Capitol Communicator has been interviewing people who are or have been in the media about their careers and the media. Below is our Q&A with Sarah Y. Kim, who joined Baltimore NPR station WYPR 88.1 FM last year covering health and housing issues as part of Report for America (RFA). She will remain in Baltimore for an additional year of reporting. RFA is a national service program that places emerging journalists into local news organizations to report on under-covered issues and communities.

Sarah came to WYPR just after graduating from The Johns Hopkins University where she studied writing and international studies. While there, she served as the editor-in-chief for The Johns Hopkins News-Letter, the student-run independent weekly newspaper, and the opinions editor. In 2018, Sarah’s writing talents earned her the Louis Azrael Fellowship in Communications, presented to three students interested in pursuing careers in journalism.

Hi Sarah, what is your role now?

I’m WYPR’s Anthony Brandon fellow covering health and housing for Baltimore’s NPR station. I’m here as part of a fellowship with Report For America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project that pairs journalists with local newsrooms across the country.

I’ve reported on a myriad of stories to amplify the voices of those who aren’t heard enough, from Maryland’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, to the city’s housing crisis and homeless advocacy, to the issue of race bias in genomic research. I also try to explore angles where my two beats intersect. For example, how do evictions affect physical and mental health, across generations?

Aside from reporting, I also regularly contribute to The Daily Dose, WYPR’s health podcast with long form interviews with those in the Maryland medical community. I’ve also stepped in to host the podcast a few times. A year ago I don’t think I pictured myself being able to do something like that!

How did you get your start?

I joined WYPR last June, about a week after graduating from Johns Hopkins University. I was part of The Johns Hopkins News-Letter for four yearsand served as a reporter, news editor, opinions editor, and editor-in-chief for the paper. I also spent some time as an editorial intern and later as a freelance fact-checker for Baltimore magazine.

Why did you want to go into news?

My career as a journalist is rooted in my Korean American identity and my experiences as a student journalist.

I was born in California, but I grew up in South Korea for more than 12 years. When I first came to Baltimore in 2016 as a college student, it was my first time living in the U.S. for a long time and knowing what it was like to be the only Asian in the room so many times, and I felt out of place.

Starting out writing and reporting for my college newspaper changed that. Journalism and the people I connected with through my work drew me closer to Baltimore and to this country and helped me establish a sense of home and purpose here. I decided pretty early on in college that I wanted to do journalism out of college.

What stories moved you the most?

Of the stories I’ve written, the one that hit me most personally was one I wrote about an outdoor vigil that Baltimore AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) and sex worker activists held for the victims of the Atlanta spa shootings. It was my first time since the shootings that I was sharing a physical space with other AAPI people. I’d felt numb right after reading the news, but watching people speak during the vigil, it was like seeing all the grief and anger that I, my friends and family had suppressed for a long time, bubbling to the surface. As an Asian American woman covering that event, I felt empowered but also overwhelmed.

There were little details I noticed throughout the vigil that reminded me of Korea – the types of food that people brought, the makeshift memorial they set up that was like a table for jesa (Korean ancestral rites). It was reassuring to see reminders of home, amid this fresh wave of emotional exhaustion I was feeling. Someone to my surprise told me to take a flower; I took a pink rose and it’s dried up but I still have it at home.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for the media going forward?

It’s become clearer to me than ever these past few months that until we diversify our newsrooms, including our local newsrooms, we will never be able to truly meet the needs of marginalized communities in our country.

There seems to be an awareness among newsrooms that we have to do this, especially in light of everything that happened this year, but change has been slow. Obviously, there are so many larger systemic barriers, beyond newsrooms themselves, that make it harder for people to stay in journalism if they aren’t white, or wealthy, or male, or cisgender, or able-bodied, among other things.

Still, news organizations need to do what they can. We need to diversify not just the reporters we have on the ground, but also management, so reporters feel supported. We need to think beyond recruiting journalists for diversity’s sake and think about what newsrooms can do to actually make them want to stay (paying equitably, having mentors that can understand what they’re going through). There are so many important stories to tell and if we don’t find ways to make media organizations more inclusive we won’t have the people to tell them.

Here in Baltimore, a predominantly Black city that is often given a bad rep in the media, most of our major newsrooms are predominantly white. That definitely factors into the way we tell stories about the city, and the way the city’s residents and the rest of the country perceives this community. It is not lost on me that it’s a rare opportunity to work in a newsroom headed by a Black woman at a station with a Black general manager at the helm.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.