Journalists who cover the heart of the matter
When the calendar flipped to 2020, life as people knew it began changing forever, personally and professionally. Journalists are among the countless professionals who faced unexpected challenges around every corner, and local journalism has been especially hit hard.
Yet everyday, readers benefit from the resilience, determination and commitment of journalists who honor their craft and deliver the important stories — those that matter.
BeyondMU — Lifelong Learning recently convened accomplished journalists who serve two recognized local media outlets backed by the Diederich College of Communication — Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, run by editor, Ron Smith, Prof St ’05, Grad ’09, and the O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism, directed by Dave Umhoefer.
“On the Frontlines: Doing Journalism That Matters During Turbulent Times” gave a glimpse of how journalism, in Ron Smith’s words, “can celebrate ordinary people who do extraordinary things…in extraordinary times.”
James Causey, Comm ’94, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter
“This movement and my daily life as a Black man in this city are one in the same. After my shift ends, I still have to live as a Black man in this city.”
Causey notes how officials are being “pushed to the carpet.” “A lot of it comes down to social media, pushing this movement like never before. This is a ground-shaking moment that my daughter will be talking about in 10, 15, 20 years from now.”
Ashley Luthern, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter
“I believe journalism can be very transformational.”
“This moment feels different. Usually there’s a rise in protest followed by no change. Now, there is a more sustained focus on issues.”
Edgar Mendez, Grad ’14, senior staff reporter at Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service,
Mendez said he feels the pressures of trying to be a journalist while working from home with his partner and school-aged children.
He focuses on covering those issues that truly help people, like energy assistance. More recently, his powerful investigation of the enforcement of the state’s Stay at Home order showed deep racial disparities.
“More than anything, I really miss being out in the community.”
Princess Safiya Byers, Comm ’20, a Report for America Fellow at Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
“I’ve learned [through my reporting] that people in our city are really resilient.”
Safiya Byers covers housing, minority entrepreneurship and homelessness, among other topics. She is recovered from COVID-19 and says her exposure to the negative impact of the disease, beyond the serious health effects, has informed the way she covers housing in the City of Milwaukee.
Central to all these reporters is the reverence for their craft and care for the people on which they’re reporting. Their investigative training allows them to doggedly pursue the facts, while trying to navigate mounting fallout from the ongoing pandemic — intense polarization of issues, absence of face-to-face communication, the blessing and curse that is social media.
Ron Smith sums it up when describing the work of journalists, in particular those of color: “We don’t turn it off,” he said. “We need to practice what we preach, which means care for self, but also means caring for our readers, which is why we’re here.”