Kristal Brent Zook, PhD, is an award-winning journalist and author of three books whose work has appeared in many national and regional publications including The Washington Post, Essence, The New York Times Magazine, Vibe, LA Weekly, and The Village Voice. She has worked as a producer and on-air commentator for National Public Radio, and has appeared on CNN, BET, FOX, TV-One, MTV and MSNBC as a commentator on stories about media, social justice, race, gender, popular culture, and politics.
As professor and director of the graduate program in journalism in the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication, Dr. Zook teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in news and feature writing and also oversees students’ internships and capstone projects. In December, she joined reporters Keith Herbert of Newsday and Pei-Sze Cheng of NBC News and Hofstra religion professor Hussein Rashid on a panel about diversity in journalism during Hofstra’s annual High School Student Press Day, which drew 300 students from across Long Island. Her latest piece, “Are Dreams More Important to African Americans?,” appears in The Huffington Post.
Q. As someone who writes about social justice and race, what do you think about how the media covers these stories – particularly the grand-jury decisions in recent months not to indict the police officers involved in both Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s deaths?
I think a more important question may be: Why aren’t we fully informed about the number of police brutality cases and wrongful deaths in this country? A few journalists are trying to compile that information now, but it hasn’t been easy. The U.S. Justice Department report that’s expected to be released this week is telling. It proves that for years African-Americans in Ferguson have been disproportionately detained in traffic stops, searched, and arrested.
Q. Regarding critics who say that the media sensationalizes such issues, what role would you say journalists play when reporting and reacting to such polarizing news?
Reporters need to report. I’m a firm believer in the value of strong, ethical, fair journalism without agendas. Does this mean that we don’t have an opinion? Not at all. But it does it mean that we’re willing to listen to the opinions of others and to give them voice in our stories.
Q. What sparked your interest in becoming a writer?
I’ve always loved reading and writing from a very young age. But it wasn’t until after graduate school that I realized I really wanted to write conversationally about on-the-ground issues, rather than rehashing abstract theories from an ivory tower. Not to say that this doesn’t have value. It does. But for me personally journalism was a better fit.
Q. What’s been the most memorable or difficult story you’ve worked on?
Hmm. Some of the stories about missing women and children, such as the Avonte Oquendo [an autistic teen from Queens, NY whose remains were found after a three-month search] case in New York have been particularly haunting.
Q. As the director of the Master of Arts program in journalism, what would you say is the value of such a degree?
Not everyone needs an M.A. but it can be a powerful thing to have under your belt, and in many cases, can provide an edge in an extremely competitive field. At Hofstra, we actually pay graduate student editors to work on an award-winning news site, Long Island Report. It doesn’t get better than that when it comes to building your resume and credentials.
Q. What’s been a career highlight?
I was so proud and gratified to be named a board member at the Alicia Patterson Foundation in Washington, DC. They do an amazing public service, supporting the work of independent journalists. They’re the reason I was able to work full-time on my second book, Black Women’s Lives: Stories of Power and Pain [Nation Books, 2006] in an age of ever-shrinking publishing budgets.