John B. Gaines Family Lecture Series 2016: Nikita Stewart

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Stewart on the future of journalism
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Nikita Stewart Visits WKU

By Kayla Boyd • Western iMedia • April 26,2016

New York Times investigative reporter Nikita Stewart returned to her alma mater Monday evening as the 12th annual Gaines Family Lecture Series presenter.

First things first. If you were to order a Nikita Stewart cocktail, it would have one thing: bourbon.

“No ice because I have no chill. Definitely have bourbon because I’m brown and strong and there’s nothing sweet about me. Stir it to mix things up.”

The auditorium was lively with almost 200 attendees, and Stewart eagerly announced her happiness with such numbers. She admitted she was worried no one would show up.

The lecture, “Covering Your City: Why Investigative Reporting is Most Important at the Local Level” started with a plethora of thank yous.

After writing for the Bowling Green Daily News while in high school and graduating from WKU in 1994, Stewart worked for the Louisville Courier-Journal and fostered a respect for local journalism. From there, she went on to investigate campaign corruption and politics in Washington D.C. and issues like homelessness in New York City. These advancements have occurred largely due to her main piece of advice: “Be polite. Stay in touch. Just be a nice person. It’s not hard.”

Stewart credits local newspapers as journalism’s underappreciated saving grace. Investigative journalism takes that one step further.

“Investigative stories generally don’t start from scratch,” she said. “And neither did my career.”

Connections from a minority journalism workshop Stewart attended years ago landed her at least one job. She’s held on to phone numbers of press and campaign secretaries who advanced their own careers which in turn helped advance Stewart’s career.

“Look around this room at these students. If you stay in this business, you will see these people again.” Stewart said she hopes the attendees make connections and use each other over the coming years. Even if they don’t work for the same paper or media entity, the benefits of a large network will always pay off.

Stewart said, “if you’re asking questions, all stories are investigative.” You can meet people anywhere, and networking should be a top priority.

Stewart challenged attendees to stay cognizant of not only what is going on around them, but also who is around them. For instance, Stewart learned to rely on her editors and coworkers when things got tricky. She reminded attendees to keep diversity on the front burner.

“Diversity is good business. It takes a newsroom full of people from different backgrounds… to be able to cover stories accurately, fairly and with sensitivity.”

Stewart then explained how working with other organizations can be helpful. As young reporters working for small publications, Stewart told the students in the audience they’ll need all the help they can get.

The newspaper industry is often thought to be a withering entity of the past. Stewart expressed it is imperative young reporters harness the power of local journalism and added publishing stories about the community in the community will win every time.

For example, take the out-of-character feature story Stewart wrote about a man on a Harlem street corner who sold flowers and taught chess. He was banned from selling flowers on the corner because he didn’t have a permit. Stewart’s story highlighted how the community lost a treasure and one of the greatest chess players Harlem had ever seen. The week after the story ran, the man was back on the corner, selling flowers and teaching people how to play chess.

Stewart’s presentation was equipped with catchy and memorable one liners. When asked why she hadn’t gone on to become an editor after so many years in the field, Stewart’s reply was simple. “I don’t like meetings and I don’t like being in an office, and I like talking to people who I don’t work with.”