Last August, a lot of things happened rather quickly for Mariah Stewart. She moved to Florissant, Missouri. When Michael Brown was killed, she headed into nearby Ferguson to start reporting. And she soon found funding to continue that work through crowdfunding platform Beacon Reader. Before the month ended, the St. Louis-area native and recent college grad was named Huffington Post’s Ferguson Fellow.
In November, Stewart caught up with Poynter’s Ben Mullin, and she spoke about learning as she went. Now, she works in partnership with Huffington Post and the St. Louis American, which gives her space to work and publishes her stories for the Huffington Post. She helps contribute to the paper. Her fellowship with Huffington Post is set to end in mid-September. She’s not sure what will happen next.
Via email, Stewart spoke with Poynter about her life, her career and her city in the last year. This is part one in a series this week catching up with journalists in St. Louis.
What has changed in the last year?
This time last year, I was still working at a mall in retail. When I first got on board with Huffington Post, I was working solo. My gmail account was basically my newsroom. Thank goodness I am a part of such a thoughtful team, who recognized I wasn’t getting the full journalist experience by working alone. The collaboration with the St. Louis American has helped build my growth tremendously. I couldn’t have asked for two better organizations to be associated with. Within the year, my network has expanded beyond belief. To now have connections to so many well-informed people in the industry is a valuable asset, I plan to take full advantage.
In St. Louis, what has changed is the mobilization of people fighting for justice. Before August 9, not too many were speaking out and challenging officials on status quo. Now politicians and law enforcement are being held at a greater accountability level than they were before.
The country is now awake. The long-overdue national discussion on racial inequity is here, and media and citizens are making sure it stays on topic.
What hasn’t changed?
What hasn’t changed for me is my passion for the beat I cover. A lot still hasn’t changed for the St. Louis region and the country. Protesters who are exercising their right to assemble are still getting arrested. People are still frightened of police. Residents still have little faith in politicians. And racism still lives here.
This story started on Twitter, went local, then national and then international. But all along, Michael Brown’s death and everything that happened after in Ferguson has remained a local story for St. Louis journalists. How have they done?
Local media has made improvements from last year. Most news outlets are becoming more sensitive to the black community. A big thing that helped local media improve was the national media. No one was really ripping apart St. Louis County’s municipal court network until national media intervened. My colleague Ryan Reilly once tweeted something like “all journalists have blind spots.” He couldn’t have been more accurate. For St. Louis media, St. Louis County municipalities revenue building was the blind spot.
Social justice and the relationship between the black community and police have been in the news regularly since Ferguson. Have journalists in other communities covering similar stories reached out to your, or vice versa?
I get emails and DMs from time to time from journalists, and when I’m on the ground I meet a lot of journalists. And it’s great to see them. I didn’t realize the extent of what I was getting into last year. It’s nice to talk to someone who knows the challenges.
Most journalists who came to Ferguson to cover this story had been working for awhile. But this was really what launched you into your career with Huffington Post. How has Huffington Post supported you as a young and new journalist starting your career on a national stage?
Huffington Post is incredible. It is so refreshing to be a part of a team that you can depend on, and that goes for The St. Louis American as well. I know at any time I can contact my colleagues, ask them a question or vent and they will come thru for me. Ryan Reilly, who I work most closely with, has been a great mentor over the past year. He’s helped coach me through a lot.
Finally, what advice do you have for other journalists who could find themselves reporting huge stories like Ferguson?
If a new journalist finds themselves covering something like Ferguson, they’re already on top of things because they actually decided to cover it. I hope people don’t forget that BeaconReader.com is where it all began for me. It’s a unique platform and I encourage all writers (who aren’t already with a news outlet) to create an account with them. My other advice is to be active on Twitter. Twitter can change your life. It changed mine. Beacon Reader tweeted they were looking for on the ground reporters in Ferguson, I responded, and the rest is history.