Advice from journalists of color: 'Don’t sacrifice who you are for where you want to go'


Buzzfeed writers Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton asked 20 writers of color for advice for their counterparts who are just beginning their careers in an article published today.

Mostly, the responses emphasized the importance of hard work and building a professional reputation marked by attention to deadlines, creative storytelling and persistence. Among the pieces of advice:

-Jenna Wortham, a technology reporter with the New York Times, said the best reputations are cemented by quality bylines.

"That is how you earn respect and get plucked for the best jobs -- with bylines and pieces that can't be ignored. And reputation matters more than anything; maintain credibility at all costs. Trust your gut, and be yourself. Don't sacrifice who you are for where you want to go."

-Mychal Denzel Smith, a contributor at The Nation magazine, wrote that hustle -- writing and networking and being seen -- is more important than talent, which is "a fluke."

On Monday, broadcast journalism student Raecine Williams engaged in a similar conversation from the other end. Williams wrote "Am I Giving Up Being Jamaican for an American Broadcasting Career?" for the American Journalism Review, questioning whether or not to give up her Jamaican accent to better her chances of landing a job.

Williams spoke with other journalists of color who had similar experiences, balancing culture, identity and the desire to get a job. One of those journalists was Noor Tagouri, a Muslim woman who wears a hijab.

"She said that my accent, just like her hijab, shows that we bring something else to the table. When people hear it, they know that I have experience with a different culture and religion, Noor said.

"If you want to (be a journalist) fairly, you have to stay true to who you are," she said. "That means that, yes, there are going to be news directors who don't want to hire you, just like there are news directors that are not going to hire me, but that's on them."

Much of the testimony in the Buzzfeed article focuses on issues surrounding newsroom diversity, which has been historically very low. Even after repeated diversity initiatives, newsrooms continue to be about two-thirds male, according to the most recent survey by the American Society of News Editors. Minorities, which make up about 37 percent of the population of the United States, remain heavily underrepresented in the newsroom -- minorities make up 12.37 percent of newsroom employees, down from 13.73 percent from its all-time high in 2006.

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    Benjamin Mullin

    Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism innovation, business practices and ethics.


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