The way that stories are presented in the media directly impacts how the audience interprets them, especially in the news. With mainstream news publications being dominated by white men, they often leave out the minority perspective. Even though the United States has the most racially diverse population globally, the stories of its people of color are often overshadowed or misinterpreted.
Well aware of this, Alabama State University alumnus Cyril Josh Barker works every day to combat the problem. As a journalist for the New York Amsterdam News, a well-established publication of the Black press, Barker provides the public with the true Black perspective.
“I document Black history every day,” he said. “I am so blessed and fortunate to work in the Black press because I can finally tell our story.”
Though he originates from Sacramento, California, Barker spent the bulk of his childhood growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As the son of Renee Butler and the late Douglas Barker, he remembers his childhood to be full of love and support. He developed a knack for the musical arts at a young age, eventually becoming a prodigy in the skill.
“I have been doing music since I was young,” Barker said. “From taking piano lessons as a kid to being in the band in high school, to being in the band at ASU! … Music was always something that I enjoyed.
He attended Tulsa Central High School, a magnet school of the fine arts. Though Barker had no intentions of pursuing a career in music, he dedicated many of his extracurriculars to honing his skills. Initially specializing in piano, he also took on the trumpet and eventually adopted the flute as a college student.
“[High school] was all about the music,” he said. “I was in marching band, concert band, jazz band, and all types of musical ensembles.”
Also, as a child, Barker held a growing interest in journalism. Stemming from his nosy nature, he dreamt of holding a position that allowed him to experience, investigate, and share.
“I remember just wanting to always be in the know of what was going on, knowing stuff first, getting information, and asking the right questions,” he said.
He was able to get a preview of his dream career during his senior year of high school. As a student, Barker participated in a Career Shadow Day, where he had the opportunity to work with a true journalist, a Black one at that. On this day, he covered a Groundhog’s Day Special where he interviewed and spoke with zookeepers at his local zoo about groundhogs. Marking the first day of his journalistic career, he had found his niche.
“I always say February 2nd of 2001 is my journalism anniversary because that was the first story I ever did in my life that got presented in the newspaper,” he said.
With aspirations of going to an HBCU and being part of an HBCU band, Barker took part in a nationwide HBCU college tour that would eventually lead him to the Hornet’s Nest. Along with the talent of the Marching Hornets and affordable costs, he was eventually sold on becoming a Hornet by learning about the print media-focused communications program offered.
As a student, he took part in activities that would strengthen his childhood interests. In the musical aspect, Barker joined the Marching Hornets, where he played the flute and briefly sang in the campus choir. In the social press aspects, he took part in Student Government Association (SGA), joined the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), and worked as an Arts & Entertainment Editor and University News Editor for The Hornet Tribune. Still holding big journalism aspirations, his work with The Hornet Tribune set him on a direct path.
“I had a dream of moving to New York City and being this flashy entertainment journalist working for Vibe Magazine, The Source Magazine, or something like that,” Barker said.
Considering all of his extracurriculars fed into his passions, he remembers his college experience to be full of great memories. He especially appreciates the lasting friendships created as a Hornet, as they are still as vivacious today as they were over a decade ago.
“There are people in the marching band who I still keep in touch with,” he said. “We live all across the country but still keep in touch…. I cherished my time at ASU. I just remember so many great things. From football games to being in the band to hanging out with friends on campus. It was just overall a great experience.”
Barker also appreciates the great minds that he was taught by. From his path in communications, he fondly remembers Ralph Bryson Ph.D., David Okweowo Ph.D., and Coke Ellington, M.S., as they set the tone for his career.
Referring to Ellington, Barker said, “A lot of the things I learned in his class I still use to this day as a 38-year-old journalist living in New York City.”
He also holds time spent with James Oliver, the director of University Bands, dearly. Though these classes were not required in his curriculum, Oliver shared many lessons of life with Barker.
“Yes, it was marching band, but there are life skills that I learned from him that carry me still to this day,” Barker said.
While an ASU student, Barker participated in two internships that would kick-start his career. During the summer of 2004, he served as an intern with The Montgomery Advertiser. It was at The Montgomery Advertiser where he first witnessed a mainstream newsroom as a productive member. He went on to earn an internship the following summer in New York City, New York, with the New York Amsterdam News, a publication of the Black press.
It was this real-world experience that allowed for his easy transition into the workforce upon graduation. In 2006, Barker graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications and shortly after was employed by The Montgomery Advertiser as a writer’s assistant. By assisting the writers of the publications with their own stories, he was able to pick up many tips and tricks from those more experienced, including how to drive a car. Eventually becoming their crime reporter, Barker made another step toward his dreams.
“It was really a great place to get the groundwork,” Barker said. “Working in a small market like Montgomery, the best place to work is a place like that. You can see how things work and if you make a mistake, you learn from it.”
