April Ryan talks journalism, politics at Power of Culture and Contribution luncheon in Alabama

April Ryan talks journalism, politics at Power of Culture and Contribution luncheon in Alabama
April Ryan speaks at the Power of Culture and Contribution luncheon in Birmingham. (Christopher Jones / Alabama NewsCenter)

As the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks, April Ryan has become a fixture in the nation’s capital and among the White House press pool for more than 20 years.

In that time, she’s covered four presidents.

She has also seen many changes in politics and in journalism.

Ryan spoke about those changes and more as the keynote speaker at the Power of Culture and Contribution luncheon in Birmingham Monday.

“Sometimes we forget, when we get so high, that power is about the people in service, and sometimes we’ve got to go back to the old ways of doing things,” she said. “This thing (holding her smartphone) — and I tell you from watching from the highest office in the land for the last 22 years — this thing will help you organize, but this thing (pointing to her feet and legs) and a bunch of people marching down the road will get you your power. You guys are the cradle of this blueprint, but sometimes we forget.”

April Ryan speaks in Birmingham for Power of Culture and Contribution luncheon from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

She covered topics ranging from her controversial confrontation with President Donald Trump during a press conference to what young journalists should learn about being the story versus covering the story.

Ryan said she wrote her latest book, “Under Fire: Reporting from the Front Lines of the Trump White House,” to tell her story rather than having others tell it.

“To take the narrative back, to explain what has happened,” Ryan told Alabama NewsCenter after the luncheon. “People will tell you what they think has happened, but this (pointing to her book) tells you the details from the inception to now almost as to what has been going on, and it’s important for people to read that, to make up their own minds. I don’t bash, but I just tell the truth.”

Seeking the truth should be what journalists and all citizens desire most, she said.

“We have gone out of the realm of Walter Cronkite ‘that’s the way it was.’ We are now in an era where social media dominates who gets the news the quickest, and sometimes it’s not as accurate,” Ryan said. “We have to really focus on facts and the delivery system changed since I started. Now we have endless news coming from everywhere, be it on the internet, be it our phone, be it cable — we are bombarded with news, sometimes it’s too much, but it’s always happening. It’s ever-present. Everything, everyone has a story.”

Ryan said we all have a responsibility.

“Ultimate power means service, and you can even say that for the electricity,” she said in a nod the event’s sponsor, Alabama Power. “Power means service to others. It’s not about me. It’s about what I can do for you.”

Ultimately, she said, it’s about making the nation better.

“This is a great country,” Ryan said. “We have some flaws. We’re in a moment of trying to find ourselves. We’re going through growing pains, but we have to remember we’re going through this all together. We are still ‘We the People,’ still forming a more perfect union. We’re in a strange space, but we’ve got things we’ve got to figure out, and if people remember that the squeaky wheel gets oiled, and that old blueprint of marching and coming in numbers, it still stands. People will make a difference — on any issue. It’s not just on race, it’s not just on immigration, on any issue.”

Ryan said she would like to see social media become a more useful tool than a source of consternation and instigation.

“It’s a good thing, but there are some downsides,” she said. “Everyone is a citizen journalist and they have a phone and can put something out, but does it always necessarily follow the standard guidelines of journalism? People take that initial piece as fact, but it’s hard to bring it back if it’s not true. That’s the thing that bothers me, and we have to implore that more people look at what they’re putting out and making sure that it’s fact. Don’t put something out to put something out. Make sure it’s right.”

Her book and speeches at events like the Power of Culture and Contribution luncheon allow her to be seen beyond the sound bite on CNN or a question at a press conference.

“I think people got to see who I really am today,” she said. “I love coming speaking to people and telling the story, creating my narrative versus letting someone else create my narrative.”

At the luncheon, Sam Martin of the Foundation for Progress in Journalism presented Ryan with the FPJ Medal of Honor in recognition of her contributions to the journalism profession.

Ryan said she always returns to D.C. with the same determination to seek the truth on behalf of the public.

“It is a lofty perch that everyone doesn’t get to sit in or be in that bubble, and it’s really rare for people like me, especially, to have this longevity,” Ryan said. “I’m thankful and I’m blessed, but the White House is a mystery. I think I bring a little bit more of an understanding to it when I speak. I pull the veil off of that mystery a little bit to let you know what’s going on.”

Watch the entire luncheon program below:

During Black History Month, Alabama NewsCenter is celebrating the culture and contributions of those who have shaped our state and those working to elevate Alabama today. Visit AlabamaNewsCenter.com throughout the month for stories of Alabamians past and present.

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