Shirley Sherrod’s Lessons to Young Journalists

By Nancy Ramsey

Jul 29, 2010 6:33pm

 ABC News on Campus reporter Wesley Lowery blogs:
Less than two weeks after losing her job over remarks she made to the NAACP, Shirley Sherrod took the stage in San Diego at the National Association of Black Journalists’ annual convention -and implored young journalists to not let aspirations of fame drive them into sensational reporting, and to take lessons from history. Sherrod’s 8:00 a.m. appearance on the panel, “Context and Consequences: A Conversation with Shirley Sherrod,” focused on the media scandal surrounding the two-minute clip that was circulated by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart. About a quarter of the hundreds in attendance were students. “I think it is great that she is here to speak with us,” said Georgia Dawkins, a graduate student at Florida A&M University and NABJ’s student representative to the board. “As student journalists there is a lot we can learn from this unfortunate situation.” When one audience member asked how she felt about the media coverage of the event, Sherrod said the ordeal has given her a new perspective. “I never asked for the limelight,” said Sherrod. “I’ve gone from the point where I saw the worst, and now I’ve seen how media can work and should work.” During the panel, Sherrod said she plans to sue Breitbart, news that made headlines within minutes. She also said that if President Obama were more informed about the tense racial history of the South, he may have handled the situation better. “He needs a history lesson.” The panel featured CNN anchor Don Lemon, media critic Eric Deggans and Mara Schiavocampo of NBC. “It’s really exciting,” said Marissa Evans, a student at Marquette University and founder of the school’s NABJ chapter. “As an up-and-coming reporter, I want to make sure I don’t fall into some of the same dangers shown throughout this ordeal.” Evans added that the primary caution she’s received from the way mainstream outlets handled the Sherrod clip is to always make sure you’ve got the full picture before attributing controversial statements to someone. Sherrod made interacting with students a focal point of her time at the convention – setting up an interview for about five student reporters after the panel. After witnessing her father’s murder at the hands of a white farmer, Sherrod devoted her life to improving race relations in the South. For decades she has served as an advocate for black farmers and in 2009 was named the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s first black director of rural development. Her husband, Charles Sherrod, also attended the interview and asked the students to not lose sight of their journalistic values when faced with the opportunity to make a name for themselves through sensational coverage. Charles Sherrod was active in the Civil Rights Movement, serving as an organizer of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, an influential student coalition that organized sit-ins and freedom rides during the 1960s. “There is such a thing as being moral,” Charles said. “Be moral. There are some stories that don’t need to be told.” Wayne State University student Corrine Lyons said interviewing Sherrod held significance to her as both an aspiring journalist and as a black woman. “She’s a really big deal, especially down in the South with all of the work she’s done there for years.” Lyons said. “When you look at the history….it’s important to recognize the people who got you where you are.”

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