Supercreator PM: Nikole Hannah-Jones shows us how to shake the table
The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist spurns UNC in favor of Howard University. Plus: An interview with a writer who calls Hannah-Jones’s 1619 Project an “Apollo mission for journalism.”
In this morning’s first-ever issue of Supercreator AM, I promised to report any news after I watched Nikole Hannah-Jones’s exclusive sitdown with Gayle King for CBS This Morning. Little did I know, Hannah-Jones would overtake the news cycle.
In case you missed it: Hannah-Jones, the New York Times Magazine writer and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist behind The Times’ 1619 Project, announced that she declined a tenure offer from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and will instead serve as the Knight Chair at Howard University. She’ll be joining New York Times bestselling author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates to create the Center for Journalism and Democracy at the historically Black research university in Washington, D.C. ⇢ Watch the full interview.
Hannah-Jones has masterfully shaken the table in two industries: journalism and higher education. And done so with such poise, grace and authority that it’s easy to see why her opponents are so unwavering in dehumanizing her and devaluing her work.
And as a Black journalist who spent way too much time seeking validation from the white gaze, I deeply resonated with this quote from Hannah-Jones’s interview:
“Since the second grade when I started being bussed into white schools, I’ve spent my entire life proving that I belonged in elite white spaces that were not built for Black people. I got a lot of clarity through what happened with the University of [and] I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore. Black professionals should feel free — and actually perhaps an obligation — to go to our own institutions and bring our talents and resources to our own institutions to build them us as well.”
I know that’s right, sis.
Hannah-Jones and Coates’ appointments are supported by $20 million in donations by the MacArthur, Knight, and Ford foundations, as well as by an anonymous donor.
The investments will enable Hannah-Jones to focus on training and supporting aspiring journalists in acquiring the investigative skills and historical and analytical expertise needed to cover the crisis our democracy is facing. ⇢ Read the full statement from the MacArthur Foundation.
In particular, the $5 million investment in Howard from the Knight Foundation, which provides grants in journalism, communities and the arts includes $500,000 for Hannah-Jones to launch a symposium to empower journalism educators at HBCUs. In its first year, the symposium will take place on Howard’s campus and host students and faculty from at least 20 HBCUs. By year five, the symposium is planned to include students from 50 HBCUs with the possibility of physical presentations on other HBCU campuses. ⇢ Read the full statement from the Knight Foundation.
UNC’s administration looks like a house of fools for allowing this to happen. Hannah-Jones told Gayle that she looked forward to teaching at her alma mater and never asked for special treatment but instead to receive the same guarantees those that held the position before her enjoyed. UNC did not respond to a request from The Supercreator for comment on Hannah-Jones’s decision.
But in a statement, Susan King, dean of UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, said:
“Of course, I’m disappointed that Nikole Hannah-Jones will not be joining the school this summer. But I’m aware it’s been a long six months for her and for our UNC students.
“Hannah-Jones is an alum of our school and a loyal Tar Heel. We will call on her to continue to challenge and inspire our students from her new position. We wish her nothing but deep success and the hope that UNC can learn from this long tenure drama about how we must change as a community of scholars in order to grow as a campus that lives by its stated values of being a diverse and welcoming place for all.” ⇢ Read King’s full statement.
”We’ll be frank: It was racist”: Those were the words from a statement signed by 43 faculty signatories at UNC’s journalism school,” promising what Hannah-Jones endured “will not be in vain.” ⇢ Read the faculty’s full statement.
Last but not least, there’s this snippet from Hannah-Jones’s statement, eight pages in length, and worth every moment you spend reading it in full:
“I won the battle for tenure. But I also get to decide what battles I continue to fight. And I have decided that instead of fighting to prove I belong at an institution that until 1955 prohibited Black Americans from attending, I am instead going to work in the legacy of a university not built by the enslaved but for those who once were.”
Two final quick notes that speak to Hannah-Jones’s character:
First, she traveled to North Carolina this weekend to thank the students who advocated for Hannah-Jones’s tenure in person and tell them that she would be declining UNC’s offer. She told Gayle of CBS that she wanted them to hear it from her so they wouldn’t feel betrayed when word got out.
As someone who found out the boss for whom they moved to New York City to work was leaving via an industry publication and Twitter DMs, I can tell you Hannah-Jones’s thoughtfulness made all the difference in the world to those students.
