The A List: The Final Barrier


Each year, the B-Metro team compiles a list of people and organizations that we believe are extraordinary; we call it our A List. Those who landed on this year’s list can boast some remarkable achievements, but their mention here goes beyond that—these are the people who are working to make this city better, in whatever way they know how.

 

Student journalists at the University of Alabama opened up a discussion on race and the sorority system that had the whole country talking.

By Joe O’Donnell

 

For Crimson White editor-in-chief Mazie Bryant, the lesson learned was simple yet powerful. When the University of Alabama campus newspaper published an investigative piece that described how highly qualified African-American candidates were denied admission to historically white sororities for no apparent reason other than race, the story became the linchpin of a national discussion about the lingering effects of racism within the university system.

 

The lesson learned: “We have the ability to affect change and have more power than we ever thought,” Bryant says. “I have always been told journalists are needed to uncover truths and to keep people accountable. I don’t think I ever understood that until this. It shows the power of journalism and the power of the truth.”

 
Bryant and two reporters with the Crimson White will share the 2013 College Press Freedom Award for taking on the campus establishment to tell a nationally groundbreaking story about racial discrimination in recruitment for sorority membership. The annual $1,500 cash award will be shared by Bryant and staff writers Abbey Crain and Matt Ford. The story, “The Final Barrier,” was picked up by the national news media and featured in reports in The New York Times, on NPR, and in a host of other media outlets.

 
“Confronting and calling out the Greek system at the University of Alabama on society’s most sensitive social issue—race—required exceptional journalistic courage, especially since some of these students are themselves a part of the Greek system,” says Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, which cosponsors the award. “Their reporting continues to reverberate and cause positive change throughout the country. Campuses everywhere are being forced to re-examine whether their fraternities and sororities perpetuate social segregation holding back the advancement of young African-Americans to further their careers.

 
All this happened because Mazie, Abbey, and Matt doggedly pursued a story that had gone ignored for decades on campuses throughout the country. Their reporting was so airtight that, although the story has provoked harsh criticism, not one critic has been able to shake the veracity of what they revealed. The work of the Crimson White is the envy of professional newsrooms everywhere, and it exemplifies the public-service journalism that college students are creating regularly with little to no pay and in the face of continual threats and intimidation,” LoMonte says.

 

Matt Ford, Abbey Crain, and Mazie Bryant

Matt Ford, Abbey Crain, and Mazie Bryant

“Matt and Abbey were the reporters who first came to me with the story,” says Bryant. “Neither had much investigative reporting experience, but since they had the sources, I gave them the story. We met frequently as they worked on the story. We planned out every step, who we should talk to, etc.It was hectic. We had planned for it to be published on a Tuesday. There were a lot of events that week, so we had a lot of coverage already planned. Our main focus was to we make sure every single angle was touched on. If someone or an organization was called out, we wanted to make sure they had an opportunity to defend themselves. I wanted to make certain it was as good, hard-hitting, and powerful as it could be,” she explains.

 
“We held it for an extra day and worked till 2 or 3 a.m. Our visual editor, Anna Waters, played a big role in helping to figure how to make the visuals work. And online editor MacKenzie Brown did a great job figuring out the steps that needed to be put together for a digital release. Everyone stepped up and played a big part. If we were going to do it, we were going to do it right,” she says.

 
The piece was published on Sept. 11, 2013. “We were not prepared for the reaction that it got. We have reported on issues like this in the past, and we did not see a great response. We were prepared for a negative reaction on campus, but we were not prepared for the national news organizations to really pay attention,” Bryant says.

 
Moreover, the story was monumental in shaping her own view of her role as a student and a journalist: “We are students, but we have a voice and we can create change,” she says. “That was shown when the administration took the appropriate steps to create change on the campus.”

 

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