so many years?
Nikole Hannah-Jones: I think the resegregation of schools is something that mainstream media, as well as politicians and policy makers, have largely been ignoring, so I think that it is critical for why we see so much inequality. And if there’s anything in this country that can help people change their circumstances — education — it’s resegregation that has limited that opportunity for millions of black children.
DTH: So what was it like getting the call that said you got the grant?
NHJ: Surreal. Amazing, it was very unexpected.
DTH: How do you plan to continue your work on resegregation? How will the grant help?
NHJ: I’m on book leave right now. I’m writing a book on school segregation, so I’ll be working on that for the next year. The book will likely publish in 2019 and when I come back to the Times I will continue to find ways to tell these stories. I think the grant just supports the work that I’m already doing.
DTH: What is the purpose of the Ida B. Wells Society?
NHJ: Myself and three other black investigative reporters founded the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting in 2016 because we believe there’s no more important reporting than investigative because it holds power accountable and exposes the way that powerful people harm vulnerable people. The field of reporting is disproportionately white and investigative reporting is even more so. So, after years of us working in newsrooms saying that they would like to increase diversity in investigative reporting and not seeing it happening, we decided that we would start to do it ourselves. We weren’t going to wait for newsrooms to do it, so we are a training mentorship organization that’s working to get journalists of color, particularly black journalists, the skills that they need to do investigative reporting.
DTH: What are some racial issues you see in the journalism field today?
NHJ: I think the lack of diversity in newsrooms is representative of what our country looks like. Outside of that, I don’t think we do a good job of covering communities of color, and issues that impact communities of color. I think that too often we still do very stereotypical coverage and I think we miss a lot of stories.
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