• Meg Kinnard

Updated: May 31, 2019

I felt like I had lived the entirety of the saga that began the night of June 17, 2015, when a lone stranger walked into a Wednesday night Bible study at Mother Emanuel AME Church. That night, the night that the shooter carved out his own space in infamy by shattering the lives of nine of God's faithful, I was just blocks away, spending the evening at my family's downtown Charleston home. As soon as word of the tragedy spread, I went to work on the story, work that didn't truly stop until he was sentenced to death a year and a half later.

In that time, I felt like I got to know the families of those who became known worldwide as the Charleston Nine, those whose lives had been snuffed out by a man filled with hate and loathing. Sitting through weeks of preliminary hearings and the trial that followed, I felt like I understood their stories, their grief, their yearning to know why their lives had been allowed to be altered by this tremendous loss. During the days on end of brutally raw and painful testimony from the men and women who had suffered the kind of loss that hopefully most of us will never know, I sat among other reporters, pecking away at our laptops in an attempt to chronicle the history playing out before us.

We all had pieces of the story. But only one of us, through untold hours of diligence, has truly gotten her arms around the full picture of Emanuel, of the realities of the families, their struggles and what the whole awful circumstance has meant not only for South Carolina but for the world. Her name is Jennifer Berry Hawes, and her book - Grace Will Lead Us Home- is, simply put, amazing.

Masterfully - and in a way that, if you've ever read any of her work, is beautifully familiar - Jen tells the story of Emanuel, of each person involved, from the victims and their loved ones to the shooter and his own disturbing and sad circumstances. Like no other writer has been able to do, she truly lived and breathed this story that is now part of history, portraying the difficult realities the massacre caused in the lives of each person directly affected by it and delving into how a sacred space that had been a home base for these nine people nearly fell apart in the aftermath of their deaths. Some are stories of growth after tragedy. Some are tales of sorrow and continued darkness. In any event, Jen has preserved the truth of Emanuel and what we can learn from it in a way that is incomparable.

If I'm being honest, I have to make a confession: Jen Berry Hawes is my favorite journalist. Period. She has been for some time, though this is the first time I have ever publicly said it or written it. I've admired her for many years and look up to her as a journalist, woman and human being. I've been reluctant to say it for fear of offending many of the other amazing writers in my field - especially in the South Carolina press corps - but she deserves to be singled out. She gets to write the big picture stuff and go into the details that are limited for a wire service writer like me. But rather than being jealous of her - and I certainly could be - I have always silently and privately cheered her on, and I've been so proud of everything she's accomplished in her career at The Post and Courier. Her stories rip at your heart and teach lessons that are lifelong.

Grace Will Lead Us Home is no exception. Though I lived through the same trial, in reading the book I learned, cried, smiled and couldn't put it down.

Simply, I want everyone to read it. For better or worse, I had a front seat to history in what happened at Emanuel, and my duties as a journalist and South Carolinian compelled me to share that story with the world. But what Jen has done with this book, which is widely available June 4, is above and beyond any reflection anyone else could produce. I'm honored to call Jen a colleague and friend, and I hope that you will learn from and appreciate her incredible work, as I have.

You can preorder her book at this link: https://amzn.to/2XeoXdD

And you should.


  • Meg Kinnard

A picture of me not writing a story about a poll.

It's already happened a few times this year. A campaign or a political party has hired a polling firm to conduct a poll, and found a way to spin the results into a favorable story for their candidate. Immediately, I'm getting calls from the communications staff, being bombarded with emails, and my Twitter feed is filled with tweets about how candidate X is either winning, gaining or within the margin of error. Now, let me ask you something: When was the last time that you saw a candidate make an announcement that said, "BIG NEWS: Recent poll shows we're definitely losing, just as we long suspected!" You've never seen one? Me either. And that's why I'm not going to write a story about your poll. Fortunately for me, The Associated Press agrees, and recently revised the AP Stylebook to give reporters a really good excuse to just say no when we get yelled at by campaign spokespeople because we're really just not into their polling data. According to the Stylebook's new entry: The mere existence of a poll is not enough to make it news. Do not feel obligated to report on a poll or survey simply because it meets AP’s standards.

Poll results that seek to preview the outcome of an election must never be the lead, headline or single subject of any story. Pre-election horse race polling can and should inform reporting on political campaigns, but no matter how good the poll or how wide a candidate’s margin, results of pre-election polls always reflect voter opinion before ballots are cast. Voter opinions can change before Election Day, and they often do.

