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The Investigative Editor’s Reflection

Makenna Underwood finishes her second year as the Investigative editor. The section has won several Society of Professional Journalists awards. (Nolan Baynes II/The Hilltop)

As I reflect on not only The Hilltop’s centennial but also my final year as the inaugural investigative editor, I look upon my journey with pride. The Hilltop has been here to document every Howard story. From documenting student protests in the 1960s to investigating mental health discrimination complaints in the 2020s, we’ve always been a source of reliable truth to the university community.

Like many prospective students, I dreamed of a life at Howard before matriculating here. In that dream was a chance to write for The Hilltop in any capacity. I initially started as a staff writer my sophomore year and applied to be an investigative reporter my junior year. After finishing my initial meeting for the reporter role, I remember feeling comfortable in that new role.

“I think I’ll settle nicely into this,” I said to myself. 

It was only a matter of minutes that I was presented with the opportunity to be the investigative editor, something no one in The Hilltop’s 100-year history had done before. I had to set a precedent and the thought of that alone terrified me to my core. 

Though journalism (and leadership) seemed like a far-fetched dream for a girl who grew up in the “speak when spoken to” and “that’s the way things are” kind of environment, The Hilltop challenged those beliefs for me. No, I don’t have to settle for less and no, I can push back and challenge those in charge if it means getting the truth for the community. 

Being a part of The Hilltop means you don’t stop until the truth is revealed. 

My experience these last two years can’t be summed up in one word, but rather it can be summed up in a collection of experiences: late-night reporting in the office, early morning conversations with our editorial advisor, and evening meetings with my fellow editors and reporters. My time as the investigative editor has been a whirlwind, and I’m thankful for every late night and early morning spent on creating these stories. When my journalism classes taught me the basics of journalism, The Hilltop thrust me into a real-world news environment and taught me more about reporting in two years than my classes taught me in four.

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I’ve had the pleasure alongside a team of ambitious reporters. No matter if the team was big or small, we still reported on campus protests, staffing shortages within mental health services and more. 

Being an editor wasn’t always easy. Navigating several classes, internships, and differing personalities in a newsroom was a lot at times. But it was worth it, but everything we’ve done has been bigger than the newsroom. It’s been for the public whether that was students or D.C. residents.

The Hilltop’s investigative team started with seven reporters with little to no idea what the role of investigative journalism would entail at Howard. Now, we’re a two-time award-winning team with the skills to report on in-depth stories in and outside of Howard. 

Before graduating, I’d always wondered if I would leave a legacy, something that was palpable and bigger than me. Now, I am confident in that. The investigative team will always be an integral part of not only The Hilltop but Howard University as a whole.

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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