Award-winning on-camera host, journalist, writer and producer Natasha Alford has used her talent to forge the important legacy of Black media and the work of black journalists who paved the way. The vice president of digital content at The Grio spoke with Marcom Weekly about the disparities she faces as a Black journalist, during a time of social unrest and a global pandemic that is disproportionately impacting the Black community. “[Black journalists] are facing emotional whiplash. We have to cover tragedy after tragedy in our community and then see it on a personal level,” she shares. “It’s a heavy weight to have to cover that [objectively] and to also feel and see the trauma that Black people go through.”
Alford believes it’s a burden that Black journalists have always had to carry. Black reporters during the civil rights movement often disguised themselves as preachers to avoid being attacked while reporting on segregation.
She recounts the journey of legendary civil rights journalist, Dorothy Butler Gilliam the first Black woman reporter at The Washington Post, who slept in funeral homes for safety and protection when reporting in the South.
Those stories fuel Alford’s journalistic endeavors and, as she looks at the challenges for today’s Black journalists she says, “we know that there are people who did this work so that we could be here and we have a big responsibility to get it right.”
That responsibility wasn’t always clear to Alford. After graduating from college, Alford’s first job was at a hedge fund where she served as a management associate. She soon switched paths and went into education. It was through working in education policy that she started to see how stories were shaped in news and how that impacted the public’s opinion of issues facing a community. It was also around this time she decided to pursue a career in journalism and attend Northwestern University earning Master of Journalism and Broadcast Journalism degrees.
After receiving a freelance opportunity at TheGrio, the role later transformed into a full-time position leading to a promotion overseeing all day-to-day content operations as vice president of digital content. Her time at video news community has been filled with unforgettable moments. From interviewing luminaries Oprah Winfrey and Denzel Washington to covering the historic Supreme Court case of Byron Allen, CEO of TheGrio’s holding company Entertainment Studios, though her career as a Black journalist is not without its challenges.
Alford says Black media brands are treated as “second-class citizens… left with fewer resources to work with than traditional mainstream media.” Despite the challenges of attracting advertising dollars, she hasn’t lost sight of her goal of building TheGrio into the most respected, high-quality source for journalism. And she looks to people featured in their stories to help this mission.
“If you are featured in TheGrio or The Root or Blavity, it’s important that you promote that just as much as you promote anything else,” she says. “There are so many people in mainstream spaces that don’t even know we exist. You do a service for your community by treating Black media brands with the same kind of respect and reverence that you do the other brands.”
Since the national reckoning with race this summer, Alford has seen new audiences take interest in TheGrio. When looking ahead at what’s next, she tells Marcom Weekly, “I foresee [TheGrio] continuing to expand our audience, expand our reach. We will not just report the news, we will make the news.” Alford is also optimistic about the success of other Black media outlets as well, “I think that Black media across the board is going to expand its influence and continue to be essential because Black people want a trusted place to turn during these times. They want their news unfiltered and they want news they can trust.”
Recently, Alford launched TheGrio’s first podcast series, Dear Culture, offering behind-the-scenes and deeper analysis of their stories. Next, she plans to roll out two documentaries, one will focus on solitary confinement and the second will discuss the intersection of Black-Latino identity. Both documentaries will be released later this summer on TheGrio.
To young journalists, Alford advises “it’s okay to take a non-traditional path. It’s scary and there will be sacrifices involved but it’s okay to break the rules.”
She also encourages young women to apply to the Poynter Women’s Leadership Academy, the highly competitive and transformative program focuses on the skills and knowledge needed to rise to the highest levels of media leadership. “I did that earlier this year and just as a young Black woman in a management position it was transformative for me. A lot of programs like these helped me when I had no idea what I was doing, and that’s how you get through. You ask questions, you study, you learn as much as you can.”
Carla is a correspondent covering people and news features and digital content.