Vice News’ Alexis Johnson Talks Being A Black Woman In Journalism And Reporting On Brittney Griner’s Imprisonment
Jika Gonzalez

Despite women making up more than half of US newsrooms, only 13% of them are Black.

This is not lost on Alexis Johnson.

The Vice News correspondent said she’s been hyperaware of her identity since the day she decided to become a journalist. After graduating with her master’s in media studies and production from Temple University in 2017, she headed out to West Virginia for a job. “Like most early career journalists, you have to work in the smaller town markets to gain your chops before moving on, but that was a bit nerve wracking because I was one of the few Black women on staff.”

Despite the challenges, she went on to land a role with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2018-2020 as their digital editor, then transitioned into a trending news reporter role until she left the company in 2020. It was in this role did she experience her first bout of workplace racism, she says. “Initially it was a great opportunity to be at one of my hometown’s biggest newspapers,” the Pennsylvania native shared. “But it was a really tough year to be Black in journalism.”

“During one of Kenny Chesney’s concerts, which is a huge event during the weekend, I tweeted something that is now stained into my reputation forever.”

The infamous tweet she’s referring to sarcastically drew a comparison between the massive mess that 40-50,000 concert-goers leave behind and the effect of looters protesting racial injustice during the social uprising following George Floyd’s murder.

Horrifying scenes and aftermath from selfish LOOTERS who don’t care about this city!!!!! …. oh wait sorry. No, these are pictures from a Kenny Chesney concert tailgate. Whoops.

“For about 12 hours, Pittsburgh’s North Shore is the drunkest place on the planet: Brawls, blood, Bud, arrests, paramedics, up to 50 tons of garbage left to pick up the next morning,” Esquire described in an article about the incident.

What followed was a swift rush of outrage from those opposing looting. Unfortunately, Johnson said her employer didn’t show solidarity with her, which was hurtful.

“My employer told me they needed to talk to me after the tweet caught on, and once my shift was over, they told me the decision had been made to keep me from covering protests because I showed bias in the tweet,” she said. “I was immediately upset. I even said it in the conversation. I felt like they were calling me biased because I’m Black. What about this shows bias? And they were like, well, you can’t talk about politics. And I told them, this is not political, this is real life.”

A short time after, she said that through her union, she was able to file a grievance suit, something she was extremely grateful for. “If it wasn’t for them, I probably would’ve had to just take that unfair treatment,” she said.

She has since left, and the suit has been dropped, but the lesson behind the incident remains. “I felt like I learned how strong my voice really is from that event.”

Now she works for Vice News as a correspondent, a role that she says gives her the opportunity to cover what she cares about, like Brittney Griner.

The WNBA star made headlines when it was found that after traveling to Russia to play basketball on her US offseason, she had been detained for months without any information on her release. She is still currently being imprisoned, and like many of us, Johnson wants answers.

“When I first heard that she was locked up, I was just like, here we go again, another movement on Twitter, right? But my boss wanted to know more, and I pitched him. From there, we had a story.”

In partnership with Showtime, Johnson led the Vice News investigative team in a segment on Griner’s situation for VICE’s Showtime series. The show is especially timely, Johnson points out, given Griner’s upcoming June 18th trial.

“I love how in-tune, intentional and supportive the Vice News team is. This all came about from keeping eyes on my Twitter timeline and a quick conversation with my editor. There’s so much value in feeling seen and heard.”