April Ryan is among four women to be honored later this month by the Women’s Media Center, a national advocacy and media research group. The veteran journalist will receive the “Women’s Media Center She Persisted Award” at an October 26 ceremony in New York City. In addition, Ryan is the 2017 National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Journalist of the Year.
She was the first journalist in the fall 2017 Minnesota Public Radio News Broadcast Journalist Series, a 24-hour residency where national reporters and correspondents discuss their craft and talk on current issues. The secret to her success? “I [keep] going when people tell me no or ‘You can’t,’” Ryan told the MSR last week in St. Paul.
Shortly before the MPR event in St. Paul, she shared that this was her first visit to Minnesota. The event, held in St. Paul, was attended by nearly 500 people at St. Thomas’ O’Shaughnessy Center. According to an MPR spokesperson, all free tickets were handed out.
The veteran journalist said she hails from a family of political news watchers who are very knowledgeable about what is going on in the world. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, she admitted she is a current events junkie.
She chose journalism as a career, which she considered a natural fit. She graduated from Morgan State University and began her media career as a jazz disc jockey in college before becoming a journalist.
Since 1997, she has been the White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks (AURN). Her daily reports are heard on nearly 300 radio affiliates nationwide. She is now covering her fourth presidential administration.
Covering the Barack Obama administration as a Black journalist was historic, she said, but it did not compromise her approach to the job. “As an African American, we thought [it] would never happen” that a Black president would be elected in this country. “You have to ask questions, whether he’s the first Black president” or someone else is in the office, said Ryan, adding that Obama’s eight years in office “went by too fast.
“Informing the people and making sure that they know what is going on” is essential “because everything comes through the White House. I love information, and I love being in the mix. I like to seek information, break it down, and disseminate it to the masses,” Ryan said of her job.
Ryan told the MPR eventgoers that since the Trump administration took office in January, she and her fellow colleagues at the White House have been in a whirlwind challenge, mainly because of the adversarial relationship between the Oval Office and the press.
She said the White House has put a target on her. “The press is considered the enemy of the people and I am the ringleader. They [the White House] have put a spotlight on me because I am the elephant in the room.”
When Tom Weber, host of MPR’s event, asked Ryan if she was singled out because she is the only Black female reporter covering urban issues, the journalist responded, “Urban America is not just Black…it is all of America.” But she added, “It’s tough because this administration is so different in their thinking, mannerisms, speech, everything they do.”
Ryan also stressed that she doesn’t ask “pack-type” questions: “I get answers to my questions. I have been doing the same thing for 20 years. I am a journalist. I report from all sides, not just one side.”
Asked about reported run-ins with White House spokespersons, including a strange back-and-forth encounter with President
Trump in his official briefing shortly after he took office, Ryan just shook her head and told Weber, “That makes me cringe when I see it or hear it. Some people say it was racial, but I’d say it was sinister.”
Ryan, the author of two books, The Presidency in Black and White and At Mama’s Knee, autographed copies of both books after the event.
“I’ve been a fan of hers. I like her style and how candid she is,” said Mallory Mitchell of Minneapolis after Ryan signed her book and took a couple of photos with her. Mitchell was among a handful of Blacks and other people of color in the majority-White audience. She also was among several persons called on by Weber to ask Ryan a question during the one-hour event.
“I’m a divorced mother [of two daughters],” said the award-winning journalist. “I take my kids to school every day and make that crazy dash to work. And I make sure that I am home at night, work with them on homework, and [send them] to sleep at night.
“It’s tough being a mother in this business. You are always on 24/7. You wake up with it and you go to sleep with it. I got to know what’s going on,” said Ryan.
Afterwards, Weber told the MSR how impressed he was with Ryan’s candor: “I’ve hosted this event for four years and done at least 20 of these, but I’ve never seen this sold out and attended like this. I thought she was powerful,” Weber said.
She told the MSR that being on the short historic list of Black White House reporters isn’t lost on her, even during discouraging times. Ryan noted that she stands on the shoulders of a lot of Black people.
Next: A conversation with NABJ’s Student Journalist of the Year
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.