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Q and A with Jarvis Holliday

by Ty Shaffer

September 9,2010

Jarvis Holliday is a freelance writer and editor in Charlotte. Until 2008, he was Associate Editor at Charlotte magazine. He is the immediate past president of the Charlotte Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. Mr. Holliday grew up in Rembert, South Carolina and has lived in Charlotte since 2005.

Your blog is titled “Grown People Talking.” Can you say a bit about why you chose the title, and what it means?

“Grown People Talking” remind[ed] me of something that, growing up in the South, we heard a lot. It pretty much meant that when adults were having a conversation, kids shouldn’t be involved. Your family might be gathered around, talking, and when one of the kids interjects they’ll say, “Don’t you see grown people are talking?” or “Be quiet, grown people are talking.” So it was my way of saying that this is going to be intelligent, grown up, thoughtful conversation. On the web there are so many gossip sites, or sites that aren’t as thoughtful or introspective. It was my way of saying that on this website, the commentary you see will be worth your time.

You most recently were president of the Charlotte Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. In your experience as a writer and editor, what are some of the obstacles that African-American journalists come up against?

It starts with not enough of us entering the field. There aren’t many minority journalists in newsrooms, whether at newspapers or broadcast stations. When I was a student at [the University of South Carolina], I didn’t see many African Americans or other minorities in my classes. And once we enter the professional world, media outlets don’t always do enough to ensure that newsrooms are diverse. Whether you work for a newspaper covering hard news, or whether you are working for a magazine that does more lifestyle coverage, you need that diversity. So one of our goals has been to promote diversity within media outlets in our area.

I assume this also involves diversity in terms of the stories that publications produce, that too few stories address issues of importance to the African-American community.

Yes, but that’s largely because some station managers and editors might not realize or be conscious of the fact that the diversity of the stories they publish begins with the diversity of their staff. It’s still a group of people who are deciding what stories to do. And anybody who has ever been involved in producing news or producing stories of any kind knows that you get your ideas from a variety of places.

[And] you need diversity in a lot of areas. In Charlotte in particular, if you have a publication you want your writers and editors to be from different parts of town. You don’t only want to focus on Uptown. You don’t only want to focus on South Park. If you’re trying to reach a lot of people, and be something that a lot of people can count on as a resource, you need [a broader] diversity. And race is one of these areas, where people bring their own upbringing, their own cultural experiences, and it makes for more well rounded stories in most instances.

Do you think this is a problem of supply—that publications don’t provide stories that the readership is out there demanding? Or do you think it’s also a demand problem? For example, are readers in minority communities not active enough in demanding stories that are relevant to their experiences?

It’s almost like a chicken and egg situation. Take the more mainstream publications in Charlotte. The African-American community might deem [something] a “white publication” even though that’s not what it’s going for. But the African-American community may say, “Well, I don’t see many black faces in those stories.”

What ends up happening is that black journalists, or black editors and publishers, will start publications that specifically focus on the black community. But I think that’s a step backwards. I’d much rather read a magazine that has a range of stories that appeal to a wide variety of people. I know [African-American publications] arise out of a feeling of necessity, and of not seeing their community represented in more mainstream publications. But I think we’re only doing ourselves and others a disservice, because readers can appreciate reading about different experiences.

You’ve talked about the importance of perspective and experience to a publication. Is there a benefit to the quest for objectivity, even accepting that perspective and experience will always influence what a journalist does?

This is something that I’ve had spent a lot of time thinking and talking about. News has largely become entertainment. With 24-hour cable news, roundtable shows are developed for people first to report on the news for a few minutes, and then to spend the rest of the hour giving their opinions. The unfortunate thing is that these [roles] are not often distinguished. Networks have to be able to fill their time, and they find that people like to hear opinions, and they can [go to] a channel that fits their views. Unfortunately when you have all that opinion, sometime people take it as fact.

So when it comes to perspective, I think perspective is fine, but there needs to be a distinction between when it’s news and when it’s perspective. That’s why blogs, Twitter and other social media are great for journalists. I prefer to write my stories in an objective way. And then I may comment on what I’ve learned on my blog, and that is where perspective comes in. But it’s a different setting for that presentation.

You most recently wrote a cover story for Creative Loafing titled (provocatively, perhaps) “What’s left of – and what’s next for – The Charlotte Observer?”

I’ve been reading the Observer since I moved to Charlotte, and it’s the media outlet that most people here are familiar with. But in [writing the article] I also wanted to tell a larger story about what the newspaper industry is going through. And even though people look at the [Charlotte Observer] as this large institution, there are real people who go to work there every day putting out this news, and they’re the ones whose lives have been affected, or who’ve lost their jobs. As much as people like to criticize media, or have problems with news coverage, these are still regular people that are working there and (I think) doing their best to produce news.

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