At the first MJFC organization event of the year, “A Conversation with Journalist Tony Briscoe,” students shared warm greetings and their career aspirations as they geared up for an evening of fruitful discussion.
The event, a moderated Q&A with the aforementioned journalist, was organized by the Howard University Association of Black Journalists, the Howard University Ida B Wells Society and the Pulitzer Center. It provided the opportunity for a group of School of Communications students and SOC organization members to ask questions directly to a budding investigative journalist of color.
Briscoe was born in Kansas City, Kansas and grew up in the Detroit area. He started his career in breaking news at The Detroit News, driven by a desire to do observational reporting.
“If you’ve looked at every human action that somebody takes, it’s to solve a problem. So if you watch what people do, you’ll uncover the problem that they’re trying to solve,”Briscoe explained.
For him, one of the most glaring and fascinating problems humanity was scrambling to solve was climate change.
“Every aspect of our modern lives is impacted by the environment,” he said.
During his time at The Chicago Tribune, he did extensive work covering environmental issues, particularly the Great Lakes. From there, he joined ProPublica in the midst of the pandemic, reporting on racial disparities in COVID-19 deaths, FEMA, and disinvestment in Chicago.
In order to write detailed, untold climate stories, he often pursues leads about research and funding for environmental progress in order to find sources.
“There’s a lot of really amazing scientists who do great work. No one ever calls them,” he said.
Briscoe also shared the three most essential skills of a successful journalist: empathy, storytelling, and curiosity.
He emphasized the importance of not only utilizing empathy when interviewing subjects, but also in crafting stories. Empathy and storytelling are especially critical skills when translating complex scientific and legal stories.
“Zoom out and try to explain it to somebody as if they have no background as to what they are talking about,”he said.
Accessibility and telling stories for and about people that have been historically disregarded or misrepresented is a personal goal of Briscoe’s.
“The most important part of my job to this day bar none, is making marginalized communities feel heard,” he said.
He shared a story from his childhood, asking his grandfather why he read The Kansas City Star and The Call, the city’s historically Black newspaper. At the time, he said he didn’t understand why Black issues wouldn’t be published at mainstream outlets.
He shared his excitement about the increase in the number of journalists of color, taking roles on all beats and utilizing all styles of journalism. He encouraged them to start telling the stories locally.
“What makes your area special? What do you love about it?” he implored the budding journalists to ask themselves. “What matters to you? What matters to your community?”
Donovan Thomas, president of the HU Ida B. Wells Society and moderator of the event, believes the event was a success.
“It was great to engage in conversation with Mr. Briscoe. I learned so much in just an hour,”he said. “His insight was invaluable and I look forward to implementing some of his practices in my own reporting.”
Julia Weng, president of HUABJ, agreed.
“The conversation with Tony Briscoe was an incredibly impressionable and important one for student journalists to hear. Briscoe was not only very open and honest about his journey to and through environmental journalism, but also answered important questions on why environmental journalism and environmental justice go hand in hand, and why it matters from a local and communal perspective,” she said.