Black Journalists on Race, Culture and COVID |
At 25, Malik Wilson, co-host of “Show Me St. Louis” on KSDK Channel 5, seems to have mastered the art of drawing his own destiny.
Prior to entering the news world, Wilson was a catcher for a Canadian football team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders. A hamstring tear just months after starting the game motivated him to pursue his first love, mass communication.
While attending North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, NC, Wilson interned with the school’s radio station before leaving campus to intern with radio station 107 , 5 KZL FM and, later, WLXI TV, a Christian television network in North Carolina, his state home.
Wilson was prepared with internships under his belt when offered a job as a general reporter for KX News in North Dakota. Wilson became a television reporter just before the coronavirus pandemic began to spread around the world. Although Wilson has said he has a passion for “hard news,” intense and repetitive COVID coverage has prompted him to reassess his priorities and perhaps change his career path.
“In the midst of COVID, I had to dig deep and ask myself ‘what makes Malik happy? “”, did he declare.
Wilson was one of the panelists for the October 7 viral roundtable, “We Live Here: Black Journalists Covering Race, Identity & Culture,” hosted by St. Louis Public Radio. Wilson and this writer were joined by Lauren Brown, host and lead producer of “We Live Here” podcast, Andrea Henderson, race, identity and culture reporter for St. Louis Public Radio, Camron Rhodes, founder of “Voice of The People News And Gabrielle Hays, community correspondent for PBS NewsHour. Veteran show Jade Harrell, director of on-demand content and community partnerships for St. Louis Public Radio, moderated the discussion.
The show’s goal was to give journalists of color the opportunity to discuss the opportunities and challenges of covering news that disproportionately affects people like them, such as the pandemic, police brutality and the urban crime.
Wilson described what makes him really happy as a co-host of a St. Louis morning lifestyle show during the discussion.
“I’ve been in the hard-to-talk news world about COVID, politics and all that stuff. It’s hardcore, ”he said. “Being with ‘Show Me St. Louis’ here is more positive news. We highlight food, businesses and events; things that help people move away from the harsh realities of life.
In North Dakota, what Wilson described as a veritable “red state,” he said he often found himself lumped into the category of “mainstream media” engaged in fear and excessive dramatization of the virus even then. as the number of COVID deaths in North Dakota was increasing. . Unlike most news stations which went virtual for most of 2020, KX News reporters were in the studio a few months after the virus began to spread. The atmosphere and attitude towards the pandemic tested Wilson’s sense of values.
“In a way, I was wondering if my superiors really cared about my well-being,” Wilson recalls, sharing his feelings about some of his viewers. “Despite the high death toll, people would look at you like crazy if you wore a mask. It was like, ‘Why are you bringing this negative vibe here?’
Determined to redefine his career, Wilson put together a demo tape of the positive and upbeat stories he had made on KX News. After uploading the video to YouTube, he got a call from the producers at KSDK asking if he would be interested in joining the “Show Me St. Louis” team. He was and, in a short time, he did, joining the KSDK in July.
Andrea Henderson’s biggest challenge was trying to find a balance in a rapidly changing world. As the pandemic spread, she heard about layoffs on the radio station. When her immediate editor was fired, she feared she would be next. Henderson decided to reorient his fears in his work. She recalled how she put together a to-do list for work.
“I woke up early one morning and noticed a lot of ideas: new ways of talking about COVID and the manifestations in different and more nuanced ways,” she said.
Henderson admits covering COVID, police brutality, and the protest that followed was difficult at first, but it was the aftermath of George Floyd’s death that eerily cheered him up:
“The protests started to invigorate me a bit because I saw what was happening with my people and saw other (non-black) people stepping in to help,” she said. “I knew the death of George Floyd and COVID had led to a different outcome. People were sitting at home, isolated. Everyone was watching TV and social media. Seeing so many people stand up encouraged me. It was like ‘OK, Andrea, you can do this!’ ”
Lauren Brown, 24, said she struggled to separate from those disproportionately suffering from COVID-19 and police brutality. Her paternal grandfather succumbed to the virus in June 2020. The Chicago native has no immediate family members in St. Louis. She wondered who would be there for her if, for example, she was infected while covering a demonstration. Brown turned those worries into fodder for future stories.
“I started to focus on the things I needed and what I needed for other families, like black mental health and family well-being,” Brown said. “I felt a little overwhelmed by our struggles, trials and tribulations, so I focused on stories that left people less desperate, maybe even hopeful. Talking about these things took a heavy toll on me.
Brown said she was happy with the “We live here” discussion. Despite the challenges of an ongoing pandemic, societal atrocities and disproportionate injustices, all panelists spoke lovingly about their roles as black journalists with self-imposed mandates to represent, serve and inform the black public in these matters. troubling and transformative times.
Sylvester Brown Jr. is the first Deaconess Fellow of American St. Louis.