Incoming Society of Professional Journalists president Ashanti Blaize-Hopkins didn’t enter the journalism industry until 2002, when she attended graduate school at the University of Miami. Through the years, she has progressed from an intern for South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel to a full-time reporter and journalism professor. However, during her career, she has always stuck to the same hope: to tell people’s stories, especially those of marginalized communities. By becoming the first Black female SPJ president, she plans to do just that.
“I realized that I have to be the change that I want to see in an organization,” Blaize-Hopkins said. “And so if I want to see more representation, then I have to put myself out there and say, ‘Okay, well, it starts with me.'”
Blaize-Hopkins ran for VP because she felt it could support diverse representation within the organization and in the journalism industry due to journalists’ of color lack of access and opportunities.
“If I really think about the struggles of my ancestors and people who look like me, I shouldn’t be here,” Blaize-Hopkins said. “I shouldn’t be here, and that is never lost on me. And so, for me, it’s very important to take these opportunities as they come and really do something with them. I don’t take on any opportunities unless I feel I can be impactful.”
During her year as vice president, Blaize-Hopkins said she appreciated being an observer. She was given time to plan her priorities as president, including helping fellow journalists adapt to the forever-changing journalism industry by focusing on mental health assistance and solidifying newsrooms’ role in legislation.
“My kind of key focuses that I want to really highlight during my term is how do we make sure that we are paying attention to ideas that can sustain local news,” Blaize-Hopkins said. “How are we making sure that we are paying attention to the mental health of journalists, especially journalists of color and journalists from marginalized communities and from the LGBTQ plus community? How are we ensuring that we are part of the conversation of how AI is going to impact our industry.”
As the 2024 election approaches and politicians call into question the legitimacy of news outlets, Blaize-Hopkins said journalists must protect the First Amendment and strengthen the public’s trust in journalism. To ensure that trusted journalism is still around for years to come, Blaize-Hopkins wants to remind the world that journalists are advocates for the public. But, she says journalists also need their own advocates, which she plans to be as the new SPJ president.
“If our industry goes away, so does our democracy,” Blaize-Hopkins said. “It’s not far behind, and that’s why what we do is so important, and that’s where we have to make sure that we are always part of the conversation. That we are always moving the needle in the direction that it needs to go.”
Blaize-Hopkins will step into her presidency at this year’s SPJ convention during the SPJ President’s Award Banquet. At the convention, Blaize-Hopkins will also be a panelist for the breakout session ‘Overcoming Imposter Syndrome.’
The session originated after a student journalist asked Blaize-Hopkins at the 2022 convention for advice on overcoming imposter syndrome. The session was added to this year’s convention after seeing the need for a larger conversation on the topic.
“I’m always excited to have that conversation because I think especially early career journalists and even student journalists, we all were there and we all had this, ‘I don’t know if I’m doing this right. I don’t know if I’m in the right place,'” Blaize-Hopkins said.
As Blaize-Hopkins ends her term as vice president, she stays dedicated to being a voice and mentor for young journalists and a representative to her peers. She also continues to open the door for change within the journalism industry.
“Running for VP ends up turning into the president of SPJ; I did it because I thought I could be impactful and I thought I could make a difference, I could leave the organization better off than I found it,” Blaize-Hopkins said.