And a woman shall lead them

“If 2017 was the year of the purge, 2018 will be the year of renewal. Women news leaders will direct the restoration of news organizations as a public trust.”

Women will lead the news industry’s revolution. This will be a year of reckoning, the year a new wave of diverse news leaders shapes American journalism and insures that voices of the underrepresented, the marginalized, the assaulted, the citizens of the Midwest and Deep South are included in the news narratives of the day on politics, sexual assault, law enforcement, and economic justice.

Across the news industry, and the culture at large, leaders continue to be exposed and terminated for inappropriate sexual conduct. The tumult will contribute to a power shift in news leadership in 2018 and a redefined relationship with the audience. The departures open the door for a new wave of women news leaders to join editors like Michelle Holmes of al.com who develop stories about the political power of black women in Alabama even before they demand to be heard.

When sexual misconduct claims derailed Roger Ailes, few imagined the opening of the floodgates that would lead to a purge of journalists who had been household names for a generation. The upheaval in media has caused the industry to hold a mirror to itself like never before. The Mirror Awards sponsored by Syracuse University, an annual prize that recognizes journalism that shines a light on the news industry itself, have taken on newfound significance as organizations like NPR, PBS, NBC, CBS, and others call out and drive out the ill-behaved scourge on the industry. The purge has not happened in a vacuum. Frederick Douglass tells us “power concedes nothing without a demand.” The changes afoot are at the agitation of women and men who demand better from our colleagues. When the dust settles in 2018, more women news leaders will preside over newsrooms, assigned the messy task of getting their news houses in order.

During the 2000s, many American newsrooms in cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, and San Jose were run by women. As the industry shifted and women pivoted, the best efforts to diversify newsrooms were greatly diminished. Many of the top women in news were replaced. Even fewer black and brown women, nearly rendered invisible — like Aminda Marquez Gonzales in Miami, Sherri Marshall in Macon, Georgia, and me in Akron and Cleveland — worked quietly and alone in the trenches, trying to uphold the core news values of speaking truth to power and serving readers the best we could, in spite of shifting priorities that put digital first but not necessarily people first.

A new day is already dawning. Women industry leaders continue to destroy the president’s “fake news” narrative while exposing his patterns of misogyny and assault. Lydia Polgreen has spent a year running HuffPost and Sally Buzbee has spent a year as executive editor of the Associated Press. Lauren Williams recently (in September) was named editor-in-chief of Vox. Dana Canady in 2018 will preside as the new administrator for the Pulitzer Prizes. In January, Yamiche Alcindor, currently of The New York Times and one of my favorite emerging leaders, will join PBS NewsHour as the White House correspondent, standing on the giant shoulders of Gwen Ifill. These appointments are significant. News leaders hold the power to decide whose story gets told and to shape the narrative ultimately delivered. All three of journalism’s top fellowships — the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, the John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University and the Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan — are run by extraordinary women news leaders. In 2018, Houston Chronicle editor Nancy Barnes will become president of the American Society of News Editors, the national organization that represents news leaders. The growing number of women in journalism’s most important assignments signals a new day for an industry desperately in need of some soul searching.

Women in news philanthropy will help reimagine news in local communities. In cities like Detroit, Jennifer Preston and Katy Locker of the Knight Foundation, Barbara Raab and Farai Chideya of the Ford Foundation, and Mariam Noland and Katie Brisson of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan are shaping a new local news ecosystem rooted in community engagement. The three foundations just announced hundreds of thousands of dollars in Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund investments for independent, nonprofit, and ethnic news organizations. News outlets like Outlier Media and Allied Media — women-led, Detroit-based news organizations — are among the 2018 recipients, committed to telling the stories of all of the people living in their community, and gathering and delivering information in the most accessible ways, via text message in Outlier’s case.

In 2018, the 50th-anniversary year of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., women news leaders in corporate and nonprofit news outlets, in news startups, in philanthropy, and in higher education will save the industry from itself, amplifying the voices of people of color, the economically challenged, the sexually exploited, and other marginalized people on the way to restoring trust and credibility. If 2017 was the year of the purge, 2018 will be the year of renewal. Women news leaders will direct the restoration of news organizations as a public trust.

Debra Adams Simmons is executive editor for culture at National Geographic.

Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

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