3 questions with: Natasha Alford

Natasha Alford

Award-winning journalist, digital host and millennial media executive Natasha Alford will kick off the 2021-22 season of the Newhouse School’s Leaders in Communications speaker series Sept. 22 with her talk, “Community, Identity and Self-Care.”

Alford is vice president of digital content and a senior correspondent at theGrio and a CNN political analyst. In addition to her talk, Alford will guest lecture in several Newhouse journalism classes and meet one-on-one with students during the coming week.

In advance of Alford’s visit, we sat down with her to get her thoughts on the challenges of misinformation and disinformation, the need for diversity in storytelling and her advice for the Newhouse students who will follow in her footsteps.

How do you define leadership in the communications industry?

I define leadership as a commitment to ethical and principled media, combined with a willingness to innovate in storytelling. Where are audiences going and how can we meet them there with quality, trustworthy and engaging communications? It’s true that the way we communicate has changed—but the fundamentals of good storytelling remain.

I also think leadership in our industry requires a commitment to diversity and doing away with excuses of the past. Talent exists in every form. Are newsroom and comms leaders willing to embrace talent from all walks of life to see the impact of diverse perspectives on their storytelling? Not enough has changed since the 1968 Kerner Commission Report that critiqued the media industry for failing to portray America as it actually was, and thereby failing people. We can do better.

What are the biggest threats and biggest opportunities facing the industry right now?

One of the biggest threats facing the industry is the attack on facts and truth. Our audiences are navigating a sea of misinformation and disinformation, at a time when the stakes couldn’t be higher.

In a 24/7 news cycle there are also multiple crises demanding everyone’s attention, and it can be overwhelming for audiences to know what matters.

But journalists have more opportunity than ever before to reach diverse audiences and creatively tell stories on different platforms. Our fact-checking and reporting skills are also desperately needed by readers to make important decisions for their lives.

What advice would you offer to Newhouse students who are preparing to enter the industry?

Embrace being multi-skilled and multi-talented! There’s room in the industry for journalists who know how to produce, write, host and more. Versatility is a great way to get your foot in any newsroom door, too.

Anything else you’d like to add?

The pressure to be relevant can be intimidating for a new journalist. Anyone can have a quick moment in the spotlight these days. Devote yourself to your craft, do great work and the relevance will follow.  You never know how far a good story will travel!

Leaders in Communications

Leaders in Communications is a monthly speaker series that brings media leaders, influencers and newsmakers to the Newhouse School for candid and insightful conversations with students and other guests. With a special emphasis on current trends and challenges, the series helps students keep apace of a quickly changing communications industry and provides them with a connection to the professions they will eventually lead. The series also offers valuable networking and learning opportunities, as guests visit classrooms or student organizations in addition to participating in the public conversation. The series is supported by the Hearst Speakers Fund.