Written and reported by Steve Davolt
Being a young journalist of color is a role Victoria Williams takes seriously. “As I walk around newsrooms, I am saddened because there are not more people that look like me,” the University of Oklahoma journalism student wrote to Oklahoma Gazette Editor Rob Collins when applying for an AAN diversity internship there.
For advice on how she could colorize that monochromatic world, the most recent recipient of an AAN internship took to heart the advice of Karla Garrett Harshaw, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, who spoke at a university event: “She stated that if minorities are not going to get involved in the journalism world, then we have no right to complain when the media portrays those communities inaccurately,” Williams recalls.
Portraying those communities more completely is something Williams has already got a jump-start on in her nascent career. In several internships and at the campus newspaper The Oklahoma Daily, she has covered Creek tribal rights, a family business dispute in Manhattan’s Chinatown, a photography exhibit by minority students in Dallas, and a memorial to Matthew Shepard, the young gay man infamously beaten and murdered in Wyoming.
In a recent coup on the diversity front, Williams wrote a Gazette feature on an international enterprise benefiting women on both sides of the globe. Through sponsorship of the Project Women Coalition, Nairobi, Kenya-based Kazuri Beads Ltd. provides jewelry and other indigenous handicrafts to Oklahoma merchants. Proceeds are earmarked for mammograms for low-income and uninsured Oklahoma women.
“Just a swipe of a credit card and women in Oklahoma can accessorize their outfits, help fight the war against breast cancer and make the lives of women in Africa just a little bit better,” Williams wrote.
“She’s a high-energy reporter who translates that enthusiasm into her stories,” says Jack Willis, academic advisor to The Oklahoma Daily. Willis was impressed by the 30 stories the Dallas-area native managed to file her freshman year, although he notes she is already approaching that number halfway through her junior year.
In fact, Willis was so impressed by Williams’ overall abilities that he recommended her for the AAN diversity internship program at the Gazette. Established in 2001, the program awards four grants of up to $2,500 each year to subsidize internships for talented young journalists. The internship is intended to inspire promising students to consider a career in alternative journalism and to assist AAN members in diversifying their newsrooms.
The Gazette’s Collins echoes Willis on Williams’ infectious enthusiasm. “Her upbeat and bubbly personality had a positive effect on the staff,” he says.
Having completed other internships at the Dallas Morning News, The Birmingham News and the Indianapolis Business Journal, Williams found life at the Gazette liberating and laid-back. Free of the regimentation and micromanagement she had encountered in some newsrooms, she reveled in the time and space to write the more in-depth stories that her previous experience lacked. During her August-November stay at the Gazette, Williams mainly wrote features and advance stories on upcoming events.
After the string of MSM gigs, the “alternative” world offered a refreshing perspective, Williams says. “Instead of exclusively interviewing the winners of the November elections, they went out and interviewed the losers as well,” she says.
Williams also embraced the philanthropic role the Oklahoma City alt-weekly assumes in its community. In a mission statement, the Gazette makes a commitment “to recognize those individuals and actions that deserve commendation within the community.” Williams recounts a Gazette Thanksgiving project to cover local businesses giving back to the community. That turned her on to the good works of Jackie Cooper, a car dealer who, with his wife Barbara, founded the Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund after their son died of AIDS-related complications. The fund has raised more than $5.5 million dollars for AIDS education and treatment, mostly via its Red Tie Night events, held annually since 1993, according to the charity’s Web site.
Unfortunately for AAN members, Williams’ higher aspirations may not lead her back to the ranks of the alternative press. Having benefited so much from the generosity of others at school and in her internships, she already has her sites set on returning to academe to teach business journalism as soon as she pays her dues in the field.
Steve Davolt is a Washington, D.C.-based writer.