Journalist April Ryan on a career of building relationships and breaking down barriers

Ragan CEO Diane Schwartz interviewed the esteemed journalist at Ragan’s Top Women in Communications Awards.

As Washington Bureau Chief and White House Correspondent for TheGrio, Ryan has covered the affairs of the Oval Office since the Clinton administration. As the only Black female reporter covering urban issues from the White House, she’s gleaned unparalleled insight into the presidency through the lens of her identity and lived experience.

During Ragan’s Top Women in Communications Awards at New York City’s City Winery, Ryan sat down with Ragan CEO Diane Schwartz and shared her story with an audience of top-flight comms pros, offering words of advice to those looking to advance through the ranks of the journalism field.

An unprecedented moment

The keynote chat between Ryan and Schwartz began by covering the title of Ryan’s new book — “Black Women Will Save the World: An Anthem.” When asked about why she chose that title for the book, Ryan gave a poignant response.

“Black women will continue to save the world — the anthem is to keep repeating it,” she said.

Ryan added that now is an important time in history and it needs to be recognized as such.

“We’re in an unprecedented moment, and if you don’t mark it, you’ll forget it or it’ll never be there at all,” she said.

“To see a woman who identifies as Black as the sitting vice president and a Black woman on the Supreme Court is something we’ve never seen before. Black women are really something, but we often don’t get the credit for who we are and what we’ve achieved.”

Getting the story from the commander-in-chief

With so many people in the White House Press Corps, it can often be a challenge getting a truly unique story to tell out of POTUS or his people. But Ryan’s perspective and experience help her get the most she can out of the most powerful person on the planet.

“It’s all about being yourself and being authentic,” Ryan said. “Don’t put on airs. Be who you are.”

Ryan added that she’s often brought into the room to help the president and their team understand issues of race in America, and how that perspective makes her work valuable.

“I think back to covering President Clinton in the 1990s who was working to heal the racial divide in the country,” she remembered. “He looked at journalists like me as people who could tell those stories because they had experiences outside of his own.”

Advice for the next generation of communicators

With decades of journalistic experience, Ryan was happy to provide advice for those who wish to follow in her footsteps. She said that relationships are key for any up-and-coming communicator.

“Form relationships with the reporters you’re working with,” said Ryan. “Be honest, because truthfulness is the best quality you can have as a public relations person.”.

She explained how something as seemingly simple as communicating about source access can foster honesty.

“Some of the best PR people I deal with are honest with me when they can’t get a source, but they’ll offer to get me a quote instead,” Ryan said. “That’s the sort of thing I really need.”

Ryan also offered some advice for writers who might be burned with writer’s block by whatever they’re trying to put together, whether it’s a story or a comms initiative they’re working on.

“It often comes down to a change of location,” she said. “Leave your house or whatever situation you’re writing in. There might be things or people calling your name at home or at work — a new location will help clear your mind and give you the inspiration you need.”

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.

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