The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Friday January 27th

Column: Giving journalism a better name

<p>UNC's School of Journalism and Media bears the name of Walter Hussman, a top donor, who opposed Nikole Hannah-Jones' bid for tenure.</p>
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UNC's School of Journalism and Media bears the name of Walter Hussman, a top donor, who opposed Nikole Hannah-Jones' bid for tenure.

News broke months ago that acclaimed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones was initially denied tenure at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Jones is well-known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning work on The 1619 Project, co-founding the Ida B. Wells society and winning a MacArthur "genius grant."

Like many of my peers, I was shocked and angered at the UNC Board of Trustees' decision, especially given Hannah-Jones' impact in the areas of race, history and politics.

This initial decision to deny tenure echoed the concerns of Walter Hussman, the school’s namesake and donor of $25 million. Hussman wrote to the Board to dissuade them from offering Hannah-Jones a tenured position.

Although I am new to the journalism program, I (like many students), recognized this as a violation of journalistic ethics and integrity. The influence of a multimillion-dollar donation creating barriers for accomplished women of color in the industry goes against what I stand for as a journalism student.

Hannah-Jones has since taken a tenured position at Howard University. 

UNC students suffer when we lose valuable, experienced and diverse faculty members. In the past year, I’ve had to reconcile what it means to study journalism at an institution that doesn’t reflect what I think the values of the journalism industry should be. Despite working hard to get accepted into the school, I felt a sense of anxiety that it bore "Hussman name."

So how can we, prospective journalists, excel in UNC’s journalism program despite disagreeing with the principles of its namesake?

Promoting the right principles of journalism in the classroom. We may not be able to influence matters like hiring or tenureship, but we must learn, write and report in ways that are fair and transparent — even when we are not awarded the same fairness and transparency from our school’s namesake.

Advocate for faculty that advocates for you. There are so many amazing professors at the journalism school working to uplift us as aspiring reporters. It's up to us to recognize this. Collaborate with your professors, communicate praises to the journalism school administration and leave thoughtful evaluations.

Seek opportunities that help you put your beliefs into practice. Getting involved in student or local journalism is a rewarding way to gain experience as an ethical journalist.

Calling out inequity when you see it. This tenure debacle has deprived UNC of valuable diversity in its faculty and consequently devalued Black journalists at the institution. Whether it's in the classroom or elsewhere, create space for diverse voices and perspectives. Raise concerns when your classroom or newsroom is lacking in this diversity. 

When done right, fair journalism can be used in amazing ways. As journalists, we have a duty to promote democracy, uplift and educate others and bring awareness to issues that intimately impact our communities.

These goals should be at the center of your work both at the journalism school and beyond.

This is not to deter people from the journalism program at UNC, but to attract students who can bring new light to the program and guide it to more equitable paths. We must inspire current journalism students to promote change from within the institution.

You can recognize the monetary contributions Walter Hussman has made for journalism at UNC and still be critical of the values he stands for. 

Being able to critique institutions, especially those you are a part of, is crucial to being a well-rounded citizen, student and journalist. It’s imperative to making those institutions more fair for everyone.


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story's photo caption incorrectly attributed Walter Hussman. He is a top donor at UNC. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

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