A packed house, comprised of a healthy mix of students and community members, filled auditorium seats at Seeley G. Mudd Hall on the campus of Johns Hopkins University (JHU) near downtown Baltimore on the evening of Tuesday, September 12, 2017.
The featured attraction was April Ryan, the notable newswoman who became nationally renowned following a February press conference, when President Donald Trump asked her if she could “setup a meeting” with the Congressional Black Caucus. In a March press briefing, then-press secretary Sean Spicer, criticized her for “shaking her head.”
Ryan spoke at a special event dubbed “JHU Forums on Race in America.” Her talk focused on “Race, Politics, and the Changing Face of Journalism.”
In a relaxed face-to-face interview with Tracey Reeves, JHU’s Director of Media Relations, Ryan fielded several diverse topics including her personal relationship with the President to cramped conditions inside the James S. Brady White House Briefing Room where she and fellow journalists attend and participate in press conferences.
During Ryan’s 20-year career as a journalist, she has worked in various mediums including gospel, jazz and news radio in her native Baltimore, leading to her current gig as a White House Bureau Chief for American Urban Radio Networks (AURN).
When asked about her choices for a college major, in retrospect, Ryan told a student that her first major in history or law, or other subjects away from journalism. She explained that becoming versed on a specific subject is generally beneficial in her field – adding that expertise in broadcast-journalism could be gained at a latter stage in the educational process. “Maybe minor in journalism,” she added.
Regardless of her process, Ryan’s focus on education has paid off.
In her current role at AURN, the Northwest Baltimore native works for the only African-American media outlet in the White House, with a network of more than 300 stations nationwide and nearly 20 million listeners each week. She is also a regular contributor and political analyst on CNN.
In 1985, she graduated from Baltimore’s Seton-Keough High School, a private Catholic high school that closed its doors for good, last June due to decreased enrollments and increased operating costs.
When Reeves, asked Ms. Ryan about her initial reaction when President Trump took office, Ryan replied, “I knew it was going to be much different [than the previous administration].
She noted that during President [Bill] Clinton’s era, the Oval Office was literally accessible to the press. Things changed during President George W. Bush’s terms.
“Things were more closed-off, and it got even tighter during President Obama’s tenure,” she said.
When asked how she feels history will eventually judge President Trump, Ryan quickly responded, “So far, hectic, chaotic and divisive.”
Additionally, on the controversial topic of “Fake News vs. Real News,” Ryan said the rise of Facebook, is a major culprit in allowing non-journalists a vehicle to create and allow unconfirmed stories a chance to reach vulnerable audiences.
She also briefly discussed a public rift between herself and Trump staffer Omarosa Manigault. The two were friends before political differences created a split in their relationship. A verbal spat outside of former White House spokesman Sean Spicer’s office, nearly resulted in physical blows, according to Ryan.
On the subject of Presidential Tweets, she said the President’s use of social media, namely Twitter, has become a “game-changer” primarily because in past administrations, press conferences generated official White House content. Now, “you have to run around and be able to react quickly,” because those Tweets have now become ‘Presidential’— more than the Press Secretary.”
She said that doesn’t feel responsible for always asking questions related to minority issues. Instead, she asks questions that impact the overall populous, but “if I need to go-there, I will,” she said. Especially if vital issues pertinent to blacks aren’t being addressed.
Ryan also noted that she has received death threats in her role. “Why? Because I ask valid questions. No, I’m not scared. Remember, I’m from Baltimore,” she quipped with a smile.