Nikole Hannah-Jones, the lead writer for The New York Times Magazine’s The 1619 Project, talked about the process of her project, the future of journalism and race inequities in a panel discussion with University of Oregon faculty and students on Feb. 19.
The 1619 Project, published in August 2019, examines how slavery shaped many American institutions with multimedia reporting and personal essays.
The project “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative,” according to The New York Times.
Hannah-Jones explained her project as ”not intending to erase anyone’s history, but focusing on centering the Black experience.”
Juan-Carlos Molleda, the dean of the UO School of Journalism and Communication, said he started reaching out to Hannah-Jones in fall 2019. She was originally supposed to come in person in April 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the university rescheduled the event for a later date over Zoom.
Prior to working for theNew York Times in 2015, Hannah-Jones reported for The Oregonian, from 2006 to 2011. Molleda found this interesting, he said.
“One of her mentors was Jack Hart, and we inducted him in 2019 to the SOJC hall of achievement, which was a really interesting coincidence,” Molleda said. “She not only has a connection to Oregon and The Oregonian, but indirectly to the SOJC.”
Andra Brichacek, director of communication for the SOJC, said Hannah-Jones paneling with students is not only beneficial for students to learn about The 1619 Project, but to also hear about her journalistic process.
“And the question that I wish I would be asked more is really about the craft of journalism,” Hannah-Jones said to Around the O. “I mean, I love talking about race. I’ve built my whole career around it. It is my passion, but I’m also just as passionate about journalism and I love talking about writing as well.”
During the panel discussion, Hannah-Jones said The 1619 Project was “kind of dropping a bomb in going after one of the most foundational myths of our country.”
She highlighted how the work was deeply traumatic for her, and that she cried several times throughout the project. She said that during lockdown, she focused on caring for herself to be able to continue producing work that she needed to produce.
Hannah-Jones won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her introductory essay to this project. Molleda said he thinks her work is one of the leading voices in terms of race inequities and history, and putting the world into context.
“It’s just amazing that she’s talking about something that began more than 400 years ago, but it’s more relevant today than ever,” Molleda said.
By challenging the foundation of history many Americans were taught, and tying history into the present, The 1619 Project has been able to stimulate conversation among many listeners. While Hannah-Jones said she read about 30 books for one essay alone, and that there is a huge “amount of care and research and fact-checking that goes into a process like this,” one thing she wishes she would’ve done differently is provide more evidence for telling the history from a different perspective.
“Objectivity isn’t dead. It never existed,” Hannah-Jones said. “There’s not a human being who doesn't have opinions, and there's not a journalist who doesn't have opinions about a thing they're covering. Objectivity to me is a luxury you have if you haven't dealt with something.”
Brichacek said that she hopes Hannah-Jones’ talk will inspire students to continue the conversation about all the angles of the project concerning race in America — race inequities, the history of slavery in America and the consequences until the 21st century.
Hannah-Jones said she hopes this project will also pave the way for future conversations.
“I hope that the success of this project makes it much more difficult for editors to shut down the experience of people of color,” Hannah-Jones said.