He credits his growth within The Montgomery Advertiser to his unwavering support system, especially to his Executive Editor Wanda Lloyd. Lloyd recruited Barker for his internship and employment at the advertiser, and she continued to mentor him throughout his career.
“She was so inspirational to me and jump-started my career,” he said. “She knew that I was looking for a job, and she gave me my first job ever at The Advertiser. I credit her so much with a lot of my success. Even today, we still keep in touch. She paved the way for me.”
After almost two years with The Montgomery Advertiser, he took a major leap toward his dream. In 2007, Barker became the New York Amsterdam News’ newest asset. Now employed by this publication for the past 13 years, he has found his home within the Black press.
Due to his ample amount of experience, Barker has proved himself capable of reporting a wide variety of topics. Pre-pandemic, he took on stories regarding entertainment, education, social issues, and much more. He now leads the publication’s coverage of COVID-19 as he constantly investigates, researches, and reports the state of the pandemic to the public.
Though he has published countless articles with the New York Amsterdam News, Barker’s favorite article to date falls under the political realm. Coming from the angle of Black women in politics, he interviewed and wrote an article on the women of color running for local level elections in New York City.
“It was such an eye-opening experience to learn about the struggles that Black women go through when running for office,” Barker said. By documenting their experiences, he shared with the public the struggles with power dynamics, harassment in the workplace, financial turmoil, and more issues dealt with behind-the-scenes. He allowed for their voices to be amplified and heard when other mainstream programs might have suppressed them. “There have been a lot of stories, but right now, that one is probably my pride and glory.”
Moments such as these are what Barker finds most fulfilling about his line of work. By working in the Black press, he can showcase all of the struggles and successes of the Black community to all. In a society where minorities are often overlooked and misunderstood, he shares the stories of our reality in its truest fashion.
“There is always going to be a need for the Black press because our story needs to be told, and the only ones that can tell it are us,” he said.
With only 7.5% of journalists in the United States being Black, he stresses the dire need for the growth of the Black press. While he acknowledges the obstacles against Black students in the news world, Barker is proof that those challenges can be met, and then the possibilities are endless. Along with pushing for an increase in pipeline programs for aspiring journalists, he also serves as the internship coordinator at the New York Amsterdam News, where he paves the path for the next generation of Black journalists.
“I was an intern 15 years ago, so I know exactly what we are looking for. I know what the job entails,” Barker said. “I am so blessed to be able to return the favor and give students the opportunities in journalism that I was offered.”
Being multi-talented, he also oversees the digital aspects of the New York Amsterdam News. By managing the web design, podcasts, and more, he has found more interactive ways to share the Black perspective.
He has also adopted radio broadcasting as a form of a news outlet. He once served as a guest news commentator. He now makes weekly appearances as a co-host on WBAI Radio and “Express Yourself,” a radio show hosted by Imhotep Gary Byrd. Appealing to those who prefer to hear, rather than read the news, Barker is spreading his reach across New York City.
“I just love being in journalism, telling our stories, and giving my thoughts on a lot of different things,” he said.
Crediting much of his success to his friendly yet strong personality, he believes that his openness allows him to build trustworthy relationships with his associates of the New York Amsterdam News and the subjects of his stories. Knowing those are important qualities of a good reporter, Barker often tells his interns, “This is not the job to be shy.”
Through all of his work, he hopes to be known as a reliable someone. By producing reliably accurate and fair stories and being a person that his counterparts can rely on, Barker plans to keep a respectable reputation among not only the Black press but in the entire community of journalism.
“I am getting to that midpoint in my career where I am really starting to make an impact and build a reputation for myself,” he said. “The only place to go is up.”
In his personal time, Barker enjoys traveling. While he has previously visited destination sites such as Thailand, the Caribbean, and Mexico, the pandemic halted. his travels. In the meantime, he enjoys indulging in all the beauties that New York City has to offer.
“I love the arts,” he said. “I live in NYC, so I take in so many wonderful things it has to offer. From Broadway to the music scene to the many restaurants.”
Always looking to spread his reach, Barker is currently an active member of the NABJ, New York Urban League, the NewsGuild New York, and the former vice president of the New York Chapter of NABJ.
To students aspiring to go into journalism, he stresses the importance of real-world work experience. He advises that students take part in at least two off-campus internships, as they are the best simulations of the real thing. Considering both of his internships led to paid employment, Barker testifies that internships make one more marketable.
“This is an experience-based industry,” he said. “You have got to get real-world internships in newsrooms and publications.”
To Hornet Nation, Barker thanks all of the love and support given over the years. He appreciates the unity, family, and camaraderie that ASU provides. He specifically thanks ASU for connecting him to the late George H. Andrews, the former President of the New York Chapter of the ASU Alumni Association. He credits Andrew for his easy acclimation to New York City and for being someone to go to in time of need.
“He [Andrew] was such a big help,” Barker said. “He is no longer here, but his legacy lives on.”
A legacy that lives on through Barker’s massive impact within the Black press.