Changing the Future for Black Journalists

WRITTEN BY:
Emily Adorno, '22

In the United States, only about five percent of journalists are Black or African-American, according to Zippia.com. 

Zaria Johnson, senior journalism major at Kent State University, is making history as the first Black female editor-in-chief of the Kent Stater and KentWired.com She is a fierce advocate for representation in Kent State Student Media and beyond.  

Working with professor and newsroom adviser, Susan Kirkman Zake, Johnson has been involved with the Kent Stater since her sophomore year, where she held the position of assigning editor.

“I did not think I was ready to be in charge because I have never held that position before,” Johnson said. “I felt like I wasn’t qualified for the job.” 

Johnson overcame that fear with the encouragement from Zake, who urged her to take on the editor role. She went on to intern for The Land, a nonprofit news organization that focuses on neighborhoods in the Cleveland area.  

She focused on environmental concerns in the area and interviewed people living in the neighborhoods. Johnson said it amazed her how little she really knew about the issues and events held in the place she has lived in her entire life. 

Read more about her internship

“I have never known what is going on, and it was great to hear what people had to say to give them a voice,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she wants to focus on human rights journalism after college, fighting for equality for women, people of color and more basic rights. She is very passionate and advocates for the Black community and Black journalists. 

Johnson knew she wanted to write about the injustices in the world after the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012. She was only 12 at the time. 

“I remember seeing him on TV and thinking he looks like me, looks like my cousins, looks like my uncles, and for the first time I am seeing injustice unfold in front of my eyes,” Johnson said. 

Johnson wants others to recognize the difficulties people of color may face growing up in predominately White areas. 

“As the first Black female editor-in-chief of the Kent Stater, I want to be that representation for other Black children or Black girls,” Johnson said. “I want to be the inspiration and break down the barriers to show them that someone has already done the hard stuff before.” 

As her time in college is coming to an end, Johnson leaves with advice for future journalists. 

“Admit when you need help and ask questions,” Johnson said. “Not only in journalism but in life too, it is okay to not know everything.” 

POSTED: Monday, March 7, 2022 - 3:27pm