At an online event on Oct. 1, PBS NewsHour’s White House Correspondent Yamiche Alcindor spoke about her experiences as a civil rights journalist covering President Donald Trump and how young journalists can stay engaged.
Jane Hall, a School of Communication professor, moderated the event, which was co-sponsored by the Kennedy Political Union, SOC and The Blackprint. Students also asked their own questions during the webinar.
“I've never covered another president. At this point, I don't know how to compare President Trump to President Obama or President Bush,” Alcindor said. “What I do know is that I covered hurricanes, and I covered all sorts of mayhem as a breaking news reporter and this feels … very chaotic. It feels like every day is different.”
Before working at PBS NewsHour, Alcindor worked at USA Today and The New York Times, where she covered presidential candidates, including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Trump in the 2016 election. She is also an NBC and MSNBC contributor and appears on shows like “Meet the Press” and “The Rachel Maddow Show.”
Alcindor said that her journalism career was inspired by coverage about Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955.
“As a result, covering President Trump, to me, is just like covering history,” Alcindor said. “I'm so focused on my values. Then I'm really posing questions that everyday Americans want to know the answers to.”
Alcindor touched upon the nationwide discussion of the importance of diversity in newsrooms, a long-running issue that drew new attention following the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other Black Americans and the ensuing protests that occurred.
“If you're a newsroom who does not have a diverse staff, you're not doing journalism well,” Alcindor said. “If you're someone who is trying to cover this racial reckoning that we're all doing, and all you have are white men in a room, you're not going to accurately understand all the life experiences.”
However, Alcindor said that diversifying newsrooms must have real meaning behind them.
“Diversity is important, but it can't be a pass. It can't be like ‘Oh, only the Black reporters are going to cover race, and now all the rest of us … can just go on about our lives,’” Alcindor said.
Alcindor also discussed the role of news media in the 2020 presidential election and called on candidates to better engage with journalists.
“I tell people that I cover to answer my phone calls, be available,” Alcindor said. “If you want to be running for president of the United States, you need to make sure that you're engaging with the press and also engaging in the American population.”
Alcindor also advised students interested in pursuing a career in journalism to have a good foundation for their own work, stay true to themselves and to stick with the craft even when it gets tough.
“Understand what your values are. Understand what you want your work to be,” Alcindor said. “I think that if you hold on to what your values are and you hold on to what made you get into journalism, that you'll be able to weather.”
Despite the chaos of the current news environment, Alcindor said she is grateful to be a reporter.
“I'm constantly meeting interesting people,” she said. “I'm constantly thinking to myself, I can't believe I have the privilege to be a journalist in these times. I love what I do and I wish that everyone would love what they do because I know so many of us are working so many crazy hours, and I know for me, I still have the same love for journalism that I had when I first started out.”