Award-winning journalist seeks to inform and improve social outcomes
After nearly 20 years in the field of journalism, Michelle Garcia ’06 said it is easy to become cynical.
The former editor-in-chief of The Oswegonian said she went into journalism with the hopes of informing the public so that they could make the best decisions for their future.
“I wanted to help people make decisions on how they vote, why they vote, where they live, where they send their children, how they spend their money,” said Garcia, who is now the editorial director of NBCBLK—the news desk that tells stories by, for and about the Black community. “Can journalists change minds? I think about this question truly every day. Maybe we can. But my goal is to help people understand our world better.”
Recently, Garcia served as one of the creators and editors on the NBC team that won a 2022 Peabody Award for the Southlake podcast series. The series was also a 2022 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Audio Recording.
The eight-episode series stemmed from a viral video from 2018 of students in the wealthy suburb of Southlake, Texas, chanting a racist word and the ensuing response from the community to address race and racism in the classroom.
One of the biggest take-aways of the Southlake project, for Garcia, was hearing from Americans of color who saw themselves and their experiences reflected back in the story of the Southlake residents.
“So many people contacted us to say, ’this is happening in my town, too,’” said Garcia, who very consciously lives in a diverse community in New Jersey with her husband, Adam Campbell-Schmitt ’06, and their two mixed race children.
She recalls how the story unfolded, just as a national conversation about critical race theory was happening.
“As we were covering it, it was becoming a national news story,” she said. “It was like capturing lightning in a bottle.”
She worked on this special project while juggling her day-to-day responsibilities as the editor of the NBCBLK news desk and while adjusting to the changes forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. But it was a passion project for the team, which, in addition to Garcia, included: Mike Hixenbaugh, Antonia Hylton, Madeleine Haeringer, Reid Cherlin, Julie Shapiro, Frannie Kelley, Rachel Yang, Bryson Barnes and Seth Samuel.
“As an editor, I don’t expect to have my name on anything that wins an award,” said Garcia, who serves on Oswego’s School of Communication, Media and the Arts Advisory Board. “Just to be nominated was such an incredible honor. It’s the internal recognition from within the industry that is once in a lifetime.”
While the award was very significant to Garcia, she said she hopes the attention encourages more people to listen to the podcast and to be informed.
She said she traces her passion for journalism back to SUNY Oswego and to mentors, like Professor Emerita Linda Loomis ’90 M’97, and the hands-on learning she received from her classwork and working on The Oswegonian—an experience where she was able to make mistakes and grow.
“My editing began at Oswego, and as the editor-in-chief of The Oswegonian, I learned how not to be an editor,” she laughed. “It was a lot of trial and error—learning in real time. It was great practice and helped me get to where I am today.”
Since winning the award, Garcia said she has a stronger focus on solutions journalism.
“For better or worse, our industry is run on ratings, clicks and social media engagement,” she said. “Those metrics can often be driven by outrage, by anger, by fear. As I am getting older and having more experiences as a parent and as somebody who sees the importance of civic engagement, I also think we have a duty to show solutions. Now, I am driven by the question, how am I going to be a better contributor to the world through my work? How can I incorporate more solutions rather than just problems into my work? We should all be thinking about that, at least a little bit.”