Zoe Jackson Digs into Race

A young, Black reporter takes on an untraditional beat at the Star Tribune. After two years on the job, she dropped her goals as a political reporter and found a new and profound goal, to find untold stories on minority communities.

Race and Immigration reporter at Minneapolis Star Tribune since 2021, Zoe Jackson.
Race and Immigration reporter at Minneapolis Star Tribune since 2021, Zoe Jackson.

Zoe Jackson dreamed of reporting on politics until she got hired by Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2021 and saw something new. And when Star Tribune editors saw her work up close during her 2019 Report for America internship, they knew they had something new, too.

“Zoe was doing great work. we knew she had a unique voice,” said Kyndell Harkness, the Star Tribune’s Assistant Managing Editor of Diversity/Community. “So, the fact that she could seamlessly go from reporting what would be called a traditional journalism story to different story forums and online platforms is very valuable.”

The Star Tribune couldn’t just let a unique voice go.

From Detroit, Jackson graduated Western Michigan University in 2019 and followed that with her Report for America internship covering politics. When she got hired full-time by the Star Tribune, she found herself on the race and immigration beat, partially because of who Jackson is inside and outside the newsroom.

“All of your experiences, all of who you are and all the different identities that you are,” Harkness said, “you bring that to work.”

As a Black woman, Jackson says she understands the struggles people of color face, including racism, discrimination and lack of safety. Harkness, her editor, said this broad beat was never really on any reporter’s top priorities to cover. Jackson had so much that she could report on from the start in the wake of multiple killings in the Twin Cities, including that of George Floyds and Daunte Wright.

“I want to write about this because literally everything intersects with race or immigration,” said Jackson, who, for example, wrote a story about how teachers talk to students about such killings.

According to Harkness, Jackson is an amazing reporter who is able to generate great stories about people despite her youth because she pays attention to her community.

“The fact that she’s quiet makes her a really good listener,” Harkness said. “And so, when she’s in spaces where people are talking, she’s a really able to capture the mood of a place, and she’s always watching, which is fantastic.”

In May 2020, when Jackson was working on politics, George Floyd was murdered by the Minneapolis Police Department’s Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of the crime. Communities were disrupted. In the after math, Jackson found people felt unsafe, even in their own homes. At the start of 2021, while Jackson was trying to cover stories, she says she struggled to capture the right tone and mood of everything.

In June 2020, Jackson was asked to be part of a team that covered Floyd’s funeral and reactions to the trauma from the community.

“It was just very emotional being there and with other reporters from all around the world,” Jackson said. “And I don’t know, they just don’t teach you in school about how real things get in the community after such a great trauma that happened.”

But Jackson wasn’t the only one struggling with the story, which happened as COVID-19 grew to a pandemic.

“It was tough being on the street,” Harkness said. “It was tough for editors to make the right decisions about what to do. Making sure that we had the right tone of stories that all people were going to be represented in terms of visuals, words, who we were talking to.”

As a race and immigration reporter, Jackson “brings a fuller picture with a richer story language,” Harkness said, adding that she is a reporter who makes you feel welcomed as well as someone you want to open up to easily without feeling judged.

Jackson enjoys the interactions with people she interviews. In January, she was working on a story about D.A. Bullock, an activist Jackson said is so compelling that he left her speechless.

“I’ve been thinking about it, it was like, so interesting,” she said, “just his take on the digital civil rights movement of the last few years and on being Black in Minnesota.”

This story is part of a series produced at ThreeSixty’s 2023 Winter News Team, spotlighting local journalists. Read more stories here.