‘IU had faith in me when they accepted me, and now they gave me the space to have faith in myself’

Leah Johnson

Leah Johnson is a senior in the IU Media School | Photo by IU Communications


Post courtesy of newsroom intern Tori Lawhorn:

Leah Johnson never set foot on Indiana University’s campus until she moved into her dorm during her freshman year.

Though she’s from Indianapolis, Johnson said she never felt the need to visit the campus because she knew IU was the place for her regardless of whether she’d physically been to IU.

“I hadn’t even taken a tour, I just had good faith that it was the place to be,” she said. “IU made the most sense. It was close to my family and it has the best journalism program around.”

Johnson is a senior studying journalism and African American and African diaspora studies, and is receiving a certificate from the PACE program in political and civic engagement.

She is the president of the IU chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists for the 2015-2016 school year. She believes NABJ involvement is especially important for IU journalism students.

“We have an important voice that needs to be represented in the media, and without them, we’re not telling the entire story,” she said.

Throughout this semester, Johnson said, she has had two goals as president: encourage the majority of members to apply for summer internships in media and increase the number of NABJ members involved in student media.

“When they walk into the IDS [Indiana Daily Student] and realize that not everyone looks like them in the newsroom, that is every reason why they should be in there,” she said.

Leah Johnson

Johnson previously served as the digital director of the Indiana Daily Student | Photo by IU Communications

Johnson served as the digital editor of the IU student newspaper in the beginning of the fall semester and produced multimedia packages to accompany many of its stories such as Fight Like Phil, a story about a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity who is currently battling cancer.

She says she’s passionate not only about storytelling, but about those stories that deal with people of color.

“What I have to offer as a journalist, as a woman, and as an African American … if someone has to tell their stories, it should be me,” she said.

Johnson has even reported stories about her own experience with race, including a story, Color of Conscience, that appeared on the front page of the Indiana Daily Student in October 2014.

In addition to her heavy involvement in student media, Johnson has also had abundant internship experiences at media organizations such as WLPN Public Radio in Nashville, Tenn., the English Language Gazette in London and more recently, the Wall Street Journal as an audio initiatives intern in New York.

Johnson said her time at the Wall Street Journal was her best internship experience yet.

“I was so upset at all the notions I had beforehand,” she said. “I just assumed it was all about business news, and I told them, ‘I know nothing about business reporting, I’m going to be honest.’ But everyone takes such great pride in what they do.

“I mean, my mentor was the VP of News Corp [Raju Narisetti]. I connected to my coworkers, I even got to write for the pop culture blog. They want people to succeed and tell stories that matter.”

Johnson said she will take what she has learned from her experiences at the WSJ and apply them to her new internship at the Dallas Morning News as an enterprise/features intern this summer.

She credits IU Journalism for aiding her in her successes.

“IU changed my life,” she said. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for IU. It’s opened doors for me and given me resources I didn’t have.”

Johnson said she’s never had one teacher she hasn’t liked while at IU and she has one piece of advice for students interacting with their professors: “If you work hard for them, they’ll work hard for you.”

She said her main mentors are Sarah Neal-Estes, visiting lecturer for the Media School; Marcia Debnam, the career services director for the Media School and NABJ faculty adviser; and Tom French, professor of practice for the Media School, who spoke highly of Johnson and the work she has accomplished so far.

“Leah’s voice — on the page, on the air and in person — is one of the most striking and original in the history of IU journalism students,” French said. “She sees things the rest of us don’t see, details the rest of us miss. She is fiery, extremely funny and driven by a passion that drives everything she does. She’s a true original, and it’s an honor to work with her.”

Johnson said she’s thankful every day to be at IU.

“My parents didn’t go to college,” she said. “I just finished this internship at the Wall Street Journal … IU had faith in me when they accepted me, and now they gave me the space to have faith in myself.”

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