July 18, 2024

HBCU newspaper editors tell us about their work and the significance of Black student journalists reporting Black news (Part 1: Morgan State Spokesman) – Student Press Law Center

Student Press Law Center
Q&A with Oyin Adedoyin, editor-in-chief of the Morgan State University Spokesman
Interview by Alexis Mason, Outreach and Operations Manager at the Student Press Law Center
In honor of Black History Month, SPLC is celebrating the rich history of student journalism at historically Black colleges and universities by conducting a series of Q&A interviews with editor-in-chiefs from three HBCUs: Morgan State University, Florida A&M University, and North Carolina A&T State University. 
I spoke with the editors about the importance of reporting Black news, they shared their journey as journalists, and we talked about some of the top stories covered by their newspapers this year. They all spoke about how being a part of historically Black newspapers gave them an opportunity to tell the stories of their communities—stories that are not always covered by mainstream media. 
My first interview was with Oyin Adedoyin, the editor-in-chief of Morgan State University’s Spokesman. First established in 1942, The Spokesman is a vault of historical events, documenting protest and riots, the Magnificent Marching Machine’s debut in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, and a Q&A with then mayoral candidate Brandon Scott, who became the youngest Mayor of Baltimore City. In the past decade, the publication stopped its print edition and is now a digital-only news source.
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Alexis Mason: Tell me about yourself.
Oyin Adedoyin: My name is Oyin Adedoyin and I’m a multimedia journalism major senior at Morgan State University. I’m the editor-in-chief of the student run publication here, The Spokesman
AM: I have read a lot of your articles, you are amazing. How did you get into journalism, and what made you choose an HBCU?
OA: Well, it’s interesting, because I always knew that I wanted to go into journalism. So when it came down to looking at colleges, my parents suggested that I apply to Morgan. I applied, and I got in, and I was offered a full scholarship. Which was amazing. And looking back, it’s one of, I would say, the best decisions I’ve ever made. 
I remember the first semester, saying, “I’m gonna be the editor-in-chief of The Spokesman someday.”
AM: When did you join The Spokesman?
OA: The Spokesman is really close to my heart. I joined as a staff writer my freshman year. I also encouraged my friend, now managing editor of The Spokesman, Brianna Taylor to come on after my first semester. It’s funny because I remember the first semester, saying, “I’m gonna be the editor-in-chief of The Spokesman someday.” I was just talking, or like manifesting, I guess. But that’s what actually happened. At the time, I was working two jobs, essentially. I worked part time at a pizza place nearby, and in my spare time, I was doing Spokesman stories. Working at The Spokesman gave me a great base and a great background. It gave me the opportunity to start practicing level one reporting, with interviewing and forming stories, and thinking in a journalistic way. 
AM: How has The Spokesman changed or evolved since you took over as editor-in-chief?
OA: Since I started, we have really expanded our coverage range a lot. We aren’t just covering campus news, we have taken it an extra notch. We relate our coverage to what’s going on in the world. As we’ve seen with the events that have happened over the past year, that is really important. With the president that we had, just before the Biden administration came in,  tensions were high when it came to race relations in this country. It’s a really important moment to get that youth led voice, especially minority youth, out there more and see how they feel about what’s going on in the world. 
Also, in 2020 we were selected to participate in a partnership with the Poynter Institute.  We launched Black Health Matters, which was inspired by the protests of 2020, in defense of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who were killed because of police brutality. We also covered the COVID-19 pandemic that has ravaged global proportions all over the world, but it’s disproportionately affecting African Americans. So looking at the intersection of those two things, we kind of birthed Black Health Matters. This project allowed us to look at these events from an HBCU perspective and see what stories might be overlooked, or how we can help these communities and shine some light on some of these stories. I definitely see The Spokesman continuing with that kind of work. A lot has changed on campus from when I started, and I’m sure it’s going to continue progressing at an exponential rate. 
It’s a really important moment to get that youth led voice, especially minority youth, out there more
AM: When I look at the work that you’ve done, both at The Spokesman and other publications, I see a storyteller. You are telling the stories of Morgan State University and the Baltimore community. I am curious about what made you make that shift to hone in on those type stories?
