CNN Journalist Tanzina Vega discusses race and media

BY EMMA RUBIN '20

The Mount Holyoke Weissman Center for Leadership welcomed award-winning journalist Tanzina Vega as part of its “Advocacy and the Public Domain Series” last Thursday. Vega, a visiting professor at Princeton University who specializes in reporting on race, previously worked for The New York Times and now works for CNNMoney. Her lecture “The Media and Race: Why it Matters” discussed her professional experiences as a reporter and as a female journalist of color.

Seats in Dwight 101 quickly filled and Weissman staff rolled in extra chairs to accommodate the crowd while some attendees sat along the room’s steps. “And we were worried about people coming,” Vega joked. 

Vega began by discussing statistics on the systematic obstacles people of color face, including the wealth gap, incarceration rates and poverty in minority communities. She spoke about her experience as a journalist covering racial issues, noting how her own identity often affects how her work is received. 

“I am frequently asked if I can be unbiased on my reporting of race because I am a woman of color,” she said. “Do we ask the same of white reporters and white writers?”

She alluded to the recent New York Times exposé of Harvey Weinstein, which was written by two female reporters. Vega pointed out that although the subjects of the article felt more comfortable sharing their stories with female reporters than they might have with male reporters, no one questioned if the journalist’s womanhood gave them an inherent bias. Vega argued that just as these female reporters were able to connect with those interviewed, journalists of color can connect with their racial communities.

The role of objectivity and bias in reporting remained a principal theme throughout Vega’s talk. She said that when reporting on racial issues, she pulls from multiple facts and perspectives, utilizes statistics and testimonies from minority citizens and interviews white Americans. 

“I can’t do reporting on something without connecting to it,” Vega said. 

During the question and answer session, Vega reiterated the importance of supporting and sustaining media organizations with subscriptions. “You have a role in sustaining the media you want to see,” she said.

Becky Wai-Ling Packard, director of the Weissman Center, said that the Center looks for people who can speak to Mount Holyoke’s community. Vega appealed to the Weissman Center because she was someone who had “engaged in questions of race and inequality.” 

David Hernández, professor of Latinx studies, collaborated with the Weissman Center to organize the event. He said he first met Vega in 2016 after she interviewed him for a book project on Latinxs and criminalization. Hernández was impressed by how she commanded the interview. 

“It was just rapid fire, thoughtful, and lucid questioning,” he said. “You could tell she was really professional and I knew mid-interview, we’d have to bring her to Mount Holyoke College to meet our students.”

Hernández was thrilled with the turnout for the event, especially considering that there were several other events happening on campus and throughout the Five Colleges that night. “It really shows the serious interest in the topics of race, the media, and Latina/o/x communities,” he said.

Luciany Capra ’21 attended the lecture because she was interested in hearing about the current racial and political climate in the U.S. “I believe the way a story is portrayed in the news dramatically impacts public perception,” she said. “This is especially true when covering racial topics.” Capra said she left the lecture with a new view of the press. 

“I have a newfound appreciation for the news media and a heightened awareness as a viewer, as to my responsibility,” she said.  

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