Session Transcripts

Live transcripts from all the talks and several of the sessions at SRCCON:WORK.

SRCCON:WORK Talks: Sydette Harry

Day & Time: Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, at 10am

RYAN: This is fantastic. This is awesome, seeing people getting to know one another. We’re going to get rolling with our program. We are super excited to get on our first theme on our schedule. We’re going to talk about careers and hiring this morning. So for the past quite a few years now I guess, we’ve been hearing a lot about business of journalism in a real broad sense, but what we want to do now this morning is open up SRCCON:WORK by talking about what that means for us as individuals for the meeting who are sitting around in the tables together in this room. We’re all here because we believe in journalism, right? Because we believe that it has the power to make people’s lives better but we can’t give our communities the coverage they deserve if we don’t have jobs that work. We have to figure out new career paths because the way we work, it keeps changing underneath us. We have to help each other build skills, develop as leaders, we need to welcome the first voices, and we need to make newsrooms places people want to stay. So we want to start the conversation with Sydette Harry. She’s an editor with Mozilla Foundation and until recently, the community lead for Coral Project. And if you’ve ever met Sydette in person or online, you know she’s a powerful advocate for community journalism and you also know that she’s a fearless voice who will call out the problems that are keeping our newsrooms from doing their best work. I also get to tell you something that you might not know and that is that Sydette has extremely high standards for shoes.

[ Laughter ]

And that her shoes are not broken in until she has taken them through a Tina Turner dance routine. So if I could stand aside for a moment, and just tell you, when I sent out an email to all our speakers, asking them to share a personal detail while they’re introducing themselves up here, really in my mind, I talked about something earlier that we’re really bringing our full selves to SRCCON:WORK and our speakers are here to introduce us to the themes that we’re thinking about and talking about, but they’re also here as peers, as attendees. So I’m excited to help you get to know them professionally and personally, so Sydette, Tina Turner dance routine, that’s amazing. And we’re excited to have you start us off with challenge to newsrooms, who are we advocating for? So thanks a lot, Sydette.

SYDETTE: Hello, hello, hello, hello! Can everybody hear me? Awesome. I’m here because I know that journalism is a little bit — there was a little person over here who was — but one of the things when they say I fearlessly advocate and be a strong voice for people online. I’m like, that’s such a nice way of saying, when I get pissed off at people, I cuss a lot and I got angry. One of the things that I wanted to talk about especially after the two weeks I had was I’m not supposed to be here. I’m really not and we need to talk about this systemically, we need to talk about this structurally, we need to talk about this actually, and we need to go through all of the reasons why I’m not supposed to be here, why I am here, and what conversations we need to have, and what that means about the communities we represent and serve.

Trigger warning: my life, general unprofessionalism, and unrepentant Guyanette blackness. I am black, if you have haven’t noticed. I am also Guyanese, which is in South America. It is not in Africa and I am not sorry about it. I don’t like the phrase “unapologetic blackness.” I like to say unrepentant. I’m constantly making conversations and offering donations to mitigate the fact that I’m black, and I don’t. And that’s often why I’m in trouble, and that’s why I’m in trouble for a couple decades. I’m only 30, you do the math.

Let’s be honest about why. First generation Guyanese American from a mixed documentation background. When I said the past two weeks, I actually should have said my life. But if I did not work with an accepting newsroom, a co-project with my friend Carly, at Mozilla, I would not have a job. I would not have a job from something you cover every single day. I am 30 years old. Every decade of my life, I’ve had a family member in prison or deported. If you have ever tried to organize a round of deportation when family has disappeared, the other rule is I start crying where families disappear, or when you’re trying to organize lawyers. I actually had money now. It was so hard. Before I did this, it was hard. I disappeared from my job for a day. I sent a text to my boss and said, they took my cousin! I don’t know where he is!

You can’t say that in most newsrooms. You will not be allowed to say this. I would not have a job. I’m black. You know the diversity statistics of your newsrooms. I’m a black woman. You know how that is. You know the coverage that is in your newsrooms. More than a five you especially work at a major paper, some of whom use Coral products have with my full name, my title, and my gorgeous blue check, I’ll threaten to fight ‘em. I’m not kidding. What they write puts me in danger, what they write makes my life harder. And I don’t go to news functions because if I see you, I’m going to put these lovely, gorgeous, violet Timberland boots right into your chest. I’ve been criticized on my politics, I’ve been criticized on my class. My mom was a home health paid worker, a maid, and an organizer. My father was a mechanic. My father was undocumented and was deported. Nobody in my family voted until I was 16 years old. I voted in exactly one more election than my mom did. My mom is 67. My parents have GEDs. We’ve talked about mobility in class.

Troublesome. There is a certain kind of person we expect to excel. There’s a certain kind of presentation, and it’s talked about over and over. Since the Internet, we have talked about how people with “natural hair.” Why do you have a political hairstyle? You mean my hair grows out of my head? My response was to dye my hair blue. This is a bit of a performance because I constantly go into spaces and I try to be as aggressively black as possible because we don’t have a discussion about what it means that people assume that if you have not taken on a certain personality, you are not prepared to be in this room. Which brings me to the next point: do not insult me, my community, or my intelligence by saying I’m diversity, or that I have imposter syndrome. Those phrases get thrown around and what it actually means is you think that I have the problems of your standard white woman. I don’t. You also think that I do not have certain skills and certain skill sets. Ah!

