Aja Hannah is a writer, traveler, and mama. Her articles have been featured nationally and internationally in publications like The Progressive, The Independent, and Hawaii Business Magazine. She’s the author of two books and hundreds of articles. She believes in the Oxford comma, cheap flights, and a daily dose of chocolate.
Originally from outside Washington DC but now based in Northeast Ohio, she recently joined The Land to help out with social media after freelancing for us. We caught up with her recently to learn more about her background.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved in journalism.
I always wanted to be a writer. I first learned writing books was a job in elementary school and I decided that I wanted to do that. I got involved in journalism in high school and went on to do it in college as well. It’s something I was good at and I quickly rose to editorial positions.
After college, I started freelancing while working in a library. I realized I could travel across the country and freelance. I’ve done that for almost eight years now, though the last four have been in Ohio.
You’ve lived in a number of places. What are some of your favorites and how did you land in Northeast Ohio?
My favorite places I’ve lived are Kailua Kona, Hawaii and Estes Park, Colorado. Best places I have traveled include Puerto Jimenez in Costa Rica, Pompeii in Italy, Zion National Park in Utah, and Thermopolis in Wyoming.
I ended up in Ohio for a few reasons, but mainly we have family members who were ill. We also needed to be closer to an area with good healthcare because I was pregnant with our daughter. If you don’t know, Hawaii’s healthcare infrastructure on the outer islands is rather poor.
What are some of your favorite things about Cleveland?
I’m a hiker so I like that Cuyahoga Valley National Park is so close. I also like to kayak on the river. Cleveland is the first place I’ve ever kayaked on a lake. (Before this, it was always the ocean or reservoirs.)
But, mostly, I like that Cleveland seems like it is trying to make changes for the better. It’s trying to be more eco-friendly and improve its relationship with its majority Black population, which is more than some places I have been.
You’ve been a freelancer for a while and have written for a number of publications. What are some of the favorite stories you’ve gotten to work on?
I enjoy travel writing and conservation. At the beginning of my career, I wrote an article about spinner dolphins in Hawaii and the proposed ban on swimming with them. Now, years later, that ban has passed and has been enforced and it’s good to see.
More recently, I broke the news on staff leaving the iconic Black publication, The Root, over issues with management and ownership. I was able to talk to heavy-weight writers like Michael Harriot for it.
I also have some interesting projects coming out this year on conservation, equity, and travel.
You’re a millennial. The stereotype is that journalism is dying. What keeps you motivated to work in this field? And do see you positive changes happening here or elsewhere to ensure journalism continues?
I think America as a whole is dying and there are too many reasons to list here. Without reporting, there would be no one to tell the truth. It would all be propaganda run by large, umbrella corporations.
I love the Washington Post but it’s now owned by a company owned by Jeff Bezos. You can’t tell me that doesn’t change how they report certain things. I have been in editorial positions and I have been told: “Hey, they actually own this so we shouldn’t write about BLANK in case they pull our funding.”
I loved The Root before it was sold off and leadership made changes. Now it’s a shell. Local news is also important. In the way that states and cities are able to make laws for themselves, local news is able to report best on what is happening locally. It knows the people, the problems, and the potential.
As a black woman, I also have a complicated relationship with the media and how they report. There are real systemic issues built into media that were born from capitalism. It’s full of dogwhistles, implicit bias, underrepresentation, and (sometimes) false narratives.
If I don’t write and edit and push back on what should be reported or how my voice should be edited, then that is one less black person represented in the field at least.
You’re handling social media for The Land and doing a great job at it. How can readers help The Land tell the city’s untold stories?
Retweeting or tagging us in photos of what you think should be covered works. You can also or comment or message us and I will forward those to the editor. There is also contact information on the website.