Jamie Nesbitt Golden, left, and Ariel Allman, right, in conversation. Photo: Screenshot provided by Ariel Allman

Public Narrative’s mission is to bridge gaps between communities, nonprofits, and media makers that help shift existing and harmful narratives and tell better and more complete stories. We do this through workshops and trainings, but also through conversation and connection. 

As part of our Narrative Change Community Newsletter, we spotlight different folks and organizations that move our city’s narratives forward. We help you get to know better some of your neighbors — including media makers that cover issues and topics that matter to you.

For our inaugural profile, meet Jamie Nesbitt Golden, a reporter at Block Club Chicago.

As a Chicago native with Bronzeville neighborhood roots, Jamie reflects on what it means to be a community journalist. She strives to give people the information and tools they need to thrive in and around Chicago. By being a local advocate and active community member, Jamie works to continue to push for narrative change in her practice.

The interview has been edited for clarity.

Public Narrative: How did you get started in journalism? Did you start here in Chicago?

Jamie Nesbitt Golden: I was the kid who watched the news with her grandmother and [would] steal my mother’s copies of The Times and my grandmother’s copies of the Trib. So I grew up with two very well-informed women who cared about what was happening in their world.

I wound up being a cub reporter for the Chicago Defender in high school, as a part of their Explorer’s Program, and it was a really great experience. For some reason, I decided to stick with it, I don’t know why. Journalism is a mess, but I tell people it’s one of the very few things I know how to do, and it has been pretty good to me. I eventually went back to the Defender after college, stayed there for about a year and a half, freelanced at various places, and moderated a hip-hip board for a bit. I worked for [an] environmental trade magazine as a staff writer. 

It’s been a weird journey, but I’ve been with Block Club for four years now [as of January] 3rd, and it’s been really good. 

Block Club Chicago is a nonprofit, digital-first news organization dedicated to delivering reliable, nonpartisan and essential coverage of Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods. BlockClubChicago.org

PN: Congratulations, it’s definitely an accomplishment. And I feel it seems like you’ve done a lot in your time, like, you’ve gotten to have a lot of cool experiences.

JNG:  Yeah, I think this industry has exposed me to things and people I wouldn’t otherwise, come across. And I think that’s the beauty of it. Being a journalist is sort of like being a perpetual student to learn all these cool and interesting things and share them with the world. So it’s an honor, for sure.

PN: Being a journalist in Chicago, sometimes I feel like you can get lost in the noise. For you, what does it mean to be a Chicago journalist? What are some of the most important things you consider when you are writing your stories?

JNG:  I think the city gets such a bad rep. For the last few years, certain people in power have used the city as a punching bag or a dog whistle; and for that reason, Chicago is synonymous with violence. 

When you want to fearmonger, there’s Chicago right there, and for me, it’s important to cover the city that raised me in a way that is honest, but also respectful. I think the South Side in particular gets such a bad rep. There are problems, but s**t doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We’re talking about generations of disinvestment and this is why we are where we are. I think part of the job [as a journalist] is holding people in power accountable and also telling the stories of folks who are affected by the s**t that happens in City Hall — and spotlighting all the amazing things that happen in these neighborhoods, despite, certain people’s best efforts to make life miserable or take away resources. There are people who still every day pull it together to try to make this city better, and telling those stories is important.

PN: That’s the biggest thing I learned during this internship is that it’s so critical to highlight and spotlight the communities in Chicago because there are so many different communities here.

JNG: Again, I’m born and raised [in Chicago], and I learn something new, still. You’re never going to know everything. And I think being a good journalist is knowing that, being curious, and understanding that you don’t have to be the authority on everything — and asking the questions and not being ashamed of that. I think being able to cover the city in a way that does it justice that keeps us honest — it’s important.

PN: Where do you see your role in the communities that you serve as a journalist and media maker? And do you feel like a community member? Obviously, you do because you’ve lived here all your life, but I know that sometimes there is that disconnect because there is rampant fear-mongering in the media, especially mainstream media.

JNG: I’m definitely a member of the community. I feel like my job basically is to give information away and give people information and the tools to use information however they wish. So being able to spotlight folks who are “doing the work” is important. 

Jamie Nesbitt Golden. Provided.

Objectivity is bulls***. Let me put that out there. I think we have certain people who believe that journalism is just about reporting facts. It’s that, but it’s also advocacy. We are here to f*** s*** up, hold people to account and improve our communities. If our work doesn’t reflect that, then we’re doing it wrong, and that’s it.

Community reporting or hyperlocal reporting gets overlooked, and we’re seeing the effects of that recently.

For example, with the George Santos saga — local reporters broke the story that this guy is a pathological liar, right? That gets overlooked. He still makes it to Capitol Hill despite that, and then when the s*** all falls apart, they’re like, ‘Oh wait, here’s a local newspaper who sounded the alarm months ago about this guy’ — and that shows you the importance of the press. I think we get so caught up in the glamorous aspect of [journalism]. Sometimes it’s not going to be glamorous, and that’s OK. I didn’t sign up for glamour. I signed up to f*** s*** up.

That sort of underlines or emphasizes the importance of local news and what we do because it has a global impact, a national impact. I’m eternally grateful for being able to do that —whether it’s covering a playground getting new equipment or a principal who has a history of behaving badly and who allowed kids to goosestep in a Nazi-like uniform. All these little stories matter, and when you’re out in the field and identify yourself as a Block Club reporter, no one’s given me the side eye — they’re super welcoming. You want to work for a publication that doesn’t make people run away from you.

