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Media: Reporting while Black
Guest Contributor Deja Mayfield writes about her experiences as a new reporter in eastern North Carolina
Editor’s Note: Even before the most recent layoffs in North Carolina and Charlotte’s media landscape, we started planning our “State of the Media” series so you can know more about the people behind the stories, and what they think about the local media landscape in Charlotte. Our first piece is from Guest Contributor Deja Mayfield, who writes about her experiences as a new reporter in eastern North Carolina.
A Business Far From Glamorous
For as long as I can remember, becoming a broadcast journalist was my goal. I‘ve known I would major in Journalism and Mass Communication since middle school. My past experience in studio dance, cheerleading, musical theater, and public speaking made it even easier for me. Being in the spotlight is something I never shied away from, so some things about this industry just happen to come naturally for me.
On top of that, I grew up watching the news. My local station would be playing in the background as I got dressed for school, and then again in the evening as my mom would make dinner. I remember being nine years old and running into a long-time meteorologist at McDonald’s. I was absolutely star-struck; not only because I admired him, but also because he was living my dream.
Little did I know that, many years later, I would be reporting the news at the same station.
Growing up in eastern North Carolina largely shaped my ability to tell stories without bias. The glamor of TV appeals to many, but my passion for news has always been rooted in honesty, keeping people informed, telling stories that matter, and amplifying authentic voices.
In middle and high school, all of my classes were divvied up by academic level and performance. That meant I was one of the only, if not the only, black girl in class for many years of my life.
Our first house I remember was in an affordable housing community. I had peers whose parents were homeowners, who lived in fancy neighborhoods and drove luxury cars. The difference in our lifestyle, culture and overall belief system became ever more evident the older we grew; especially during the years that Donald Trump ran for president.
All of a sudden, I realized the people I thought I knew all along were people that I didn’t really know at all. Our conversations changed. Everyone was so vocal about their political beliefs, many of which conflicted with mine.
As my peers and I disagreed more and more, I got to a point where I realized that their worldview was shaped by their own life experiences — and that the same goes for me. It is a concept I am glad to have learned early in life, because it makes not only my job a whole lot easier, but life a little easier too. It was those years of being the only black girl in most classes that would later influence my decision to attend the largest public historically Black college (HBCU), North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.
I started college in 2017 and graduated in 2021. As our country’s political landscape shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a rise in excessive violence against black people by police, and, driven by former President Trump’s "fake news” messaging campaign, a movement to characterize journalists as untrustworthy. All of these things happened just before I came into the business of reporting the news.
I earned my bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication and returned home to accept a job as a Multimedia Journalist (or a news reporter) at WCTI News Channel 12. Now, all of these changes are directly affecting my work.
I’m grateful to be back home, but I’m often reminded of the attitudes of many of the people that live here. That’s something I consider seriously when it comes to my style of reporting. Every day on the way to work, I drive past confederate flags that fly in people’s yards, and I see them on bumper stickers and license plates. I read online comments when our station posts about crime in predominately black communities.
Let me tell you, they do not sing the same tune when crime happens anywhere else.
I see first-hand the difference in bond amounts for Black people compared to their White counterparts, even when they’ve committed the same offense. And still, these are people who I will interact with almost daily — because it’s my job.
In a world where there is more access to information than ever before, consumers of news deserve reporting that is fair and honest even when those principals aren’t extended to us. Our viewers deserve reporting that is free of bias because at its core, news is about keeping people informed on the truth. Not personal feelings. Not hidden agendas. Telling the stories of people whose beliefs do not always align with mine, working with officials who are a part of systems that inherently discriminate against people of color, reporting news that doesn’t always resonate with me: Sometimes that’s just the job.
I strive to do it without bias, and I always will.
I am coming up on one year of being in this industry. When people ask me "How is work?” I’ve made it a cliché to say, “The good days are great.” And truthfully, they are. I have grown so much as a journalist. I came into my newsroom at a time where there was room for promotion, and I am getting better every day.
On those days when it is tougher, I really have to sit back and think about why I am here. Then I remember: honesty, keeping people informed, telling stories that matter, and amplifying the voice of the people are the reasons I chose this industry. The truth is this business could not be any less glamorous. Luckily, it’s never been about the glamor for me.
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