Mary C. Curtis is an award-winning multimedia journalist originally from Baltimore, MD, but now based in Charlotte, N.C. She appears weekly on TV’s Fox News Rising Charlotte and contributes to TheRoot.com, NPR and Creative Loafing, where she writes a column on the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. She was national correspondent for AOL’s PoliticsDaily.com, covering politics, race and culture and events such as the national Tea Party convention in Nashville.
She has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer, Baltimore Sun, Arizona Daily Star and Associated Press. A 2006 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, Curtis contributes to the Nieman Watchdog Website (www.niemanwatchdog.org) and was chosen for the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs, journalism’s first social media fellowship, at Ohio State in 2011. Other venues: CNN, MSNBC, Essence.com, Heart & Soul magazine and the Washington Post.
Awards include: a 2010 Clarion Award from the Association for Women in Communications for online columns, Green Eyeshade Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for political reporting in 2011, coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign and cultural criticism, two first-place awards from the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), the Thomas Wolfe Award for an examination of Confederate heritage groups, and honors from National Society of Newspaper Columnists, National Headliners, American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors and Southern Newspaper Publishers Association. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame Region IV NABJ in 2004. To learn more about Curtis, you can visit her website or her Facebook page. She can be emailed at mcurtis1(at)carolina.rr.com
Curtis was interviewed by Clare Ruscello, 21, is a senior undergraduate student studying Journalism and Business Management.
Clare Ruscello: Why did you become involved in journalism?
Mary C. Curtis: I was always a curious person and an observer, interested in everything that went on around me and interested in the why and how. Because of the involvement of my older brothers and a sister in the civil rights movement in Baltimore, I got a close-up view of the turbulence and joy of changing history. There were so many stories to tell. I was also a reader of the daily papers and realized that many of the faces that looked like me only rated a mention in stories. Even when I was young, I knew that picture was incomplete and unfair. We had more diversity of experience and thought in my family alone! I was determined to change that limited portrayal, to make the media images reflect the reality of my life and the lives of minorities in America.
CR: How do you define journalism today?
MC: I don’t think the definition really changes. Journalists still have the responsibility to report and examine the news, to act as watchdogs for citizens, perhaps especially for those without power or influence; journalists must strive to be fair, accurate and complete in their coverage. A free press is essential to a democracy. Despite advances in the speed, reach and methods of sharing the news, the mission of journalists has not changed.
CR: How has technology influenced or affected your career?
MC: I was a traditional, print journalist for most of my career, content to be a newspaper person. That changed, of course, with the proliferation of technological journalism tools. Most of my work now is online and television- and radio-based. A Kiplinger fellowship in social media at Ohio State in 2011 helped me understand the importance of creating a social media profile. While no expert, I am becoming more comfortable with the tools, and now must balance my time and efforts.
CR: How will technology affect the future of journalism?
MC: It will improve the way stories are reported and shared, making them more detailed and accessible. But the basic skills of a creative and effective journalist remain the same. I try not to be afraid of the tools, implementing the ones that suit my work the best and remembering that I’m pretty good at the basics.
CR: What one word would you use to describe the status of women in journalism today?
CR: What role(s) will women have in future journalism?
MC: We see women becoming journalism leaders. Will they be different as the men who predominated in the past? Who knows? The answer is as individual as the women themselves. But just having more role models and pioneers should make a difference.
CR: How would you define equality?
MC: Equality means truly equal opportunity and treatment, a still unrealized ideal in our society.
CR: Have you found race or gender to present more obstacles in your career?
MC: Yes. That’s not a joke. Being a black woman has meant standing out in most of my work situations throughout my life and career. I have been scrutinized; there is always less room for error. I have sometimes been treated less as an individual than as a representative of a group. The situation has certainly improved over the years, but we are hardly “post” anything.
CR: What has been your most rewarding moment as a journalist?
MC: I strive to look at issues in original ways and provide readers and viewers with revelatory information about people and events. In my case, an assignment that stretched me was a narrative on Confederate heritage groups that took me to places I hardly knew existed. I also was happy to tell the story of Ed Sanders, a Charlotte, N.C., high school principal who showed leadership and courage – in contrast to his counterparts – when the first black student entered his school in the late 1950’s. When he died, his family asked me to sit with them at his funeral. The telling of his story had led to long overdue recognition.
CR: How does your writing differ between writing for newspapers and online writing?
MC: I report and write reported commentary as carefully for both newspaper and online outlets. My online pieces are probably shorter and more focused because I realize readers have so little time and so many alternatives.
CR: What do you know now that you wish you knew after graduation?
MC: I realize the importance of giving oneself time to think, reflect and breathe. Balance is an important part of life; young journalists trying to make a mark sometimes forget that. I also wish I had traveled more and mastered more languages.
CR: What has been the biggest struggle for you as a journalist?
MC: What struggle? Yes, being a journalist is hard work. Being involved with the world around you keeps you sharp and motivated. It’s been interesting and a great ride.
This is part of a series of profiles of JAWS members by University of Iowa students. For a complete listing, see this page.