At the front, Public Narrative’s Jhmira Alexander stands alongside panelists Olivia Obineme, Block Club Chicago’s Jamie Nesbitt Golden and Chicago Reader’s Jim Daley, in conversation at a workshop facilitated by Public Narrative and hosted by Chicago Community Trust. Photo: Yaseen Abdus-Saboor

PN: With the bigger news organizations, like Fox or ABC, do you ever get pushback from them or do you try and work harmoniously with them?

JNG: With local outlets, it’s kind of cut-throat sometimes. My colleagues and I have had stories snaked by bigger outlets, without attribution, which is always a pain in the ass. But that’s reflective of institutions. There are some reporters who work at those outlets who aren’t that way, and we’re grateful and we work with those folks when we can. But overall, unfortunately, it’s hella competitive, and people are catty, and people kind of want the spotlight. The industry is always going to be filled with egos. But I do believe there’s a way for all of us to work together, and I see that with smaller outlets, with independent ones. It’s great that there are shops like Chalkbeat and The Trace and The TRiiBE, and so, you do have outlets and reporters who work together and know how to collaborate and share. That’s a blessing for sure. But with the bigger outlets, it’s a crapshoot, you never know. But, you know, there are some folks who do work with those outlets who know how to act right.

PN: Seems like there’s such a strong sense of, like, harmony in communication between all the local outlets. It probably dampens those s***ty experiences with the bigger outlets.

JNG: Most journalists — a lot of us are a little egotistical, a little self-serving. It’s OK to admit that. I’m not completely altruistic. I like getting paid bi-weekly. And you know, I get a little rush when I see my byline still — that never goes away. And it’s OK, to be honest about those things. But also to make room for not being a s***ty person, if that makes sense. You can admit those things and still do your job, do it well, and try to be a better human.

PN: That’s so critical, especially in today’s environment, where it’s so divisive. We really need that sense of community and putting egos aside.

JNG: We are literally all we have. It’s really been interesting to see how the uprisings of 2020 have activated a lot of people. While we’re still struggling with police violence and January 6, and all these forces that are trying to harm democracy, we’re still, on a local level, pulling together. Like, we saw the explosion of mutual aid groups. We’ve seen, folks despite the opposition’s efforts to push voter suppression bills, make it more impossible to vote — like we’re seeing people go, ‘OK, well, there’s got to be another way.’ People are figuring out ways of, again, showing up for each other. And I think that has been really wonderful to see.

PN: One big thing about Public Narrative is we’re all about narrative change. That’s the big push. When you hear the phrase “narrative change,” what would you say that means to you as a journalist? 

JNG: That’s a really good question.

I think it goes back to what I was saying before about the city. Chicago gets crapped on so often. It’s up to us to change that, to challenge that as often as possible.

There have been several stories throughout the years about how Chicago doesn’t care, about how Chicagoans don’t care about violence or they don’t care about education, particularly Black Chicago. It’s always these racially tinged shots. And you hear that and you go, ‘well, that’s not true because I just saw a bunch of folks marching for peace two weeks ago, or I saw a group of parents camp out in front of the school to save it.’

Making sure that these stories are highlighted and holding them up as evidence against the wrong, prevailing opinion is important and we have to keep doing that — that’s part of the job. It’s a lot of myth-busting, a lot of fact-checking, and again, holding people accountable. 

PN: I would say that’s the biggest thing because so many people will hear hearsay and they run with it. 

JNG: The disinformation campaigns are getting stronger and stronger and it’s kind of scary.

With the SAFE-T Act, we got bombarded with fake newspapers. You have podcasters who were totally out of depth talking about the SAFE-T Act and parroting right-wing talking points. It’s important that part of the job of journalists, be it local or national level, is to challenge this, to call bulls*** on it and give people the real facts, and empower people to take those facts and do what they need to do.

PN: You mentioned podcasts, and I saw on your bio, that you actually do the Elevated Podcast.

JNG: So my podcast partner wound up moving to L.A. — that was literally the year I started at Block Club and I forgot to change my bio, but I have been podcasting for the better part of a decade. It’s been a labor of love. “Elevated” highlighted Chicago and people doing amazing things, which was great. Then the Block Club podcast happened and so I occasionally appear on there.

The other podcast I’m on is called Nerdgasm Noire. It’s me and five of my friends talking about nerd s*** from like a feminist perspective since 2010. It’s not as consistent as we want it to be because all of us have jobs and lives. We’ve talked about sci-fi, fantasy, anime, IT and even reality TV. There are two of us who are really heavy into the “[Real] Housewives” so we’ll talk about that. We’re pop culture junkies for sure. 

But we’ve been doing that since 2010, so it’s been about 13 years. We’re trying to figure out a way to be on a better schedule and that’s one of the things we’re supposed to be working on this year.

But back when we started, we were like ‘OK we like talking about nerd s***. We’re smart Black women, we know things. Let’s do it.’

It’s been really cool.

You can find Jamie Nesbitt Golden at Block Club Chicago, the Block Club ‘It’s All Good’ podcast, and on the Nerdgasm Noire Network. Follow her on Twitter @thewayoftheid.

Join Public Narrative’s mailing list to receive the next Narrative Change Community newsletter. Have news to share? Submit your stories, events, call-to-actions and more, and have the chance to get featured in an upcoming issue.