Joe Killian Profile picture
Jul 6, 2021 25 tweets 5 min read Read on X
Meeting with #NikoleHannahJones for an interview this week made me reflect on my June interview with Walter Hussman, the conservative Arkansas media magnate and #UNC megadonor who lobbied against hiring her.

It's worth talking a bit about these two people and interviews.
When I interviewed Hussman last month, he projected an intense folksiness -- sort of Mr. Rogers meets Bill Clinton.

Given Hussman's history with the Clintons in Arkansas, he might not love that comparison. But it's apt.…
A part of this was Hussman saying to me, repeatedly, "Well, Joe, you and I are both reporters..." or "Well, since we're both journalists I think you understand..."

This is a common rhetorical device. Find an area of common ground, assert affinity, create a bond.
Reporters -- including yours truly -- employ this in our work all the time. If I find out someone is from the part of Eastern NC where I was born, if they have a connection to the military or went to my college, I know we have a point of common reference.
As we do it all the time, reporters notice when it's done to us-- particularly by politicians and PR people. A lot of people worked in a newsroom for a year or two in their 20s before figuring out they could buy things with money. So there's a lot of "You know, I was a reporter."
Walter Hussman can legitimately say that to people -- with a few important asterisks.

After journalism and business school, Hussman was briefly a reporter before, at age 27, he was made publisher of a paper in the family media dynasty he would go on to inherit.
When I was 27 years old I was a beat reporter on a daily newspaper going to fires, murder scenes, protests and government meetings. I practically slept in the newsroom, which was much nicer than my apartment, and took side gigs to afford to sleep indoors and eat while reporting.
That sort of experience -- slowly clawing your way up from smaller to larger newsrooms, being mentored by veteran reporters, slowly earning bigger beats and more responsibility over many years -- is what I'm supposed to assume I share with someone who says "I was a reporter."
Those are, as it happens, experiences I do share with Nikole Hannah-Jones.

As a Black woman, she had to work longer and harder than I did to get ahead in newsrooms. With more grit and talent, she's earned much more success. But we both worked our way up from working class roots.
Neither of us were, in our mid twenties, handed news outlets by our families. Neither of us were allowed to lose enormous amounts of money in years-long, heavily political newspaper wars until we crushed our rivals, assumed dominance and expanded our intergenerational empires.
I suspected this may be one of the things that most offended Hannah-Jones about Hussman questioning her media values and credentials, whether she was fit to teach young journalists. And my interview with her confirmed it.
Hussman did not work his way from the Chapel Hill News to the New York Times. His reporting and writing haven't earned him Peabody, Polk, Pulitzer and National Magazine Awards. His name isn't on UNC-Chapel Hill's journalism school because of his staggering reporting achievements.
Understanding, as he must, the difference between his CV and that of Nikole Hannah-Jones, he still felt the need to tell Susan King, dean of the J-School and UNC-Chapel Hill, he was against her hire.

King said thanks for the input, but the J-School would make the decision.
Did Hussman respect the decision of the dean, herself a pioneering woman in journalism? Leave the issue to the stellar J-School faculty?

No. He contacted the chancellor. He contacted the vice chancellor in charge of financial giving. He contacted at least one member of the BOT.
As students, faculty and even members of the BOT have noted, this was enormously inappropriate.

Strictly speaking, Hussman shouldn't even have known the school was pursuing Hannah-Jones. His $25 million donation to the school gave him information and access few alums enjoy.
Using that privileged position, Hussman weighed in on a potential hire at UNC repeatedly and at levels to which even other prominent alumni do not have access. It shocked not just students and faculty at the school but even other well-connected, well-heeled donors.
When Hussman didn't get what he wanted -- assent from the dean of the J-School and the administration to his objections-- the school offered to set up a meeting between Hussman and Hannah-Jones.

Hannah-Jones told me she declined.
Having accomplished so much in journalism, Hannah-Jones did not feel inclined to kiss the ring of a wealthy white scion who thought his money bought him special access and input into the faculty recruiting process.

I don't know many real reporters who'd blame her.
With Hannah-Jones now on her way to Howard University to create the new Center for Journalism and Democracy, I find myself looking at all that happened here -- and how it happened -- and thinking not just about journalism but about boxing.

(Stay with me here...)
Learning to box as a teenager, I was taught some lessons that have stood me in good stead outside of the ring for the rest of my life -- particularly in journalism.

Call them "core values" if you must.

One of them is this: "The more you sweat, the less you bleed."
In boxing, putting in the work before a fight -- hours on the heavy and speed bags, sparring, road work -- prepares you for what's coming.

