Q: What’s the best part of your job?
A: Probably having a small part in having an impact on how people think and see the world. I remember this one situation where they gave me a reader — a three to four sentence thing for me to read — about nine people being killed in Chicago over the weekend and that’s it. If you say that, then it perpetuates the myth that Chicago is this Wild West where the violence is out of control, when Chicago is not, in fact, in the top twenty in terms of per capita homicides. You have to provide the proper context of “Chicago remains on pace to have its lowest homicide rate since 1964.” I insisted on adding that little bit. You have to be able to say, “I am adding something valuable to the discourse and I’m proud of these stories that I’ve done.”
Q: Where do you see the future of journalism going? What advice do you have for students considering a career in journalism or freelance work?
A: It’s getting harder and harder to make a living being a journalist. If you’re interested in journalism, think: “Could I possibly see myself doing anything else?” And if you could, then go do that, because you aren’t going to make that much money and it’s a difficult job. It’s an important job, but what we need is people who are passionate and committed. If your heart’s not in it, then you’re corruptible.
Q: Do you think, in recent years, we’ve moved away from the concept of truly informing our audience?
A: We (at MSNBC) are providing context and perspective from a liberal perspective. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re cherry-picking facts and telling people a certain narrative, that’s propagandist. I don’t like it when people used the term “the media” because the media does many different things at the same time, but I can speak to what we (at MSNBC) are doing. I think we provide a service and good information and a valuable perspective.
Q: We know the media has a huge influence on how people think. How do you think the media should hope to shape the public’s opinion towards the recent incidents in Ferguson?
A: It’s tricky when we enter into these situations wanting to be advocates. Where you can, in a balanced way, do stories or add context that helps people see that immigrants are not criminals and black people are not criminals or what have you, that’s of value. Wherever we can do little things to underline the sophistication of people of color, I think that’s valuable.
Q: As a journalist, do you think racial profiling is an infringement on civil rights and does it belong in the context of law enforcement? Is this something that is happening?
A: Absolutely, without a doubt it is happening. Police departments understand that racial profiling is not effective policing. White people are above the average in terms of the numbers of those carrying something illegal. Black and brown people were below the average but they are overstopped and overpoliced so then the number seems larger than it is.
Q: Have you ever faced racial profiling from peers or anyone else?
A: I remember feeling sort of boxed in. Somebody actual said to me, “we know you can write about Run-D.M.C. but could you write about Eric Clapton?” Once this magazine was doing a special drug issue and they called me and said, “do you have anything you can contribute, do you happen to know any drug dealers you could write about?” At first it was exciting, but then I was like, “oh now I know why they’re calling me. They need a black guy to write about a drug dealer.” A lot of times (racial profiling) functions in not in overt ways. The more cognizant you are of stereotype threat, the easier it becomes to reject it.