As for the second note, Hannah-Jones gave the exclusive print interview to, Joe Killian, the local reporter at NC Policy Watch who broke the first story of UNC tenure controversy. It’s one thing to talk about supporting local and independent news. But it’s another to empower it with your actions.
I’ll have more to say about a wonderful thread Killian posted to Twitter this morning in tomorrow’s Supercreator AM. So stay tuned for that. In the meantime though, I’ve got one more layer of this story to share.
⇢ “A devastating loss for UNC”: In conversation with Stew Fortier
A couple of months ago, Stew Fortier — cofounder of Foster, a collaborative membership community for online writers — hosted a talk with Hannah-Jones on a wide range of topics, including her inspiration for the 1619 Project and its significance in the current media and political landscape and the critical role investigative journalism plays in holding truth to power. I caught up with Stew to get his reaction to Hannah-Jones’s decision and the personal and professional impact of her work. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity. (Disclosure: I’m currently a contract editor and writing coach at Foster.)
What was your reaction when you hear Nikole declined UNC’s tenure offer and accepted the Knight Chair appointment at Howard University?
I felt that justice was served twice. First, by the UNC Board of Trustees reversing their decision. Secondly, by Nikole righteously denying their pittance and opting to bring her intellectual firepower to one of the best HBCUs in the country. It was poetic — and a devastating loss to UNC.
What inspired you to reach out to Nikole to speak to the Foster community?
I think every writer needs role models, so I try to bring on guests at Foster that I think will inspire our members. I consider the 1619 Project a sort of Apollo mission for journalism. I admire the sheer ambition and scope of the project. How many writers seek to reframe the history of an entire nation? Nikole, alongside the contributors to the 1619 Project, represents the highest aspirations of any writer in my opinion. A clear vision, ambition to spare and exceptional writing — the 1619 Project is in a class of its own. It turns out the rest of Foster agreed: Nikole’s event was our highest-rated to date.
What personal or professional impact has Nikole’s work — including The 1619 Project — had on you?
During her interview with Foster, Nikole mentioned that her favorite movie was The Matrix and that she thinks of the 1619 Project as a “red pill.” That perfectly captured my own experience reading her work. My understanding of American history can be split into two stages: before the 1619 Project and afterward. Specifically, her argument that Black Americans have been the perfecters of American democracy has fundamentally stuck with me.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Nikole frequently talks about the white backlash that has followed every key moment of racial progress in America. The majority-white UNC Board of Trustees denying her tenure — something they’d never done for any of her predecessors for the role — perfectly illustrates the urgency and the importance of the work she’s doing.
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Nina Turner ⇢ The progressive candidate to fill the congressional seat in Ohio’s 11th district, which was vacated by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, received a vigorous endorsement from one of Cleveland.com for the Democratic primary next month:
“There is one person in this crowded field who has shown she isn’t afraid to stand up to power and to partisan shibboleths, who has the guts to say what she thinks and do what’s right for her constituents and country, who is passionate about public service and knows the issues, the personalities, the challenges better than anyone else in this race.”
Tesla ⇢ Anna Kramer at Protocol obtained 100-plus sworn statements from a class-action lawsuit and public records that allege people at the electric vehicle and clean energy company use the N-word, make demeaning jokes and retaliate on the basis of race.
Banks ⇢ New data says they should expect nearly 20 percent of their customers to leave them in the next year. The trend is accelerated by Gen Z adults and millennials who are more likely to say that they have switched or plan to switch primary providers than Gen Xers or baby boomers.
Most June vaccine deaths were unnecessary ⇢ Mychael Schnell at The Hill:
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, more than 99 percent of the nearly 10,000 who died from COVID-19 last month were unvaccinated. “This is really entirely avoidable and preventable,” Fauci said.
Virus outbreaks at US immigration detention centers ⇢ Maura Turcotte at The New York Times:
The number of people being held in detention centers has nearly doubled from 14,000 in April to 26,000 last week. During the same period, more than 7.500 new coronavirus cases have been reported in the centers over, accounting for more than 40 percent of all cases reported in ICE facilities since the pandemic began.
Amazon is selling its own COVID-19 test kits ⇢ Sarah Perez at TechCrunch:
Amazon announced today that it would sell its own brand of COVID-19 at-home tests to Amazon shoppers for $40. The tests are available to any US customer without a prescription and Amazon says it will provide results within 24 hours of receiving the sample at its lab.