I’m here because I’ve been trained to be here. I am an aberration. And I say that with the best of love and the greatest things for myself. I’m a member of a club called Prep for Prep, Contingent 17. And what Prep for Prep does is it takes the highest performing scoring students from low-income schools and puts them through a battery of tests. You usually start with ten, I started when I was nine. You’re psychoanalyzed, you’re tested, you’re IQ tested, leadership training, 14 months of school except for Sunday, between fifth and sixth grade. I did that two years early.

I have been psychologically profiled to be a person to make it through a system like this. This is not me being funny. This means that there’s a folder in a brownstone that says, she was built for this. I hilariously enough went to school in Philly. I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, 2005. I’m trained in history, performance, and sociology. I spent my academic career studying the structures of why I should be here because I spent my academic career trying to transform myself into someone people would think should be here. And yes, I did it be, graduated two years later. I graduated from high school when I was 16, and I graduated from college when I was 20 — not bad.

What else happened in 2005 is that that is the year that my father was deported. So if you pick up any of the graduation pictures from the University of Pennsylvania, you will see someone walk across the stage with a Guyanese flag draped over their arm, that was me. Because my father was in a detention center. People asked me why I was “disturbing” the sanctity of graduation. That’s my life. People are like — that’s what people are going through, that’s what people in your communities are going through every day.

And if they had to try and do that process in some of the newsrooms we work with, they wouldn’t have jobs. I’m an early access adopter of social media. I was the first five people who had Facebook. I think it was XXO, I was on Friendster. I was on Twitter in 2008. I’m a multilingual millennial baby Xer, Y, I’m under 35, and I have disposable income, and I’m still in the area that matters. So I’m still here. So if you’re not supposed to be here, so why do are you? Because I believe in the work. I am not here to save your Joshing, I want to save the work and we’re here to work. So what are we working for? Why are we here? Those are the questions that we need to ask. What are the communities that you want to serve, what is the work that we want to do? Not how do we save journalism? How do we save our papers because as I said before, a couple of people I can’t work for you anymore when I go to conferences because I’m going to fight them. That was the first thing I told you. Me and her, we can’t be a room together because I’ll throw her like a Jabba. And it’s uncouth, but we didn’t talk about the people who wrote reams and reams of Beyoncé, nobody wants to talk about how good you have to be in a room with people who are barely mediocre. Other audiences think we don’t care. Our audiences think we are looking for these answers, and our audiences think that we’re annoyed while they’re being condescending to us. New York Times, New York Daily News, the Wave. I’m from Far Rockaway. Do you have a metro section anymore?

When was the last time you covered far Rockaway, and it didn’t cover the beach, or the Williamsburg Ferry, or the Patty, Beachhouse Bungalow? We’re the most food deserted neighborhoods in America. We have the worst transportation. It is a 45-minute drive for me from Far Rock to New York Times, it’s a two hour community if I’m good. So what do we do? We have to ask ourselves, our audiences, our structures, and our fundamental way to do work. So I’m asking, with the Coral Project, and this took a year, thank you, IRB gods, we are doing a focus on marginalized voices in comment spaces. We are asking women and non-gender-binary people of color, specifically to tell us about how they consume news, what they feel about news, and how they comment in news.

This has not been done. We spent a lot of this time looking for, who has that? Oh, no one. We adjusted this search. It’s now open to everyone. But what I’m asking you to forward this to specifically to your non-news people. The people that we don’t think about. The people who are using our news, and getting their news from other plays because they are done with us, and they have every right to be.

My hope for news. This is a hashtag. People in this room are here. Love, love, love, I don’t want to shut them out yet as they know this is happening. But one of the things that’s happening around the world with news is, I’m sorry, I said, as I do with a lot of things, let me throw out the wildest idea that nobody will say, ehhh… and then work it back. I want to work with a grew up of journalists whom I respect, who have the experience of walking around the way I walk the way I do. And because it’s OpenNews, my love, Ed was like, okay, what? So these people, these amazing, wonderful, wonderful people, and I’m trying not to cry, got emails and came from Cali, Wisconsin — Laura, jumped on a plane, came to CUNY, and said, let’s get on a train and let’s go to Far Rockaway. People came to my neighborhood from across the country when the three newspapers that were considered newspapers of record, in any way, won’t go down the A-train line.

That is hope. Now I might not be allowed to be in the same room with the op-ed editor of the Times right now, because words that come out of my mouth are not things that my mother wants to ever hear me say, but for these people, I would do everything because they came to work, they sat with members of my community, we walked in the cold, special shout-outs to Jennifer, who when I said, it’s going to be cold. It’s like, it’s not that cold. Jennifer came with her polo jacket and her goat gloves and was like, “It’s cold!” But I told you! But Wisconsin was ready and I appreciate it.

Also, Monique came from Compton to New York and back in two weeks and then we found out that we’re actually cousins. Like relationships. Because Caribbean tie-ins. And every one of these people when I asked them to come, came. And when I asked them over and over again, it boggled my mind. I hear over and over again, I don’t understand why you want me to be here. I’m just a worker. I’m not a person who gets up on stage. I’m not a person who builds a career. I do what I do well. You are the people I’m looking for. I don’t actually like being up on stage. I like my hair in a ponytail, I like Post-Its, and I like getting stuff done. That’s what I’m trained for, that’s what I like to do. But if I’m pushed on a stage, I’ll stand up, looking like a Bronx Tinkerbell, and do it. But this is our moment for news. As long as we can have moments like this, as long as we can have moments like these where our focus is not just our career, not just our industry but our work we do, and the way it affects not just the people that we target as our audiences and ourselves and change for the entire world, I have hope.

Work is hope for me. I am not supposed to be in here but I’m here now. We talk about Philly. Adonis Creed. I’m not supposed to be here but I’m here now. So let’s go to work!

[ Applause ]