CNN’s Abby Phillip Discusses the Need for Diverse News Coverage

A growing understanding of racial identity politics is shaping the way journalists cover the news, Ms. Phillip said during a Race in America lecture.

Jordan West and Abby Phillip
Abby Phillip (r) discusses her experiences in journalism with Jordan West during the Race in America Lecture Series.
April 08, 2021

By Briahnna Brown

Abby Phillip would not be the journalist she is today if she were not the daughter of immigrants, she said.

The CNN senior political correspondent and anchor of “Inside Politics Sunday” said that her parents, who are from Trinidad and Tobago, taught her the value of hard work and the importance of being flexible in understanding people from all different backgrounds.

“I think the most important skill that I utilize as a journalist is being willing to see differences in other people and understand them,” Ms. Phillip said. “I think I get that from the fact that my parents came to this country from a completely different culture and had to learn how to acclimate to America and learn how to love America.”

Ms. Phillip shared her insight during a virtual discussion on Tuesday evening as part of the Race in America Lecture Series from the George Washington University Office for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement. The series, which began in 2018, serves as a platform for highlighting contributions that Black people make to scholarship, research and various fields outside of academia.

More than 500 people tuned in to the virtual discussion between Ms. Phillip and Jordan West, director of university diversity and inclusion programs. The two discussed how racial identity is shaping news coverage of everything from the Black Lives Matter movement and the Derek Chauvin trial for George Floyd’s killing to incidents of targeted violence against the Asian community, such as the mass shooting in Atlanta in March.

Ms. Phillip said that in recent years, journalists have been more willing to challenge the status quo when it comes to covering stories about race. For example, when law enforcement described the accused Atlanta shooter as having “a bad day,” journalists have been able to look at language more critically and recognize that a nonwhite person committing that kind of violence would not be described as having “a bad day.”

Having journalists of color in newsrooms is important when it comes to telling good stories, Ms. Phillip said, but white reporters also need to know how to fairly and accurately cover stories involving people of color. All journalists need to understand the communities they report on by actually spending time with them rather than only showing up when tragedy happens, she said.

“You have to spend time actually deeply reporting on those things and not just dropping in for a second and doing a one-off story here and a one-off story there,” Ms. Phillip said. “You have to assign reporters to cover these issues as a beat. When you do that, you build a deep understanding of the subject matter, of the people who are affected by it.”

Covering traumatic incidents is part of being a journalist, she said, and having a “high tolerance for difficulty” helps her navigate an emotionally taxing landscape. Rather than shying away from tough moments, Ms. Phillip said, she leans into them because tapping into those feelings through empathy makes her a better reporter.

“You don't want this business to make you numb…to emotion or numb to people's pain,” Ms. Phillip said. “Sometimes you kind of have to lean into that, because it's what can drive you, and it's what can make what you do even more impactful and important.”

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