America’s vaccine future ⇢ Sarah Zhang at The Atlantic:
“This time last year, vaccines were still a distant hope. It was hard to imagine, last July 4, that we would have this many different vaccines that are this effective. It was hard to imagine scaling up factories to manufacture this many doses so quickly—more than enough for every American. But we also did not imagine that variants would emerge and how quickly they would widen the divide between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. Here we are a year later, with too many doses and too few willing arms, at a time when the advantages of vaccination are clearer than ever.”
How political polarization broke America’s vaccine campaign ⇢ German Lopez at Vox:
“Overcoming this will require confronting an all-encompassing trend in American political life. And while experts have some ideas about the best way to reach Republicans, it may be too late; with a year and a half of Trump and other Republicans downplaying the risk of the virus, there’s a chance that views around Covid-19 — and the vaccine as a result — are just too baked in now.”
Most Americans approve of President Biden’s handling of the pandemic ⇢ Dan Balz and Emily Guskin at The Washington Post:
More than six in 10 Americans say they approve of the job the president’s job performance on the pandemic. His overall approval stands at 50 percent positive and 42 percent negative, with 94 and 95 percent of Democrats approving of his overall performance and pandemic response, respectively.
The Biden administration is the most diverse in US history ⇢ Alexandra Kelly at The Hill:
60 percent of White House staff are women and over 40 percent are people of color. The pay gap between men and women in Biden’s administration is just below one percent, with women earning $93,752 on average while men earn $94,639 on average, compared to 20 percent during the Trump administration.
Field offices among the enhanced safety measures from Capitol Police ⇢ Joseph Choi at The Hill:
The acting US Capitol Police Chief announced it is opening regional fields offices in California and Florida to investigate threats to members of Congress. The offices are among several security enhancements in the aftermath of the Capitol attack in January.
The DNC focuses on nine states ahead of the midterms ⇢ Julia Manchester at The Hill:
The Democratic National Committee announced the launch of the Campaign Pipeline Project, which will place organizers on the ground in Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Virginia and New Jersey in an effort to elect the party's candidates up and down the ballot in the targeted states in advance of the 2022 midterms.
32 people have died in the Surfside condo collapse ⇢ Elisha Fieldstadt at NBC News:
Four bodies were recovered overnight, the 13th day of an ongoing search for victims. 26 have been identified. 113 remain “potentially unaccounted for.”
Why Mitch McConnell is so powerful ⇢ Peter Nicholas at The Atlantic:
“Something is broken in the Senate. McConnell’s sustained commitment to stopping Democratic priorities, whatever the cost, has deepened the dysfunction that makes many Republican voters doubt the efficacy of government in the first place. In most democracies, a stubborn minority party cannot stop the majority from debating the nation’s worst problems, much less solving them. McConnell is one reason the United States remains an exception. He’s succeeded to a point where Democrats, in desperation, are casting about for work-arounds that would more easily translate their popular majorities into actual policy. There’s a push to add justices to the Supreme Court so as to counteract the conservative majority McConnell helped forge, and to do away with a filibuster rule that requires 60 of the Senate’s 100 votes to pass most bills.”
Why Democrats’ divorce from Silicon Valley is almost final ⇢ Gabriel Debenedetti at Intelligencer:
“The last few years have seen a slow-motion breakup between the big-tech companies and Washington — especially Democrats skeptical of their market share, anticompetitive behavior, speech policies, and labor practices. But this spring and summer have seen the divorce papers finally being drafted. It’s a pronounced shift in the landscape that’s been understandably overshadowed by D.C.’s other dramas, and it’s an area where lefties are mostly happy with the Biden administration’s moves while most centrist Democrats and even some of their GOP colleagues are coming around, too.”
Why it’s time to fund public transportation like the public good that it is ⇢ Aaron Wiener at Mother Jones:
“There’s something for everyone in good public transit. It’s essential to curbing climate change. It’s good business and economics: The American Public Transit Association estimates that every dollar spent on transit generates $5 in economic activity. It makes our urban areas livable and accessible. But the pandemic has highlighted something more fundamental: Many of the people we’ve started calling essential workers simply can’t get by without it.”
The erosion of higher education ⇢ Rithika Ramamurthy and Dennis M. Hogan at Teen Vogue:
“While attaining a college education remains more important than ever, our current university system favors wealthy institutions as public institutions rely increasingly on tuition and fees, donations, or private sector partnerships to make ends meet. Those who cannot make the math work have enacted serious budget cuts, shuttered whole departments and programs, and scaled back scholastic offerings. Such a competitive atmosphere makes public universities more and more like private colleges — likelier to prioritize the needs and desires of rich donors and politically connected board members over the needs of the students, faculty, and other university staff who make universities work. As boards and administrators accumulate unilateral power and undermine collective governance, higher education fails to fulfill its democratizing mission.”
