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Gotham Gigs: A Bed-Stuy reporter shines a light on central Brooklyn


Zawadi Morris worked in media relations for more than a decade before writing her first news article—and it was published in The New York Times. "It was unpaid, but I didn't care," she said.

It was late 2008 and Morris was running her own PR firm in Bedford-Stuyvesant when she saw a Times ad seeking contributors for its new neighborhood blogs.

At the time, Morris recalls, she was frustrated by the way the media covered the Brooklyn neighborhoods that she calls home. "We know there's crime, but there are other things too," she said. "I made it my mission to uncover the diamonds in the community."

Keeping her day job, she became an unpaid Brooklyn stringer for the paper. In 2010 she was hired as Bed-Stuy editor at AOL's Patch, filling the homepage with stories about local businesses and personalities. Readership grew.

In 2013 Patch suspended its coverage for several months, but Morris found enough advertising support from local merchants and civic leaders to launch her own news site, BKReader, which she still runs from her home.

Now in its fourth year, BKReader covers central Brooklyn, with four freelance reporters posting six to eight pieces a day. She said it gets 35,000 to 45,000 unique hits a month.

"My goal was to get an underserved community to feel they can engage with the news and current events without feeling like they're being targeted," she said. "To let people start seeing themselves as part of the fabric of society."

Originally from Chicago, Morris did not grow up in a family that discussed current events—or the past—which is why she didn't learn until age 17 that her great-grandparents, Big Mama and Bud, played a role in a pivotal event of the Civil Rights era.

On the phone one day, Big Mama announced, "Some people called the house asking about 'dem boys. They're making a movie."

"Dem boys," Morris' mother explained, referred to three civil rights workers who came to Neshoba County, Miss., in 1964 to register black voters. Big Mama and Bud hosted two of them at their home. While driving out of town, the three activists were kidnapped, dragged into the woods and murdered by local members of the Ku Klux Klan.

The movie turned out to be Mississippi Burning, and its 1988 release had a profound effect on Morris.

She started doing family research while in college, traveling to the South to interview relatives about their experiences. She plans to write a book.

"Black families don't like to talk about painful histories," she said. "But we are all tied to these stories, and that history plays a role in who we are today."


C. Zawadi Morris

AGE: 47

BORN: Chicago

RESIDES: Bedford-Stuyvesant

EDUCATION: Bachelor's in business and Spanish, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; master's in journalism, Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism

PERSONAL TOUCH: Morris is undaunted by the shuttering of local news sites DNAinfo and Gothamist. "Hyperlocal news doesn't scale. Authentic local news is about developing local relationships."

TRAINING: BKReader offers 10-week internships to college students interested in media careers. About 25 interns have cycled through the program.

TEACHING: Morris teaches media courses at RestorationArt Youth Arts Academy in Bed-Stuy and after-school workshops called Young Journalists in Training through the city Department of Cultural Affairs.

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