The Nontraditional Route: In Conversation with Astead Herndon 

Astead Herndon shakes hands with President Biden


By Elise McGlothian


Astead Herndon is a national political reporter for The New York Times. He was previously a Washington-based political reporter and a City Hall reporter for The Boston Globe.  


As an undergraduate at the Marquette University in Wisconsin, Astead took a year off to work inside of a classroom through AmeriCorps. His experience eventually landed him a reporting fellowship – sparking a successful career in journalism 


As a finale to our series on Black Communicators, I spoke with Astead about his career as a political journalist and what needs to change so that more minorities can make it to top-tier positions like his. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.  


New York Times Reporter and CNN Political Analyst Astead Herndon


How did you get to where you are now with The New York Times, and did you always want to write about politics?  


I was always interested in politics, but I never really thought of being a political journalist. When I went to college, I thought I wanted to work in politics, like as a speech writer. But then I worked on one campaign, and I hated it! So, I switched to sports journalism. 


I took off a year in college to teach in schools through AmeriCorps. When I came back to campus, I wanted to know how I could marry these two things. I got an education-reporting internship, which was my first time trying to do non-sports journalism. That experience was eye opening for me. I leaned on the values of truth and accountability, which I enjoyed a lot more than electoral party work.  


We met at a National Association of Black Journalism (NABJ) Convention and Career Fair. So, what role has NABJ played in your career? 


First, it’s a support system and connection network. In college, I met other people at NABJ who were interested in the thing I was also interested in, so it was a way to create community. There are people I only see once a year – at NABJ – who I enjoy seeing, and that’s something that I like.  


I also think it’s a network of people who really care. When I was taught about journalism in college, I was taught that you have to be dispassionate and distant from the work. NABJ is a real proof point against that. People really care, and people have pride in their communities. NABJ taught me that you don’t have to choose between your value set and the profession, but that you can make those types of pathways.  


We’ve seen you on national television news outlets for a while now. How did you land your role as an analyst on networks like CNN? 


When I first started guest commentating, CNN and MSNBC came directly to me and asked. I always made sure I was respectful of my day job. It couldn’t conflict with things I needed to do at The Times.  


There were other Black journalists who advocated for me to get a stable analyst role. I’m talking about journalists like Abby Phillip, Nia-Malika Henderson, and Juana Summers, who were there when I was starting. Now, I’m signed with CNN, so I only appear on their network. But there were a lot of Black people who supported me and helped me to land that position.  


Is it hard to stay neutral when covering politicsDoes our new administration make your work easier?  


For me, the goal is fairness. The goal is transparency. I think journalists need to present the information and help folks understand. Our baseline is about truth and accountability. If you are guided by those lights, then there will be stories to write. I don’t worry about every story being a 50/50 split because I don’t actually think that’s the way that these values work in this particular era. Obviously, the administration that left is unique, but there will be things that the new administration is not telling the truth about, there will be things that are not clear, and there will be solutions that fall on ways that we have to indict. I think journalists need to become comfortable doing that, and I don’t think that changes just by who’s in the White House. 


NYT Political Reporter Astead Herndon shaking hands with President Biden


Do you think that you’ll stay a political reporter? 


I don’t know. I mean, I think we’ll ride this train, and we might write a different one later on, so I’m not sure. 


You’re a Black man in a predominately White Industry. What is your advice for getting more people of color into the news business?  


I think that it is more of a problem of pipeline and support. We’ve had a real erosion of local news in this country, which is obviously a place where people are able to learn the trade and get the kind of pipeline and tools to make it to places like The New York TimesI was very fortunate to get an internship in The Boston Globe that turned into a job. It created a path for me. I don’t know if that pathway exists in the same way anymore.  


It’s also a problem of managers needing to see outside the traditional qualifications. I think about the first time I got an education reporting internship. I wasn’t a member of our school paper, and I had never been in a newsroom. It was virtually a newsroom saying, “Hey, you worked in a school for a year, and you like to write. We can teach you what journalism looks like.” If that didn’t happen for me, then I probably wouldn’t have been on this path. You have to be willing to see people’s experiences and their passion, and then teach them the tools of journalism. I think we need to open our eyes to different ways and be creative about pathways. But we also need more financial support for the traditional pathways of local news, so that people can stay in journalism for longer. 


What else would you tell Black Journalists?  


I think you have to do the basics, and you need to trust your story ideas. You also want to be in a place where you can convince people to believe in your ideas.  


When I got to the Times, I wanted to write about misinformation, violence, whiteness and the Republican Party. It wasn’t going to happen when I first showed up. I had to write stories to grow within the organization and convince my editor that I was someone they could trust. I think that is true across the board. You can lean on others to get better, but you also need to make sure you’re producing at a consistent rate.  


I would also say, “Don’t be pushed into a box that you don’t want. That can work both ways. They can try to make you a social justice reporter when you don’t want to be that. They can try to make you into a copy, or a tan version, of some of your White colleagues. Don’t be that. You have to resist being put into that box.  


Where are you from?  


I’m from the South Suburbs of Chicago.  


Do you feel community pride in where you are now and how your career has progressed? 


I feel pride, but I really feel responsibility. I feel a sense of responsibility to the places I came from, to the people who invested in meand to make sure I tell those type of stories that live up to their support 


remember when people would only show up to my community when there were murders and fires. I remember when we expected the media to say certain things about Black people.  


I know the power of media, and I think about using our voice and position to break through some of that stuff. I feel pride in my work. I think back over the last three years, and I think I told the stories that I thought were important. I think about how the people who invested me are getting the stories they deserve.  



About Astead Herndon:  


Astead Herndon is a national politics reporter at The New York Times and a political analyst for CNN. Before joining The New York Times in 2018, Herndon held several reporter positions at The Boston Globe. Most recently, he was a national politics reporter, covering the Trump White House. He also spent time as a City Hall reporter and a general assignment Metro reporter. 

About The Author

Elise McGlothian

Elise McGlothian


Elise thrives when creating a positive social impact through communications. She has a passion for equitably relaying information and moving people to support organizations tackling critical social challenges – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about Elise.