Washington reporter Cynthia Gordy has been in the thick of covering the Trayvon Martin story extensively for The Root, including last week’s presser with Trayvon’s parents in D.C. She is the publication’s “Blogging the Beltway” blogger. Just in the past week she was promoted to senior political correspondent. Her first foray into journalism was as an editorial assistant at Essence Magazine in New York. Later she became the publication’s first Washington correspondent. We caught up with her for the inside scoop.
1. What have been the most satisfying aspects of covering the Trayvon Martin story? The frustrating parts? Although The Root, as a publication, has reported hour-to-hour updates on the case over the past month, my personal contributions have been a bit different. Since my beat is national politics and policy, I’ve focused on the places where the story intersects with Washington. That has included the parents’ testimony on Capitol Hill, a look at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s role in pushing “Stand Your Ground” laws across the country, as well as the corporations that have since pulled financial support from the organization, and President Obama‘s and Attorney General Eric Holder‘s comments on the situation.
I don’t know if “satisfying” is the word I would use, but it has been fascinating to watch the community-based mobilization around the case. Between millions of signatures on the change.org petition calling for an investigation, protest rallies, and phone calls to companies like Coca-Cola asking them to stop supporting ALEC, it showed that Americans of all backgrounds saw a problem. I think their pressure is part of what convinced Florida to take another look at the facts and evidence, eventually leading to an arrest.
2. How close have you gotten to the family in terms of reaching out to them and interviewing them? Are they amenable to interviews aside from those they are giving to Al Sharpton? I haven’t reached out to the family, but I’ve seen them speak at public appearances. Especially when the story became about whether or not their son was a “good kid” or a “bad kid,” it has been important for them to be a constant presence in the media to push back. They’ve given interviews to a range of outlets and journalists for that purpose, in addition to challenging misconceptions about their goals. As they said on Wednesday at the National Action Network convention, they aren’t out for revenge or trying to convict George Zimmerman without a trial. Their goal all along has been to get an arrest.
3. Most memorable White House moment? I started covering the White House in 2009 at the very beginning of the Obama administration, so a lot of my most memorable moments are from those early days. Interviewing the President in the Oval Office and having tea with the first lady are highlights, but honestly, something that stands even stronger in my memory was a reception that the President and first lady hosted to celebrate the Senate confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
The East Room was packed with Justice Sotomayor’s friends and family from New York, and, after a tough confirmation process, they were bursting with love and excitement for her. It was loud, rowdy, and just felt real — not staid like most White House ceremonies. When she said, “It is our nation’s faith in a more perfect union that allows a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx to stand here now,” I felt the history of that moment in a really powerful way .
4. Tell us a little about your journalism career and the types of beats you have had over the years. How did you get your start in the industry? I started in 2004 as an editorial assistant at Essence magazine in New York City, helping to cover arts and entertainment. Having a beat devoted to music, movies, theater and TV was an exciting and “cool” first job, but I always gravitated to harder news. When the editor-in-chief at the time decided to firm up the news department in 2005, I jumped at the opportunity, eventually moving up to news editor and, finally, the magazine’s first Washington correspondent.
Most of the stories I’ve covered involve justice issues — I was the first print reporter to interview the fiancée of Sean Bell after he was shot and killed by New York police, and the first print reporter to interview Genarlow Wilson, an Atlanta teenager convicted as a sex offender based on sex with a high-school peer, upon his release from prison. But I’ve also covered smaller stories on environmental racism in rural America, LGBT discrimination, and domestic violence. As a White House correspondent, I’ve largely focused on how the policies of the Obama administration impact the African-American community.
5. Getting back to the Martin story, do you ever worry or consider that how the media handles this story could lead to violence? No. I think the hand-wringing that equates the media’s discussion of race and profiling in this story to hate-mongering doesn’t reflect what the collective response has actually been. When you look at the national, multiracial movement that has risen up around Trayvon Martin, the vast majority has followed constructive, nonviolent protest and condemned talk of violence.