Race is your beat, too

“When we begin to think of race as something we should all care about, no longer will the black reporter be the first to raise her hand to go to Ferguson.”

Voting rights. Policing. Domestic violence. Immigration. LeBron. Solange. What do all of these things have in common? They were all among the top stories of 2014, and they all involved race.

African Americans aren’t the only ones reading these stories, and, increasingly black journalists aren’t the only ones covering as them. Which brings me to my prediction: If 2014 was the year we all talked about race, 2015 should be the year we all get serious about actually covering it.

errin-whackWhat stories like these and others have shown is that 50 years after the Civil Rights Act officially ended racial discrimination in our country, we are still living in two Americas that are having very different and separate conversations about where we are as a society. Back then, the media played a role in bringing both sides to the table, to increase understanding as a catalyst for the change our nation needed.

Today’s media must pick up that mantle. While organizations like NABJ, NAHJ, AAJA, and NAJA remain dedicated to increasing diversity in mainstream newsrooms, our efforts are only part of the work that must be done to ensure these a commitment to more accurately reflect the communities they cover. We should all be asking: Is an eye to diverse coverage a priority in my newsroom? Am I part of the problem?

Attention to diversity in the newsroom is one thing, but fearlessness about tackling diverse topics is another. And while diversity hiring is important, it isn’t happening nearly fast enough. And since newsrooms won’t be a melting pot any time soon, we must also ask how we can do better with the newsrooms we have now.

When we begin to think of race as something we should all care about, no longer will the black reporter be the first to raise her hand to go to Ferguson. Black editors will not be the only ones suggesting major projects involving race. Other magazines will be as bold as The Atlantic in exploring complex topics like reparations with fresh eyes.

If black journalists have been pigeonholed by race coverage, white journalists must also be challenged to join the race beat. Not because it’s courageous, but because race is an American story and we are all Americans. The sooner this happens, the less we see these stories as “specialized coverage” and the more they become simply good journalism.

Getting serious will mean getting out of our comfort zones to find these untold stories, often hidden in plain sight. Most of the issues highlighted in 2014 — from Michael Brown to Michael Sam — were not anomalies. A start: Make a New Year’s resolution to find sources who don’t look like you. To talk to your newsroom counterparts of different backgrounds.

Start thinking of tackling the issue of race as your fight, too.

Errin Whack is vice president of print for the National Association of Black Journalists.