Journalists also must be scholars, Jarrett says

Marisa Maldonado

Journalists should strive to learn the historical context behind the day’s events, veteran journalist and commentator Vernon Jarrett told a racially diverse crowd of about 110 people Monday at Fisk Hall 217.

“If we are going to (chronicle) the human race, we better decide right now that we are going to be scholars,” he said in an hourlong Martin Luther King Jr. Day lecture that was part of the Medill School of Journalism’s Crain Lecture Series.

Jarrett, a senior fellow at the Great Cities Institute of the University of Illinois at Chicago, said journalism often gets less respect than it deserves.

“We shape people’s minds,” he said. “The information you get about life, about anything, comes through us.”

The media played an essential role in how the United States perceived the civil rights movement, he said. But he added that the media failed to recognize some of the movement’s key figures, such as E.D. Nixon, who was instrumental in organizing the Montgomery bus boycott.

“(Nixon) died with a broken heart,” he said, “because we took the movement out of Montgomery and put it in a capsule called Martin Luther King.”

Journalists also are responsible for propagating popular myths, he said. He said people believe Rosa Parks was asked to move from her spot on the bus because she was sitting in the white section. In reality she was sitting in the front of the black section.

Jarrett also encouraged audience members to read works such as W.E.B. Du Bois’ “The Souls of Black Folk.”

Journalism majors should be required to minor in history, political science or sociology in order to gain a greater understanding of American history, he said.

Pat King, assistant director of placement at Medill, said Jarrett was one of her early role models as a reporter. She said she agreed that reporters today are straying from doing their own research.

“How can you write about something that you don’t know about?” she said. “I hope the students take (his message) to heart.”

At least one student planned to act on his message.

“I think I’m going to pick up the book by Du Bois and go from there,” said Marissa Cleaver, a Medill graduate student.