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National Agenda student Jane GaNun joined the Q&A portion of the National Agenda 2020 event on November 18 as an "audience surrogate" presenting questions from the online audience to National Agenda Director Lindsay Hoffman and guest speaker Yamiche Alcindor.
By Laura Matusheski, University of Delaware junior and intern for the University of Delaware Center for Political Communication
Watch the video. Read the transcript. To learn more about the National Agenda student experience, read "Keeping the Conversation Going" by CPC intern and National Agenda student Sean O'Connor.
DECEMBER 17, 2020—“I think there are so many Americans who deserve a press who is focused on them, their worries and their lived experiences,” said Yamiche Alcindor, the final guest speaker of the University of Delaware’s National Agenda 2020 speaker series. The webinar series garnered thousands of viewers from around the world this fall. On November 18, Alcindor discussed covering the Trump presidency as White House correspondent for PBS NewsHour, the 2020 election, racial justice, and journalism ethics.
In light of recent news, Alcindor discussed President Trump’s lawsuits challenging state election results. According to Democrat and Republican state election officials, the President has not provided any substantial evidence to back up his claims that he won the election. The allegations are part of a public campaign to engage the Republican base for future elections, and to collect money, said Alcindor. “We’ve done some digging at the NewsHour and in fact something like 60 percent of it goes into the Trump campaign, into this new political action committee, and it can be used for all sorts of things including personal expenses, travel. Critics would say it’s a slush fund; some people say it’s going to fund the president’s lavish lifestyle after he leaves office. And then about 20, about 40 percent of it goes to the Republican National Committee which can use it on other Republican candidates.”
Alcindor said she avoids spreading false information by Trump and his administration by putting her reports into context, like including verified information when she reports Trump’s election allegations. “I say what the President said, then I remind people that the President has lost legal battles and he has not shown the evidence for the claims that he’s making.”
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Earlier this year as election campaigns in the U.S. kicked into high gear, the deaths of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery triggered worldwide protests. High voter turnout in Georgia, fueled by the efforts of former gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams and the Black Lives Matter protests, shifted the state from Republican stronghold to swing state, said Alcindor. “There was all this kind of racial reckoning in the air, and people were home because we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” said Alcindor. “People were more focused on racial justice in a way that I haven’t seen as a reporter.”
Alcindor began her career in journalism when she interned as a high school student for the Westside Gazette, a local African American-owned newspaper serving South Florida’s African-American community. With an interest in amplifying marginalized voices and communities, Alcindor often writes about the intersection of race and politics as well as fatal police encounters.
“I got into journalism because of civil rights journalists,” said Alcindor. “There was a story of this young boy named Emmett Till who was 14 years old who was murdered by a group of racist white men in 1955, and his mom had an open casket funeral for him and the nation, on the cover of Jet Magazine saw this maimed young boy and the world shifted. So, you have Rosa Parks who’s inspired to go be a civil rights activist. You have John Lewis who’s living in his hometown saying, ‘Hey Emmett Till just died, that’s a wakeup call. I need to be active myself.’ The March on Washington [in 1963] was held on the anniversary of Emmett Till’s death. So that young boy was a catalyst to things shifting, and he was also a catalyst to my own career.”
As a contributor for NBC News and MSNBC, Alcindor appears on Morning Joe, Andrea Mitchell Reports, The Rachel Maddow Show, and Meet the Press with Chuck Todd. Before joining PBS NewsHour in January 2018, Alcindor was a national political reporter for the New York Times and a national breaking news reporter for USA Today. Alcindor has earned several awards for excellence in journalism, including the 2020 Aldo Beckman Award for “Overall Excellence in White House Coverage” from the White House Correspondents' Association.
She is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and was named the organization’s "Emerging Journalist of the Year" in 2013. In September 2020, Alcindor received the 2020 Gwen Ifill Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation. Journalist Gwen Ifill, the PBS NewsHour co-anchor who died in November 2016, was an inspiration and mentor to Alcindor.
Alcindor addressed concerns about fake news, conspiracy theories, and widespread distrust in the news. “I think we have a shared responsibility as viewers, as consumers of news to also think, ‘What is my personal responsibility when it comes to information?’’’ Alcindor emphasized reading and listening to multiple sources, including both local and national news. “I watch all the networks. I also read a number of newspapers,” said Alcindor. “I feel like that’s what we have to do as a country and it just can’t be journalists saying ‘Oh well we really want to win back your trust.’ It has to be also people making the decision that they want to take in information that sometimes goes against their natural biases.”
Alcindor has experienced Trump’s disdain for the press and news media, as he has made multiple remarks to Alcindor to “be nice” during press conferences. Although it may sound difficult to keep her composure, she said that her privilege to talk to the president of the United States reminds her that the American people deserve a press that thinks about them. “I’m constantly thinking, ‘What about that worker who has to go to work today? What about that mother who just buried their 13-year-old who died of COVID? What about that person who doesn’t know how they're going to feed their family tonight, and by the way they just got an eviction notice,’” said Alcindor.
In maintaining her professionalism, she said that a major responsibility of reporters is to hold all political leaders accountable. “I think that at the end of the day the press is not there to be friendly with political leaders. We’re there to push them.” said Alcindor. “That relationship should be a little tense when you think about the roles that we’re each playing.”
Alcindor also discussed how African Americans are represented in mainstream media and how they continue to be stereotyped and silenced. “As someone who has covered race for a long time, I can tell you decades before President Trump came along, there were African Americans who watched their local news and said ‘I don’t see myself reflected in the news that I watch,’” said Alcindor. She stressed the important role of the Black press in bringing a different perspective to the news, and she hoped that small Black newspapers, like the Westside Gazette, will continue to survive.
Diversity in the journalism industry is so important because “all of those life experiences make the journalism better,” said Alcindor. “You can’t cover America in a robust way, in a way that’s accurate and honest without also having people that represent all of the different parts of America.” Alcindor also said that the media should continue to be challenged for its diversity, fairness, and accuracy.
When confronting challenges in life, Alcindor advised students to stay grounded and focused, press forward, and forget about the naysayers. “Be too busy chasing your dreams, too busy chasing your purpose, too busy making this world a better place.” she said. The job, especially of a White House correspondent, is to be on 24/7, said Alcindor, but it does not mean you shouldn’t carve out time for yourself or your friends, especially as a college student. Alcindor encouraged students to allow themselves to be vulnerable, especially during this tumultuous time. “Check in on your friends who you think are strong. People are struggling more than you will ever know in 2020.”
The 2020 edition of the University of Delaware's National Agenda program, "We Are the People," calls attention to the power of us—the citizens of the United States—as well as the liberties granted to us by the Constitution. Even in this tumultuous time, our right to vote in elections remains one of the most important acts we can perform as Americans. The 10th annual National Agenda speaker series tackles the issues facing the nation, with insight from a humorist, Hollywood producers, political insiders, and national journalists. In light of COVID-19 restrictions, National Agenda 2020 is presented as a series of webinars on Zoom. It is a free online series and open to the public. Lindsay Hoffman, Ph.D., UD associate professor of communication and political science, directs the program. It is made possible with support from the Office of the Provost and the College of Arts and Sciences. Learn more at cpc.udel.edu/nationalagenda.