In journalism, reporting and writing stories big and small -- sometimes two or more a day, for years -- prepares you to cover anything.
Whatever you may think of her, it's impossible to credibly argue Hannah-Jones hasn't put in the work.

As a veteran of newspaper newsrooms, I assure you Black women still have to work twice as hard for half as much success. To have the success she's had? Just imagine the work.
So this fight? Having to prove to conservative white men that she, a Black woman who has won the Peabody, Polk and Pulitzer prizes, is fit to teach journalism to teenagers? She was ready for it.
In the end, she got what most faculty, staff and alumni agreed she deserved: a public, up or down vote on whether she should, like all her white Knight Chair predecessors, be offered tenure.

That she won't be accepting the offer says more about UNC than it does her.
In our interview, Hannah-Jones made it clear: The silence and lack of transparency from school leadership - particularly Guskiewicz - made taking another offer inevitable.

They could have prevented this, had they put in the work.

The more you sweat, the less you bleed.

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More from @JoekillianNC

Mar 18, 2022
The NYT editorial board bemoans dangers to Americans' "right to speak their minds and voice their opinions in public without fear of being shamed or shunned."

Most actual reporters have to shake their heads and chuckle. 🧵…
*Of course* there is no right to voice one's opinion in public without being shamed or shunned.

That's not a legal right. It's not a journalistic right.

At best you might call it an aspirational civic principle. And only a very specific type of person aspires to it.
My entire adult life I've worked for daily newspapers, weeklies, magazines, digital first publications.

I've faced *actual* attempts by governments to *actually censor* my work. I've been assaulted and arrested doing my job, as protected by the 1A. I've had death threats.
Read 17 tweets
Mar 17, 2022
Six killer tips from Sergio Bustos of Report for America on recruiting and retaining journalists of color from the #NCNewsInfo22 panel...

1) Establish a relationship. When you meet a journalist of color at a job fair or you receive an application, you should reach out to them immediately by phone, email, text or, if possible, in person.
2) Stay in touch. Just because the journalist you meet may not fit the position you are seeking to fill, they may be a candidate later as they gain experience. Look at the long-run. Don't just focus on filling an immediate position.
Read 7 tweets
Mar 17, 2022
Unexpected impact of this pandemic:

I have, over the last two years, so fallen out of the habit of having to dress a certain way I now frequently find myself having to ask my wife: " this outfit too business? Too casual?"

If you knew us, you'd laugh. 🧵
I went to Catholic school as a young man, was raised by a career Marine, often on military bases.

My entire adult life no one ever had to tell me to shine my shoes, iron a shirt, fix the knot in my tie.

But not *having* to dress has really thrown me.
I'm not working in pajamas most days or anything (not that there's anything *wrong* with that).

But when I put on a suit or even a jacket and tie these days it too much? Even in situations where I know it isn't.
Read 8 tweets
Oct 9, 2021
Gang, we need to talk about Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn and former U.S. Rep - and current U.S. Senate candidate - Mark Walker.

Let me suggest we start here - but stick with me.

#NCPol #MarkRobinson #Markwalker #Madisoncawthorn…
As you will all be aware, Robinson is at the center of yet another controversy over inflammatory remarks about LGBTQ people.

This latest one is over video of his characterizing LGBTQ people as "filth" that shouldn't be discussed in public schools.…
As this video was going viral this week I was writing about Robinson, Cawthorn and Walker attending and speaking at an event for The American Renewal Project.…
Read 55 tweets
Oct 8, 2021
This morning a social media platform I increasingly think I should already have abandoned reminded me it's been four years since the great and good Kelly McGrath of Hillsborough gave me my most prominent #tattoos.
A fascinating thing about these particular tattoos: Like the concepts of Liberty and Justice themselves, they are a sort of Rorschach Test. I've had both armed right wing extremists and lefty social justice activists see them and assume I'm on their team.
I once had an off-duty cop doing security at a grocery store walk over to me, point to the Statue of Liberty pin-up and smile.
Read 7 tweets
Jul 29, 2021
Gang, let's talk about the question posed by NC Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) in this piece.

“What’s happening at those other 15 campuses?” Berger said. “We’re not seeing anything like what’s happening at Chapel Hill.” #NCPol #UNC…
I'd imagine that most of you who read newspapers, listen to news on the radio or watch TV news in North Carolina could provide the senator at least a half dozen examples of scandals at other UNC system schools. Most directly or indirectly involving the BOG.

If not, read on...
First it should be said that the disastrous COVID response cited in this piece, leading to huge clusters of avoidable infections and students being sent home en masse, wasn't just a Chapel Hill thing. Several large UNC System schools walked into that one, including State and ECU.
Read 18 tweets

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