National award-winning journalist Libor Jany uses empathy, compassion, casual style to get the stories communities need.
by Aliyah Baker and Julie Perez
Libor Jany’s reporting style has always left a lasting impression on Liz Sawyer, a police reporter with the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She remembered a time when Jany had to write a story about a mother whose three young children died in a house fire while the mom was at work.
She had left them alone at home because she had no one to care for them – and the furnace caught on fire. In that moment, Jany needed to get the details, but also needed to be sensitive about the tragedy.
“He understood in that moment to not approach the grieving mother,” Sawyer said. “He gave her space and he found other people on the periphery to get the story. So it’s about having the social intelligence to know when you should be talking to immediate relatives.”
Reporter Libor Jany always finds a way to open the door. Jany now covers the Los Angeles Police Department for The Los Angeles Times after an award-winning career as a public safety reporter with Sawyer at the Star Tribune that included the Journalist of the Year award from the National Association of Black Journalists and a team Pulitzer Prize in 2021.
Many of his colleagues would say he wins those awards because he’s in journalism for the right reasons.
“One of the biggest cliches about journalism is (we’re) trying to give a voice to the voiceless, right?” Jany said in a Zoom interview with ThreeSixty Journalism. “Trying to give people that normally, their stories and their plights wouldn’t necessarily be heard or see the light of day, giving them a platform and getting their perspective out there. … That’s still something that sort of motivates me is that even in this day and age, even with social media and everybody having like technically having a platform, there’s still some points of view and some perspectives that are privileged over others. And so I think it’s important for reporters to tell the stories of folks that couldn’t tell the stories themselves.”
Jany grew up in St. Paul and graduated from Highland Park High School. He studied mass communication at Mississippi State University and got his first internship as a sports intern at The Trentonian in New Jersey. He then worked for the Star Tribune for nearly 10 years before going to the L.A. Times.
Sawyer says people mistake him as a reporter who’s just trying to get a story out of someone. But that’s not him.
“Libor checks in on people even when he doesn’t need a story,” Sawyer said.
Jany covered public safety before during and after the shootings of George Floyd, Daunte Wright and others, which put the Twin Cities on the national and international stages. But with stories big and small, he takes pride in getting stories from people who aren’t necessarily in power.
“It’s important for reporters to tell the story of folks who couldn’t get the chance to tell the stories themselves or wouldn’t have the ability to get their voices heard,” he said.
What motivates him is that even though social media gives many people a platform, there are still points of view and perspectives that are more privileged than others.
“Words are powerful, right? Words can be harmful or non-harmful depending on how you’re using them or how they are wielded,” Jany said. “Using language that conveys compassion, and doesn’t have an unnecessary judgment on people, and doesn’t diminish their humanity — that’s what I strive for.”
Expressing this humanity and empathy, Jany said, are so important when it comes to getting people to talk to you. He explained that working with police and activists is especially challenging because they tend to have a natural wariness or distrust of reporters. Both sides feel like they haven’t been covered well or fairly by media.
“There’s people who don’t want to mess with you or don’t want to talk to you because of the organizations that you work for,” he said. “And you try to explain to them, ‘Hey, that might have happened in the past, but you know, I’m new, I want to hear your story and write it in good of faith.’”
So how does Jany connect with people and what makes him different from the rest?
Sawyer says Jany is a casual and humble person. For instance, when the Star Tribune staff won a Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News for coverage of George Floyd, he didn’t want the credit.
“During the award ceremony, instead of allowing people to congratulate him and give him in the spotlight, he spent most of the evening talking to interns and learning more about them,” Sawyer said.
She said Jany wears T-shirts and jeans to work and in the field, which is one of many ways he’s influenced her in reporting, including taking the time to stay in touch with everyone he meets along the way.
“(He reaches) out to people even when you don’t need them,” she said. “Just knowing you care for other people, will make it easier when you have to do a story.”
- Name: Libor Jany
- Hometown: St. Paul
- News Organization: L.A. Times
- Job Title/Beat: Police Beat Reporter
- Years in journalism: 9 years at Star Tribune, 1 year at L.A. Times
- Past Affiliations/Outlets: Trentonian, The News-Times, Santa Cruz Sentinel
- Education/School/Major/Degree: Mississippi State University, Communications Major
- Hobbies: Traveling, eating, watching/playing sports
- What did you want to be when you were a kid? A foreign correspondent
- Food: Bánh mì
- Role Model: Parents
- Journalism hero: Al Martinez
- Quote/Mantra: “Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder ‘why, why, why? ‘ Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he understand.” Kurt Vonnegut
- What’s the future of journalism in this market? Promising. There are plenty of indie journalists out there doing dope and important work. Same goes for relatively new outlets like Sahan Journal and the Reformer.
- What should diversity/inclusion look like in our newsrooms in the Twin Cities? Reflective of the communities they cover. And not just in the reporting ranks, but also editors and other decision-makers.
This story is part of a series produced at ThreeSixty’s 2023 Winter News Team, spotlighting local journalists. Read more stories here.