New York Times Magazine staff writer Nikole Hannah-Jones spoke with award-winning NBC News anchor Lester Holt about diversity in the modern newsroom at the Journalism School on Tuesday.
Hannah-Jones, who covers civil rights and racial injustice for NYT Magazine, began the conversation by analyzing diversity, representation, and the perception of black journalists in the modern newsroom and in the news itself. She also spoke about racial inequality in New York City schools, holes in its progressive ideology, and the artificiality of the term “diversity.”
“The way we write about race in this country is extremely superficial,” Hannah-Jones said. “People think I’m good at writing about race because I’m black. … There’s nothing about being black that inherently makes you good at writing about race. What makes you good at writing about race is studying the hell out of race and racism.”
In response to a question from Holt about the varying definitions of diversity, Hannah-Jones spoke of the emptiness of the term “diversity” and her vision for a more culturally representative newsroom.
“In general, I hate the word. I think it’s become meaningless. Diversity now is like, ‘Do you have a beard?’; anybody can be diverse. I like sweaters; I’m diverse,” she said, making the audience laugh. “It’s become this politically correct term that’s just about feeling good. … [When talking about diversity], I’m talking about actually reflecting people who have been historically marginalized in this country ... and having our newsrooms reflecting every group—particularly racial groups and particularly black.”
Holt, who anchors two NBC broadcast programs, “Nightly News” and “Dateline,” focused his remarks on the changing landscape of the news and how mainstream media retains its importance despite the rise of “citizen journalists.”
“Social media is one of our competitors now. It used to be that NBC competed with ABC and CBS and CNN and Fox, but now we compete with everyone with a smartphone,” Holt said. “We’re on Snapchat channels, [we’re] everywhere the viewers are, and try to get ahead of them. When I first got into this business, I was on television. Now, I’m on your computer, I’m in your taxi cab, I’m in the airport. I see on the airplane, ‘Oh, there I am again.’”
Though Holt and Hannah-Jones spoke on different topics throughout the event, they both highlighted the importance of ethical, accurate journalism in the Trump era.
“We’re in the time of ‘fake news.’ We’re in a time where trust in media is about as low as trust in Congress. … We can’t make mistakes. We don’t have room to make mistakes. All we have is our credibility,” Hannah-Jones said. “Our job is not to ‘get’ people. Our job is to get the truth, so we have to do what we have to do to ensure we get the truth.”