OA: That’s a really good question. I’ve always had this larger than life idea of everything. Whenever I’m involved in any project, I think, “what’s the biggest way we can have an impact?” I remember being in middle school, and we had to do a year long project for history class on a historical event. I chose pop art. Andy Warhol is really famously known for his pop art. For the project, I interviewed his nephew, who happens to still be alive. I was 12 years old, interviewing someone for the first time. I think it’s always been ingrained in me to always reach higher than maybe we think that we can. 
AM: What are your thoughts on the importance of covering Black news, and really telling our stories, and especially from our perspective, because so often our stories are told, but they’re not told from our voice, and then they’re misconstrued and misinterpreted.
OA: It is extremely important to tell those stories. We don’t usually do a lot of school coverage over the summer, but my internship was postponed, and I really wasn’t doing much. Also, at that time, the protests were happening. I knew we needed to have something on The Spokesman about this. Luckily, one of the alumni organized a protest at Morgan. So we were able to get one of our staff writers on the scene to cover it, and take photos of the students protesting. There was a sign that one student in particular had written that said, “I AM NOT A… [N-WORD], THUG, OR THREAT!” Our photographer captured a photo of it. I posted the story with those photos, as a gallery of photos. I don’t necessarily think the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post, or the New York Times would run a photo like that. So I was panicking a little bit. I was like, “should we take the photo down?” “Should we blur out the word, what should we do?” But then I really sat and thought about our audience. Our audience is the Morgan community, the student body, young Black students—that is who we’re here for. That’s who we’re delivering news to. We don’t have to cater to anyone else, we don’t have to cater to any other lens. If that’s how the students are feeling, you know, with that sign, who are we to censor that. That’s just an example of why I think it’s really important to tell these kinds of stories.
Our audience is the Morgan community, the student body, young Black students—that is who we’re here for. That’s who we’re delivering news to. We don’t have to cater to anyone else
AM: Where do you see the future of journalism? What does the future of journalism look like to you?
OA: That’s interesting. I haven’t been asked that question in a hot minute. I definitely see, obviously, diversity. We’re seeing it slowly, with the types of people that are ascending to certain positions, decision making newsroom positions. So I definitely see that with the COVID pandemic. I see just a more flexible mode of journalism coming about where it doesn’t necessarily matter where you are, you can still be able to produce great, meaningful work. I also see this expansion of the nonprofit newsroom. You know, like The GroundTruth Project, and just different projects that are a little bit more focused on minorities that might be overlooked. I see more news that is very much geared towards minority groups that really need to be covered and the information that really needs to be broadcasted. I see that kind of expansion as the future of news, which will then obviously open up more opportunities for more diverse storytellers, and more diverse journalists to shine in the field.
AM: Student Press Freedom Day is a national day of action to recognize the crucial work of student journalists and highlight the need to support their independence without censorship or threats to their advisers. This year’s theme is Journalism Against the Odds. I’m really curious to know, as a student journalist, what does that slogan mean to you? 
OA: Journalism is under attack now more than ever, and we saw that with the riots at the Capitol. I see it as a fight that we’re all in right now. I really hope and believe that journalism and the truth, and everything that is good is going to come into light in this fight. I also think it’s up to our youth, the next generation of journalists, to hold that mantle and push that forward. That’s what I think of when I hear journalism against the odds, it’s a very powerful message.
AM: Last question. When you thought about becoming a journalist, when you were younger, what if anything, has been better than you imagined It would be?
OA: My idea of journalism back then was the idea of this female fashion columnist writing about her love life, very Sex in the City—Carrie Bradshaw esque idea. Which as a young girl, that was so cool. Like, she gets to write about her life, and then it’s published—everybody reads it. But real journalism is so much better than that. It’s so much more than that. It’s writing about other people. It’s how other people’s lives are important, and it’s relating to someone who might not even feel like their opinion matters for whatever reason. Bringing that into light fuels me, and it’s so much more than I thought that it would.
Check out the other two parts of this series: Ariyon Dailey, Editor-in-Chief of The Famuan (Florida A&M University) and Jarod Hamilton, the editor-in-chief of The A&T Register (North Carolina A&T State University)
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