Growing up devouring the pages of African American investigative journalist Ida B. Wells and studying CNN and NPR political analyst Angela Rye’s commentary, Illinois State junior Tiffani Jackson wanted to get into media for one reason: “Be the change you can see.”
As a woman of color, Jackson noted early on in her news consumption the disproportional representation of demographics in the industry. According to National Public Radio (NPR), women of color make up less than 10 percent of print, TV, and radio newsrooms across the country.
Jackson, a reporting intern at WGLT who hails from Detroit, wanted to tell stories that shined light on the underrepresented community.
“If you see a problem, don’t complain about it,” said Jackson, a communications major. “Do something to change it.”
Aspiring sportscaster Darnysha Mitchell shares those ambitions. She is a junior communications major from Chicago and a reporting and social media intern at WGLT.
On October 18, the two student journalists shared a stage with a woman who has spent her career championing the voice of the underrepresented as NPR newscaster Korva Coleman was the guest of honor at WGLT’s Radio Faces event.
Coleman, a 30-year veteran at NPR, waived her speaker’s fee and instead asked the University to invest the money saved into an opportunity for female student journalists from underrepresented groups. Illinois State elected to create two $1,000 scholarships with Coleman’s gesture and awarded them to Mitchell and Jackson for their efforts in promoting diversity and inclusion through their reporting.
“Their futures are very bright in journalism,” WGLT Digital Content Director Ryan Denham said. “Their strengths are very different. Tiffani is aggressive and even entrepreneurial in her craft. In addition to her work at WGLT, she’s started her own student-media outlet at ISU focused on black students and issues. Darnysha is a nose-to-the-grindstone reporter. She’s deliberate, careful, and fact-based. That will serve her well as the public yearns for real news in a fake news era.”
Jackson worked as a features reporter at The Vidette until 2018, when she left to start her own platform, called The Onyx Connect. The site and newsletter are dedicated to telling stories about underrepresented groups. She funds the printing of the newsletter out of her own pocket.
Denham hired Jackson last spring, and Jackson covers subjects such as public housing and the justice system.
Mitchell, whom WGLT hired last winter, was inspired by watching women like Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks roam the sideline for breaking news and on-the-field interviews.
While she’d like to pursue a career in sports journalism and did play-by-play for Redbird sporting events on ESPN3 and ESPN+, Mitchell also has an interest in social justice and racial equality. She has reported news stories about the community at WGLT.
Both students are highly informed on inequities women and minorities face in their industry and the world in general. While they strive to find balance between telling a well-triangulated story and also promoting their views, they both believe diversifying newsrooms across the country will lead to more stories from more viewpoints.
“We have to be open to covering stories from different cultures or different people,” Mitchell said.
Jackson said having nights like Radio Faces that encourage open discussion and bring the work done by reporters from underrepresented groups to the forefront are beneficial in the global movement to diversify the workplace.
“That was a step toward making us feel comfortable,” Jackson said. “I know Darnysha and I felt like celebrities that night. So I feel like more things like that need to happen.”
Jackson and Mitchell both have big aspirations in the industry. Through conveying facts and getting subjects to open up about their situations, the pair of Redbirds hope to play significant roles in helping people of different backgrounds have a seat at the table.