Reporters are still struggling six months after the Capitol riot ⇢ Cameron Joseph at Vice News:
“The emotional scars are still there. Six months after their office was attacked, the Capitol Hill press corps is grappling with how to cover the insurrection’s fallout, as well as its impact on them personally and professionally.
“Some reporters who were there won’t go back into the building. A number have sought therapy to deal with the trauma. One longtime Capitol Hill reporter opted for early retirement shortly after living through the riot. Many still aren’t sleeping well.”
The streaming wars are (really) on now ⇢ Alex Sherman at CNBC:
Now that the country is reopening, the real work for media and technology companies begins: They have to show investors they can attract and retain streaming subscribers when we’re not all on lockdown.
Netflix is losing its cool ⇢ Kate Knibbs at WIRED:
“Netflix is the Kleenex of streaming, a brand so dominant it can stand for the whole of the market. (It’s not “Hulu and chill,” after all.) There are signs that this synecdochal power is waning, though. Shiny new rivals, particularly HBO Max and Disney+, have rolled out their own formidable streaming libraries. Plus, a constellation of smaller streamers have established themselves by catering to niche audiences. Film buffs have MUBI, Ovid, and Criterion; horror fans have Shudder; for anime devotees, there’s Crunchyroll and Funimation; the list goes on. As competitors multiply in the United States, they’re purloining former Netflix staples like The Office and Friends and coming out with features every bit as cinematic as Netflix awards bait like The Irishman. The original streaming giant is finally facing real competition.”
The need for real change — instead of just representation — from Hollywood ⇢ Charles Caeser at them:
“The discourse around “representation” has made it seem like much has changed at an institutional level when, in fact, the industry itself has mostly remained static, even worsening in areas like racial diversity and transgender representation, all while periodically queerbaiting viewers with just enough material to keep us hyped and tuning in. In this way, the goal of “representation” has functioned as a frustrating stopgap between the outmoded erasure of the past and the more substantive changes to the industry I would rather see happen.”
Britney Spears’s Conservatorship Nightmare ⇢ Ronan Farrow and Jia Tolentino at The New Yorker:
“The question of control has surrounded Britney Spears from the start of her career. How much was she being manipulated by the powerful men who stood to profit from her image? To what extent was her existence manufactured by the demands of the system around her? A strong sense of self-ownership always emerged from Spears in performance, specifically in dance: when she moved, she was sharp, knowing, seemingly absorbing everything thrown at her and surmounting it through sheer will and charisma.
“And, all along, as her fans have noticed, she has been singing songs that she didn’t write but which nonetheless seem to speak directly to her situation: my loneliness is killing me; I’m a slave for you; I’m not a girl, not yet a woman; you want a piece of me. As famous and wealthy as Spears has been since she was a [teenager], she has never been in full control of her life. Many of the most harrowing revelations in her testimony had been visible to anyone who cared to look closely. She told the court that she’d wanted to express them for a long time but had been afraid to do so in public. “I thought people would make fun of me,” she said. “Or laugh at me and say, ‘She’s lying. She’s got everything. She’s Britney Spears.’”
Twitter addiction ⇢ Caitlin Flanagan at The Atlantic:
“I know I’m an addict because Twitter hacked itself so deep into my circuitry that it interrupted the very formation of my thoughts. Twenty years of journalism taught me to hit a word count almost without checking the numbers at the bottom of the screen. But now a corporation that operates against my best interests has me thinking in 280 characters. Every thought, every experience, seems to be reducible to this haiku, and my mind is instantly engaged by the challenge of concision. Once the line is formed, why not put it out there? Twitter is a red light, blinking, blinking, blinking, destroying my ability for private thought, sucking up all my talent and wit. Put it out there, post it, see how it does. What pours out is an ungodly sluice of high-minded opinions, sharp rebukes, jokes, transactional compliments, and mundane bulletins from my private life (to the extent that I have one anymore).”
DO THIS ONE THING ⇢ Pre-order the 1619 books
Everyone will be talking about A New Origin Story (featured above) and Born on the Water — two books Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote and edited — this November so you might as well get your copies now.
THE ONE-SENTENCE SEND-OFF ⇢ America is undeserving of Black women.