Maya Jackson Randall remembered by her editor

by
Maya J Randall with husband

Maya Jackson Randall, one of my star reporters at the Dow Jones Newswires/Wall Street Journal Washington bureau, died this week after a long fight with leukemia. Just 33 years old, Maya possessed a remarkable blend of dignity, calm and determination. All of us who knew her feel a great loss this week.

(The photo is Maya Jackson Randall, right, and her husband Jeremy, left, at the 2009 White House Christmas party with the Obamas. Jackson Randall had been diagnosed with leukemia just days before this event.)

I wanted to share some thoughts about her career and how she rose from a junior energy reporting job to increasingly complicated and demanding beats, such as the chaos of covering the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve during the 2008 financial crisis. She was briefly the Newswires White House reporter until she was diagnosed with cancer, but then went on to a productive period on the consumer beat as she fought the disease. Her story should serve as a role model for young journalists trying to break into the business and an inspiration for veterans still perfecting their craft.

Maya’s persistence, flexibility and ambition were on full display when she covered the Treasury Department in 2008-2009. One example was in March 2009, when Maya called with a complaint and a question about the Treasury staff. She asked how much money was left in the Troubled Asset Relief Program, but the staff won’t tell us. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was dodging the question in public appearances. I suggested she add up the public commitments and we could print our own estimate. This was kind of a basic idea, but Maya ran with it.

She teamed up with colleague Mike Crittenden and, after a search of congressional transcripts, public documents, they determined just $52.6 billion was left uncommitted in the $700 billion rescue fund. This story stirred up a fuss, and Geithner was confronted with the story during his appearances on ABC’s “This Week” program with George Stephanopolous and CBS’ “Face the Nation,” with Bob Schieffer.

Maya could have filed a brief wire story with her findings and moved on to the next story, but she and Crittenden took the time to build out the proper context and to explain to readers the importance of transparency in handling the rescue funds. And then she followed up. And followed up again. Their articles won a 2010 Society of American Business Editors and Writers’ beat reporting award, as well as a Newswires William R. Clabby award for excellence. She did this often, taking an ordinary task or opportunity and making it into something important.

Journalism was part of Maya’s upbringing as her father, Harold Jackson, was the first African-American reporter for the Savannah, Ga. Morning News. He went on to earn his PhD in communications from the University of Michigan and now runs an international communications consulting firm in Atlanta. Maya’s mother, Lillian, is a top communications officer for the Georgia Department of Transportation. Maya earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Howard University, where she was a Trustee Scholar, and a master degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Maryland in 2001.

She had an internship with The Wall Street Journal while in college and then worked at Money magazine and McGraw-Hill before I helped hire her in 2004 at Dow Jones. Her last beat was covering the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new federal agency that arose from the financial crisis to regulate credit cards and mortgages. The two leaders of the agency, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Richard Cordray, this week both praised Maya for her tough but fair reporting. “She was hard­working and skilled at zeroing in on the facts and holding us to the standards of transparency the public expects,” Sen. Warren said. “She was also a warm, spirited, and wonderful person, and I am deeply saddened by her loss.”

I saw Maya grow over the seven years she worked with me, and as she learned her craft, and then handled the demands of motherhood. Maya and her husband, Jeremy, welcomed their son Jeremiah into the world in 2007. She returned from maternity leave to a new beat at Treasury in early 2008, and amazed me by handling late-breaking news while trying to calm down a screaming baby at night.

She first became sick in August 2009, noticing she was unusually fatigued while covering the Federal Reserve’s summer retreat at Jackson Hole. She began chemotherapy treatment in December 2009 and she began working from home in the summer of 2010 during her recovery. I had assigned Maya to cover health studies, help prepare for Supreme Court decisions and other projects without an immediate deadline, things she could complete in between her regular trips to the hospital.

Just reading the wire, you could not know she was struggling with cancer treatments. Some days she would file multiple stories, on items ranging from the potential health hazards of cellphones to a Supreme Court action on a privacy lawsuit.

This continued during her hospitalization in 2012. Gary Fields, a Wall Street Journal reporter and close friend of Maya’s, recalls collaborating with her on front-page story last year. “After the cancer had come out of remission, questions were bouncing back and forth between me and the New York editors,” Fields recalled. “The next thing I know, answers started coming from a BlackBerry. She was literally in the hospital getting treatments and on the BlackBerry. I asked why did she have the doggone thing with her, and she told me she was feeling fine, was bored and needed something to do.”

She refused to let the moment go to waste.

Services are scheduled for Saturday, March 2, in Atlanta at Antioch Baptist Church North

Rob Wells is the former deputy bureau chief for Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal in Washington. He is now an adjunct instructor for both the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism and the University of South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications.