For Nikole Hannah-Jones, Black lives have always mattered. Since her first story in high school that sought to prove that Jesus was not a white man, she has been using her voice to unearth racism in America.
Nikole Hannah-Jones is a Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter for The New York Times Magazine. Jones’s work centers on reporting stories of racial bias and injustice in America.
Jones is best known as the creator of the 1619 Project, a collection of essays that uncovers the stories of African Americans during slavery and reexamines how history recounts treatment of Black people from the first slave ship landing in 1619 to the present day.
Since its release, the 1619 Project has received mixed reviews. While many consider the work as the new standard for understanding and teaching U.S. history, some don’t see it that way. Recently, President Donald Trump tweeted that he would defund California public schools if they taught 1619 in their curriculum.
“It is clear how critical the work we do as journalists is right now,” Jones said.
Her latest accomplishment is becoming a member of The Society of Professional Journalists alongside influential journalists: Jorge Ramos, Gwen Ifill, Les Zaitz and Marty Baron.
“I was completely shocked when I got this call that said I got the honor,” Jones said.
Jones was the third person to be featured by the Society of Professional Journalists. The moderator of the discussion was April Betha, a Washington Post editor and member of the SPJ board of directors.
“It’s one of the many times that I feel like I am in a group of people where I am the one who is undeserving,” Jones said.
Betha had to remind Jones that she deserved to be in the same regard as the other honorees.
As the interview progressed, Betha asked Jones if her work on the 1619 Project has changed her views on journalism.
Jones said the project hasn’t changed her view on journalism. In fact, she said, this is the type of project that you dream to produce.
“I’ve spent most of my career believing that none of my work was ever gonna have any major impact,” Jones said.
Jones said she is most proud of the number of Black writers, photographers and artists featured in The New York Times Magazine. This is the type of work that motivates her to open the door for other journalists, she said
Following that point, Betha asked Jones about the changes that newsrooms say they will implement to create an inclusive environment.
According to Jones, two years ago she would’ve been more hopeful that these changes would bring about a true reckoning and transformation.
“We know that the attention span to equity and diversity is always fleeting,” Jones said.
Diversity is about not checking boxes or being politically correct, Jones said. Diversity is about the accuracy and depth of our coverage by reflecting the world, she explained.
Diverse newsrooms are essential to our democracy, Jones said, because different reporters see stories and access communities in different ways.
“We are institutions that seek to hold other powerful institutions accountable, but seem unwilling to hold ourselves accountable,” she said.
Jones said if we don’t act now, we will fail to cover the country and the pressing issues.
To make newsrooms more reflective of the country, Jones co-founded the Ida.B Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, a society that equips journalists of color to report stories. Jones said this program was created in response to newsrooms saying that diverse candidates did not have the qualifications to be journalists.
The Ida. B Wells Society has been active in the last four years, and they have trained over 100 journalists, Jones said. She is now working on making the program accessible on an online platform.
One lesson that Jones would give to aspiring journalists is you can’t control anything outside of yourself, but you can control your work ethic and the excellence that you produce.
Jones’s plans include expanding the 1619 Project, working alongside Oprah and working with Lionsgate production on a scripted documentary.