I underlined the sentences above because in the past few days, I've been questioned by campaigns, and I've seen journalists criticized by spokespeople for not writing stories about the mere existence of polls, and because they didn't lead a story with the results of their candidate's poll. This might blow your mind, but there is literally a candidate running for office in South Carolina, who tweeted the following, last week: We recently got a poll back that says we are within 6 points of defeating (our opponent). People are excited to bring much-needed change to our communities and to Washington. Donate today to help narrow that 6-point gap even more. Now, when I saw the tweet, I giggled and moved on, but then something strange (yes, stranger than that tweet) happened. Some people started tweeting at me, telling me that I should be writing a story about the poll. Which poll? The one they "recently got back," of course. This gets better. When another reporter did reach out to them to ask them from where they received this polling information, they refused to reveal it. At this point, I should have just hit mute, but I engaged one of my followers and explained why this is not news. He's smart, and understood. But c'mon guys. Really? I'm just supposed to believe you "recently got a poll," like I recently found a $20 bill lying on the ground? Let's say that I wrote about your stork-delivered poll as though it came from a legit source and got all of my readers to jump on your propaganda bandwagon. And then your opponent sent a tweet that they ALSO "recently got back" a poll saying they were beating you by 50 points. Simply put, I don't have time to play those games. No reporter does.

Even if you are willing to reveal the source of your poll, it still probably isn't going to be news. And if it is, I'm going to add it as background information in a larger story - much like a reporter whom I greatly respect did recently. A campaign paid to have a poll conducted, made a PR pitch about the results, and then accused this reporter of "burying the lede" because they didn't lead their story with it. The campaign should be counting their lucky stars that a reporter of his ilk would have even bothered to add it to his story. And guess what? Later in the day, the spokesperson for the opposing campaign announced that they had a poll debunking the other poll. I literally laughed out loud, when I saw it.

So, look. I get how all of this works. You have to do what you have to do to keep momentum going and to gain positive press. But if you start criticizing reporters when we don't buy into the propaganda, then you're going to be in for a long, frustrating campaign. So, take it easy, tweet until your heart is content, and be happy if we include it in our stories. Even if it's in the last paragraph of a larger piece.

With that said, if an independent poll that meets AP standards comes out in your favor, I very-well may write about it. Or ... I might not. Because if 2016 taught us anything, it's that the old cliche, "the only poll that matters is on election day," is true.


  • Meg Kinnard

I'll be 38 next month. With 40 on the horizon, it's time to start thinking about the next phase of life. I never went to journalism school, but I've never felt that I needed to. I learned everything I needed to know about being a reporter from my time at The Georgetown Independent, The Washington Post, National Journal and The Associated Press. I'm convinced that this hands-on training prepared me for my career in a way that a traditional J-school may not have been able to.

I'm keenly aware, however, that times are changing, and in order to stay relevant in my field, I need to make sure that I'm able to mix my old-school training with modern techniques and be able to remain competitive with the next generation of journalists.

So, because of that, I'm excited to announce that I've been accepted into a highly-competitive program at The University of North Carolina. I'm going to be a Tar Heel! This fall, I'll start working on a 3-year master's degree in digital communication at their School of Media and Journalism. I'll have to make a couple of trips to Chapel Hill, but I'll be able to do most of the work right here in South Carolina.

This is only step one of three, as I plan to pursue a Ph.D and finish my professional career by - one day - teaching the next generation of young journalists. There's no doubt that the time I've spent - and continue to spend - at The University of Tennessee at Martin as a guest lecturer, commencement speaker and friend of the university has inspired me, and reminded me of the importance of higher education. I'm so thankful for the opportunities that this special place has given me. I'll be forever grateful.

There's nothing wrong with having goals and working to achieve them. And when you have the support system that I have, there's no excuse not to pursue them. How will I manage to juggle being a wife, mom, a reporter and go back to school? Well, let me introduce you to my husband. He's my greatest coach, my biggest fan, and I know he's got my back.

It also goes without saying that my mom, who wrote the book on over-achieving, has set the bar high, and she continues to push and support me in whatever I want to do. I know I'm fortunate to have them both, and I don't take it for granted.

So, with that, here we go. On to the next great adventure! It's an honor to have been accepted to such a prestigious and well-respected university and journalism school. Go Heels!

(But Hoya Saxa, for life.)

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