The ‘State’ of Baltimore’s Alanah Nichole Davis

The ‘State’ of Baltimore: When a Means to Information is Threatened: Documenting and Preserving History to Avert a Culture of Silence

By Camille Cruse

The ‘State’ of Baltimore session will be held from 11:30 am – 1:00 pm in the Auditorium at the Meyerhoff.

On April 20th, a panel of informed and respected journalists, scholars, and thought wranglers will discuss this year’s 21st CityLit Festival theme, Dismantling the Culture of Silence. Inside the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the fragility of factual reporting, challenges to information, and reliable resources will be at the center of the conversation. Journalists, scholars, editors, and radio hosts representing six dynamic and trusted outlets will gather for a discussion moderated by head writer Alanah Nichole Davis. Having traveled an alternate path to reporting, Davis views her role as a reporter with fewer guardrails. She likens her perspective to having a community lens, analyzing the adaptation of stories and how they are fed back to those it affects.

CityLit’s Camille Cruse caught up with Davis to ask her about her style of weeding out the nonsense to get to the facts.

“I was a community organizer who jumped into journalism. Some people go to Journalism school, get an internship, and go directly into the newsroom. Lots of newsrooms have cultures that mimic an old guard of journalism that has proved itself time and time again to be toxic. However, now we are seeing the emergence of newsrooms and reporters, like myself, who come from the community side and want to read the truth.”

Davis admits that the “truth” can present itself with different narratives, so all sides must be heard for the public and the community to feel informed. Says Davis, “Two truths or more can exist at once.”

Choosing to serve is at Davis’ core. She is an avid volunteer and champion of causes around Baltimore, describing herself as a professional board member.

“I am big on serving my community. I am on the Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts District board, the board for Charm Voices of Baltimore Youth, Dent Education, and more.”

Davis moderates panel discussions in her pursuit of supporting diverse voices. On Saturday, she will help audience members get to know Lisa Snowden, Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of BALTIMORE BEAT; Cara Ober, artist, curator, and the founding editor and publisher at BMOREArt; Savannah Wood, Artist and Executive Director of AFRO CHARITIES, a champion and preserver of Black stories with historical significance; Maynard 200 and West Baltimore neighborhood and community reporter for The BALTIMORE BANNER Jasmine Vaughn-Hall; Ashley Sterner, a voice of radio for nearly 20-years, host of Morning Edition at WYPR, Baltimore’s NPR News Station; and Historian and postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Lauren Feldman. Feldman is the Project Coordinator of JHU HARD HISTORIES. This public history initiative examines the histories of racism and discrimination at the university.

The discussion includes tackling a new voice that is making its way into every conversation: AI. Examining the ever-growing number of video essays posted to social media can be exhausting. In light of AI, the identity and discernment of deepfakes are a consistent whack-a-mole job. Davis wants the panel to share with the audience the precautions that media outlets and scholars are taking to combat the impostors.

“We’ve all got aunts and uncles on Facebook where you see them share a posting, and you’re like, that’s just not true.”

When asked about her moderating style and what she hopes to get out of the panel participants, Davis reflected on the anticipated representatives and then offered.

“I’m excited to talk publicly at a Literature festival because the public needs to be face-to-face with its truth-tellers. We need to be able to hold them accountable for what they say they’re going to do, which is to be ethical. So, I’m excited to ask questions about ethics. I’m excited to ask questions about newsroom culture. And I’m excited to ask questions around, you know, reporting being in a predominantly Black city, in a city that faces redlining, in a city that, you know, has all sorts of social determinants of health and identity that I think affect its residents, especially its Black and Brown residents and even more recently we’re seeing that in the Key Bridge collapse, how it impacts the LatinX community. And how important it is to be timely, honest, and, you know, compassionate in our reporting.”

As for challenging the panel, Alanah Nichole Davis wishes to address how their organizations respond to feedback and explore strategies for implementing accountability. Legacy plays a large part in the panelist’s motivation. How do the reporters, scholars, and historians view their legacy in their work? Are they comfortable with how they share news and findings with the public and the community, and are they passing their legacy on to create a better Baltimore for all?

It remains to be seen if illuminating all the influences on Baltimore will refract a prism vital to understanding and preserving history and ultimately avert a culture of silence.



About the writer

Camille Cruse is a new CityLit Gladiator. She is a writer, illustrator, and agile presenter who creates inspirational experiences for and with diverse audiences. Cruse has written and produced for BET, CBS, and WestwoodOne Radio Networks. She has a film and television production background and expansive experience in technology. While working on a series of young adult novels, Cruse is a creative trainer in technology.