Q&A with Knight Fellow Jeneé Desmond-Harris

May 27, 2016, 2:09 a.m.

Jenée Desmond-Harris is one of this year’s John S. Knight Journalism Fellows. Desmond-Harris is focusing on investigating the best practices for journalists covering race in America. A former staff writer at Vox and editor at The Root, she freelances for many publications, including The New York Times and MSNBC. The Daily talked with Desmond-Harris about her experiences with journalism and being a JSK fellow.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): What does a typical day look like for you?

Jeneé Desmond-Harris (JDH): There really is no typical day in the JSK Fellowship. We have a program that includes a variety … So a day could look like anything from going to three classes, to being at the library reading, to having meetings all day, to listening to a guest speaker, to having a meeting with the fellowship staff.

TSD: How did you first become interested in journalism?

JDH: I was actually a lawyer. I practiced for about four years. And I always loved writing, and I was always really passionate about issues related to race in America. So I began freelancing on the side as a lawyer, and I loved it. I eventually got hired by The Root – that’s an African American news and commentary site – and I went from there to Vox in Washington D.C.

TSD: How did you find yourself being a JSK fellow?

JDH: So the fellowship is designed for people who want to address a question or issue relating to their area of journalism. As someone who’s always written about race, I did a lot of experimenting with different ways to bring academic insights to my audience and try to dispel myths. I really wanted to take the opportunity to take some time to be more thoughtful about what audiences needed, and how I and other journalists could deliver the best possible and richest content to them. This year has been an opportunity to do a lot of thinking and a lot of learning, and unfortunately as a working journalist that’s often something that you don’t have time for. So once I heard about all the resources available here, everything from the actual Stanford courses to the group of fellows, who are amazing and who can teach you so much because of the work they’ve done, I just thought it would be a really great way for me to enhance my career.

TSD: What’s the community like among the JSK fellows?

JDH: We’re all very, very close. We really have become a family. There’s 19 of us, several are international, and we’re all mid-career but have very different backgrounds. Everything from investigative reporters to broadcast reporters to illustrators to journalism innovators, but we’re all here for the same reason: Because we want to get better at what we do and we have a lot of curiosity and a lot of questions. We have a lot of time to spend together and just get to know each other, which is a huge luxury. I’m sure that we’re gonna keep our relationships going long after the fellowship is over.

TSD: What in your experience made you want to improve race reporting in America?

JDH: I don’t think it’s a problem as much as a challenge. I think race is not an area where a lot of people are expected to have expertise, like they are with some other beats. So many people who are covering race, myself included, we’re often figuring it out as we go along. And that means we don’t have a huge knowledge base to draw from, and so that knowledge can be really important for readers, our audiences … I really felt like I wanted to have a chance to gather all the expertise and insights that most reporters don’t generally have on a day-to-day basis. And I also wanted to create some best practices for people who are still out in the world and just want to do the best they can with the time they have.

TSD: Are you still writing for publication during your fellowship?

JDH: I’m primarily focused on just the fellowship this year, but I did just do a piece for The New York Times on Donald Trump and race in America. I actually worked with one of my sociology professors here, Tomás Jiménez … I really developed some great relationships, and I know I’ll continue to use professors that I met here as resources for my pieces.

TSD: What else do you like to do for fun outside of the fellowship?

JDH: I’ve really enjoyed starting to ride a bike again. I think that’s been incredibly fun. This probably sounds nerdy and somewhat boring, but I love having the time to read everything I want to read, from books to just everything on the Internet. Also, exploring the Bay Area. I grew up here, so I’ve had the chance to get back into hiking and visiting the beaches. It’s just so beautiful here, so it’s been a great experience.


Contact Aulden Foltz at [email protected].

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