New York Timesinvestigative reporter Nikole Hannah Jones has single-handedly broken open the story of contemporary school segregation. From the heartbreaking This American Life episode about Michael Brown’s failing Missouri school district to the searching Times story about finding a Brooklyn public school for her daughter, Hannah-Jones work is unstinting, urgent, and deeply moral. Like her idol, anti-lynching journalist Ida B. Wells—after whom she named a training and mentorship organization which she cofounded for investigative reporters of color—Hannah-Jones is essential: twice as good as we half deserve.
How did you become the writer you are? That is a hard question! I’ve always loved the written word, I’ve always been fascinated with history, I’ve always been a voracious reader, I’ve always had a strong sense of justice and a real curiosity about why things are as they are. All of this led me to become a writer, but how I came the writer I am is much more complicated to answer. Here’s what I can say: I have honed both my reporting and writing over the course of a decade and a half. I experimented, I agonized, I failed, I progressed, and occasionally, I have soared. I’ve been lucky to work with some brilliant editors who pushed in the right directions and made me better. I learned, over time, to find my rhythm and my voice and the unique storytelling that I can offer the world. But, I guess, above all, what makes me the writer I am is my belief that I am destined to bear witness to the injustices of this country, and so every sentence I write is formed in part by an ever-present rage.
What are you working on now? What is at stake? Right now I am working on a book on school segregation entitled, The Problem We All Live With, and continuing to chronicle the scourge of separate and unequal for The New York Times Magazine. The stakes are the lives of millions of American children, and whether or not this country will ever truly live up to its creed.
What is your proudest achievement? Your greatest challenge? My proudest achievement is helping to restart the national conversation on school segregation and the way it cripples the opportunities of black and Latino children after decades of both news media and the general public willfully ignoring what was right before their eyes. My greatest challenge is that I spend my career writing about things that I fully expect will never be made right.
What do you hope changes or improves in your field? I hope that one day when we look across newsrooms, their complexions will truly reflect the citizens they are supposed to speak for.
What does Brooklyn mean to you? I always say that I feel like I was a Brooklynite in a past life. Even though I have only been here five years, everything about this place feels like home. My Brooklyn is vital and vibrant, it is gritty and glistening, it is unapologetically black, it is defiant, it is love.
Who would you nominate for this list? Ezra Edelman, Wesley Morris, Lauren Williams from Essence.