Making Trouble: Tasha Flournoy '99
I’m a troublemaker,” Tasha Flournoy announces proudly. “People make assumptions about me, and I call them on that.”
She is uniquely positioned to do so: Flournoy is one of two recipients of the 2002 Syracuse University Newhouse Fellowship Graduate Newspaper program, established by Samuel Newhouse and the Newhouse Foundation to attract “under-represented” minority students to careers in newspaper journalism.
At Stage One, the Fellowship offers funding for 18 months of graduate study leading to a master’s degree in journalism at the Newhouse School. At Stage Two, fellows earn competitive entry-level salaries for a one-year, full-time apprenticeship with a Newhouse newspaper. Despite her good fortune, she says, “I’m torn on this whole ‘minority’ thing, because it makes people think ‘poor,’” says Flournoy, who is African-American. “This scholarship is based on merit, not financial need. I challenge the administrators who think, ‘She’s going to bring the minority experience, the diversity.’ I say no, I’m not just a person of color, there’s no one African-American experience. I’m not this stereotype you can pigeonhole. Syracuse is a drastic departure from Sarah Lawrence, and I make it a point to let people know that’s my alma mater!”
Currently Flournoy is in Stage One, carrying six credits and interning 30 hours a week at the City Desk of Syracuse’s major newspaper, the Post-Standard. She works as a reporter in the “Neighbors and Education” section, covering community news and interviewing prominent local figures. It’s a demanding, even exhausting, lifestyle, but she loves it. “I’m a novice, like everyone else in this program,” she says. “I’m trying to hone my skills, and I support my classmates in what they do.”
The main obstacle she is facing, for now, is her age. “When I’m interviewing people, they demand: ‘How old are you? Eighteen?’ I ask challenging questions. It can be hard to get your story and remain credible. When I’m covering a breaking story, it’s ‘get in, get out!’ But I’m learning when to be passive and when to be aggressive.”
Flournoy feels that print journalism has more integrity and depth of detail than television. “On television, you have only a few minutes to get the story out; it’s infotainment. Television is about selling,” she says. “Whereas with a newspaper, there are sections for ‘soft news,’ but you’re reading it to get the facts. One of the principles of journalism is to give both sides.”
The follow-up program selection process includes a screening committee which reviews the applications, then chooses six finalists who are brought to Syracuse for personal interviews with representatives of the minority community, Syracuse University and the Syracuse newspapers. Flournoy recalls the process as grueling. “It was a very tight weekend and we were shuffled from restaurant to school tour to newspaper tour to interview the entire weekend. I think we had three hours of rest the whole time.”
Her strong, independent attitude comes from her mother, she says, who raised Tasha in Calabasas. “Hollywood stars like to live there, so it’s a nihilistic, decadent place—you’ll see twelve- and thirteen-year-olds driving without a license. You have wealthy families who don’t have distinct family values besides earning bread. My mother is a dynamic woman: very giving and available, emotionally and intellectually. She doesn’t look back—she looks forward, which is a value she’s instilled in me.” Flournoy pauses and then chuckles. “A lot of my friends still visit her when they go home—to get advice!”
At the end of Stage One, she’ll be going off to work at one of the Newhouse papers, which are located throughout the country. Flournoy is looking forward to that, and grateful for the program that has opened up her life to so many possibilities.