But collecting a sampling and studying what came before can offer a valuable view into our collective history, reminding us of the noble work that’s been done along the way. It also can offer inspiration and hope, revealing that even the most successful among us have struggled, that high art comes from effort and craft, and that noble work continues.
In that light, below are a few recent news bits, all with links back to treasures from the Storyboard archive.
Nikole Hannah-Jones won her battle for tenure with her alma matter, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, after a disturbing months-long political battle wrapped in the politics of race. Hannah-Jones had been offered a chair professorship endowed by the Knight Foundation only to learn that it would not come with tenure — something that had been granted to previous people in the role. University officials framed the issue around Hannah-Jones’ qualifications: She is a star reporter at The New York Times, previously reported for ProPublica, and has won a Pulitzer Prize, National Magazine Award, two George Polk Awards, the Hillman Prize and countless others; she holds a masters degree from UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media. But she doesn’t have a Ph.D., which can be a litmus test in academia. The vocal counter view is that the real issue was race: Hannah-Jones is an unapologetic voice for the Black experience and a racial reckoning. She was the driver behind The New York Times’ “1619” project, which sparked both conversation and controversy about racial injustice as a foundation of America’s history. Hannah-Jones spoke to Storyboard about “1619” and her other work in January 2020. We also carried highlights of her keynote address at the 2017 Power of Storytelling conference in Bucharest, Romania, where she spoke about rage as an inspiration for her work.
Chicago newspapers had long been known for the columnists who knew and loved the city enough to demand it do better. Perhaps the best-known was Mike Royko, who became a hero of the working class, winning a 1972 Pulitzer Prize for his snarky stabs at bureaucracy and bull. That torch was picked up, in the last 30 years, by Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune. She focused not so much on the politicians, but on the citizens they were supposed to serve, and saw her column as an attempt to build “connective tissue” in shared civic life.. That ended last week when she and about 40 of her colleagues, including three other columnists, took a buyout from the once-storied Tribune. The end came just after Alden Golden Capital, a hedge fund reviled by most journalists for its extreme approach to cutting costs and making profits, acquired Tribune Publishing. Last fall, Schmich spoke to Storyboard about her “female” approach to commentary writing. More thoughts and advice can be found in a 2013 interview after Schmich, a 1996 Nieman Fellow, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
Robert Samuels announced last week on Facebook that he has book contract with Washington Post colleague Toluse Olorunnipa to write for a biography of George Floyd. Samuels was the lead byline on one of the stories in “George Floyd’s America,” a six-part series about the tentacles of systemic racism in America, which won the 2021 George Polk Award for justice reporting. Last December, Samuels spoke to Storyboard about learning who Floyd was beyond the headlines, and helped annotate his part of the series.
Also on the book front, author, essayist and freelance journalist Kim Cross announced her second book will be released at the end of August. Her first book, “What Stands In a Storm,” was an immersive narrative of the destructive super storm that swept through Alabama for three days in 2011. Cross’s upcoming book is “The Stahl House,” a profile/history of one of the most famous examples of modern architecture. If you’ve never heard of the Stahl House, here’s a bit of inspiration: Neither had Cross, until she was asked to consider writing its story. Another bit of inspiration: In her newsletter announcement, Cross does what cross does: She writes a short narrative about her own journey through some deep potholes in her writing life, and her emergence through this book. Cross has been a valuable contributor to Storyboard, with posts about deadline writing in chaos, staying focused despite distractions, and five hacks for beating writer’s block. In another interview, she let Storyboard readers peek into her approach to building a palindromic story structure for “Noel and Leon,” a piece for Bicycling Magazine that won a Lowell Thomas Award and was selected for the Best of Longform and the Best of Sunday Longread in 2020.
Finally for now, kudos to Charles P. Pierce, the unabashed and blister-fast politics blogger at Esquire. Pierce was named the 2021 Byline Award winner by his alma mater, Marquette University. The Byline is the school’s top alumni journalism award. Pierce has a long list of awards to his names, from his work as a sports writer, biographer, political reporter, and columnist. His unvarnished profile of a young Tiger Woods remains a must-read for its courage in busting out of the boys-club homage of star athletes. His deadline mastery of American history, politics, culture, religion, music, mythology, poetry — pretty much everything — was analyzed in a Storyboard post about his column on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.