Joy Reid visits Hancher Auditorium, discusses path to professional journalism

The MSNBC television show host and political analyst spoke about her journey to journalism at Hancher Auditorium Sunday afternoon.


Avi Lapchick

MSNBC political analyst Joy Reid speaks at Hancher Auditorium during “An Afternoon with Joy Reid” lecture on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023.

Kate Perez, News Editor

MSNBC host of “The ReidOut” and political analyst Joy-Ann Reid lectured at Hancher Auditorium Sunday afternoon, where she discussed her journey from being a want-to-be doctor to a professional journalist. 

The lecture, titled “An Afternoon with Joy Reid” and presented by Hancher and the UI Lecture Committee, focused primarily on Reid’s life story, beginning with her mother’s immigrating to England and then New York City. 

Reid, the daughter of a mother born in Guyana and a father from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who both immigrated to get away from colonialism, told the audience how her parents got together in Iowa City. 

“I have no idea what their backstory is … the only thing they had in common was the sort of colonial kind of enterprise they were both exiting, and they’re now here in the United States,” Reid said. “My sister was born in Iowa City … so we have this Iowa connection, which I’m like, this is cool.”

Reid was born two years after her sister in Brooklyn, New York, but was raised in Colorado in a predominantly Black suburb of Denver. At this time in her life, Reid said her mother was a single mom and helped Reid engage in her interests. 

“As a kid, I was super nerd … I actually loved school. We were good students. But I was just a person who was always fascinated by the world, and in about sixth grade, the Iran hostage crisis happens. And I just thought this was fascinating. Why are these people taking Americans hostage? Why are they holding them?,” Reid said. “I got to sit up with my mom because she was always willing to let me indulge my curiosity.”

Reid said she was constantly hungry for news and information as a child, and her mother always encouraged Reid and her siblings to expand their worldviews through road trips. Despite not having a lot of money growing up, Reid said her mother always made sure they took trips whenever possible. 

“It was my incredible mom who drove us all over the country, who instilled us with this spirit of adventure and fearlessness,” Reid said.

As she grew older, Reid said she planned on being a doctor because that was a cultural expectation placed upon her and her siblings. Reid, who attended Harvard University, applied and was accepted as a pre-med major. But she ultimately changed directions after her mother died at the beginning of her freshman year, and she suffered academically. 

While taking a year off from classes at Harvard to recover mentally and emotionally, Reid lived in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, a neighborhood filled with artists and filmmakers who were constantly working on some project. It was in Fort Greene where Reid said she found her inspiration to become a storyteller instead of a doctor.

“I switched my major to something called Visual Environmental Studies because Harvard is too snooty to have a degree called film. Don’t be a film major, they had to tuck it in something that sounded snobby,” Reid said. “So, I went back and became a VES major, and that basically means documentary film major.”

Reid said her first job out of college was as a marketing analyst for the beverage industry, but she continued to pursue her passions on the side by producing a music video show. A couple of years later, Reid moved to Florida and became a copywriter and worked at a television station writing the morning show.

“I said, ‘You know what, I’m in a new city. I have no ties here. I have no obligations to do anything like what I was doing in New York, I’m going to try to do something that I’ve always really loved, that I’ve always really been obsessed with,’” Reid said. “I was obsessed with politics, obsessed with news. I’m going to go ahead and apply to a news station.”

Reid described her experience from moving from a morning show writer job to becoming a digital producer for an NBC News affiliate in Miami. Her experience as a digital producer made her realize she did not want to be a member of the media following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centers. 

“I thought the aggression with which we treated a country that had nothing to do with the Iraq war was so out of line with reality and so out of line with the facts,” Reid. “And I’m like, we’re a news organization. Even though we’re just local, we can tell people the truth.”

Reid said she quit the digital producer job after realizing the media was doing more harm than good and leading people to believe Iraq was involved in the terrorist attacks. After that, Reid began working on various political campaigns, including former U.S. President Obama administration and landed as a producer turned host on a radio talk show, where she received recognition. 

It was after her radio show job that Reid began appearing as a guest on political television shows, including Chris Matthews’s “Hardball,” which gained her even more recognition and catapulted her into not only appearing on shows but filling in for hosts. 

“I became like the proto fill-in for everybody’s shows, and that prompted them to eventually give me a day sideshow, which got canceled in a year, and after that cancellation, Phil Griffin took me to breakfast. And he was like, this show getting canceled is not the end of your career,” Reid said. “Phil Griffith, who was the president of MSNBC. He said ‘I have plans for you.’”

Reid was sent out to do field reporting where she covered events like the Trayvon Martin murder case in 2012. That reporting led to her receiving an offer to do a second show and then a primetime television show when Chris Matthews retired, which turned into her current show, the ReidOut. 

“I had people in this business who don’t necessarily look like me, but who saw me as a real credible person in a voice for people who were not usually represented on the air, and they recognize the value of that,” Reid said. “ … the reason that I’m here is because I, over the course of my life, have just been blessed to have the right people in my life.”

In the Q&A portion of the lecture, Reid took questions from the audience. In one question, which focused on the polarization of the U.S., Reid said journalism was only dividing the country more, including the idea that journalists have to be completely objective. 

“None of us are truly objective, but you have to be accurate,” Reid said. “ … everything that happens contributes to the polarization because people who watch Fox [News] believe that they’re objective and that everyone else is not.”

Reid also spoke on climate change, and she said people do not like to watch shows where climate change is discussed because it has a negative connotation. To fight climate change, Reid said people have to be told things they cannot do, like not eating certain foods, driving certain cars, which makes them feel like things are being taken away from them. 

“I think what it might take in order for climate to really break through around the world, is that the people who are trying to fix this problem have got to find a way to make it a story about opportunity,” Reid said. 

Reid wrapped up her lecture by encouraging people — especially young people — to talk to their relatives with differing viewpoints because they might be able to expand their minds and help them consider other points of view. 

“I would tell everyone who’s got family members who are farther to the right, isolating them is not really going to help that. You actually have to start to communicate with them,” Reid said. “And I think over time, if it’s a family member who loves you, you can start to break through that shell of misinformation and mistruth, with a little compassion, with a little understanding.”