Oct. 12, 2022 — Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wesley Lowery, who was deeply involved in covering the 2014 uprisings in Ferguson, Missouri, told NMH students that he is still influenced by his experiences working for his middle and high school newspapers.
Lowery, who has worked at CBS News and The Washington Post, was the first guest in a yearlong visiting journalists series, sponsored by The Lamplighter, NMH’s student newspaper. During his visit on Oct. 4, he said that he joined his school paper as a way to make friends. His first story, he recalled, was reporting on a change in the amount of time students had to pass between classes from four minutes to three.
“I remember seeing people read it for the first time and realizing the power of what journalism does,” Lowery said. “People were saying, ‘Wait, what? Three minutes? That’s not going to work,’ and they’re going to talk to their parents about it or they’re going to talk to their guidance counselor. They were upset, but now they were empowered to do something based on having this information. That was a really important moment for me.”
Giving students that kind of direct personal access to leading voices in the field is the goal of visiting journalist series, according to Sierra Dickey ’11, an English and journalism teacher and faculty advisor to The Lamplighter. This year, the series will bring one journalist to connect with students each term, by Zoom or in person.
Lowery’s career covering police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement has put him on the vanguard of Black journalists pushing media organizations to revolutionize their coverage of police violence.
He was a lead on the Post’s “Fatal Force” project that won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2016, as well as the author of They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement. In 2017, he became a CNN political contributor and in 2020 was announced as a correspondent for 60 in 6, a short-form spinoff of 60 Minutes for Quibi. Lowery is currently a fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service. Among his notable articles are “Black City White Paper,” in the Philadelphia Inquirer; “A Reckoning Over Objectivity Led by Black Journalists,” in the New York Times; and “Who’s Electing Judges in the Cleveland Area? Not Those Ensnared in the System,” for the nonprofit news organization the Marshall Project.
During Lowery’s hour-long question and answer session, students asked about the challenges of reporting on tragedies such as mass shootings or of interviewing the families of victims of violence.
“In journalism, you get to see and understand the human condition,” Lowery said. “You talk to people very often at the height of their emotions — on the best day of their life or on the worst day of their life. You see their vulnerability, and I think when you do the job well, you see their complexity.”
Students also asked Lowery about his views on the role of social media in journalism, how journalists can affect change in policies and societal views, how to avoid bias in reporting, and what makes a great story.
“Journalism becomes a window to understanding other people,” Lowery said. “The hope is by telling people’s stories, by capturing their stories, by recording what’s true in their experiences, we can expose that truth to other people who now might be more empathetic and better understand what’s going on.
“Journalism can be a great equalizer,” he said. “It can allow us to go places we couldn’t otherwise go and understand experiences we haven’t had.”
The visiting journalist series continues in February with a visit by Denechia “Neesha” Powell-Ingabire, a journalist, essayist, grant writer, and community and cultural organizer who lives in Atlanta/occupied Muscogee territory. Powell-Ingabire reports on the justice movements of the Black, trans, and queer communities to which she belongs and writes essays on her own history and the histories of her ancestors and their ancestral homes. Her work has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, the Oxford American, Scalawag, and VICE.