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Sept. 17, 2020, 12:19 p.m.
Business Models

Are news companies already putting diversity pledges on the back burner?

Plus: Writers reveal problems at Chicago Magazine, and The Atlantic damages trust with transgender readers.

Editor’s note: The Front Page is a biweekly newsletter from The Objective, a publication that offers reporting, first-person commentary, and reported essays on how journalism has misrepresented or excluded specific communities in coverage, as well as how newsrooms have treated staff from those communities. We happily share each issue with Nieman Lab readers.

“It’s time for action.” Two months ago, following nationwide protests and increased calls for anti-racist policies, a number of media companies released diversity and inclusion pledges.

Now, journalists say their employers have done little to live up to those promises. Tim Peterson writes in Digiday that, by many accounts, plans to hire Black employees have been stalled by hiring freezes and communication surrounding action steps has slowed.

At their worst, these failures again lead to the all-too-familiar practice where lower-ranking employees are left to create and maintain diversity and inclusion strategies, rarely with added financial support. At some organizations, employees are “compiling lists of Black writers, designers and programmers that companies can hire, uploading the lists to their companies’ Google Drive folders and then pinning links to the lists on Slack.” Elsewhere, employee resource groups organize times for staffers to call state and local representatives to push for social change.

The failure to fulfill diversity commitments is especially evident at NPR: Employees at the national desk and member stations have fought for years to increase diversity at every level of the company, but little progress has been made.

On September 9, NPR’s SAG-AFTRA union responded to that need with a list of demands for management and promises for reform within the guild itself, stating “it has not been sufficiently vocal or public in its support of Black, brown, Indigenous and Asian employees.

Employee demands include: A requirement that 50 percent of all finalist pools come from underrepresented groups, “credible and meaningful” professional development opportunities, and an analysis of pay and promotions.

Given recent Twitter testimonials, committing to the listed demands (and similar calls to action) won’t be an easy lift for any public radio station. Luckily, NPR has access to in-house instruction manuals of its own making, like these segments in Life Kit and Code Switch. We’ll see whether or not managers take their own advice.

Related: To build an anti-racist media, look to BIPOC communities.

The Atlantic makes no amends for transphobia. The July/August 2018 cover of The Atlantic read, “Your Child Says She’s Trans. She Wants Hormones and Surgery. She’s 13.” The cover model, however, used they/them pronouns at that time (but goes by he/him now) and had no idea he would be on the front of the issue.

In an interview with Sydney Bauer for Poynter, Mina Brewer described how disoriented he felt after The Atlantic misgendered him: “It pretty much outed me and it was such a weird time. I was really trying to understand my identity for myself and wasn’t really comfortable talking about my gender to all these people who weren’t that close to me.” In fact, because his grandfather subscribed to the magazine, Brewer was pushed to explain his identity to his family earlier than intended.

The Atlantic held that, “in retrospect, we would have made a different decision about the cover line,” and referenced its choice to change the headline in the web version of the article.

This non-apology does not, however, acknowledge the blatant transphobia and inaccuracies present in the rest of the cover story. When the issue came out, author Jesse Singal and his story were heavily criticized by journalists, medical professionals, and activists for being reductive and deceptive. Samantha Riedel wrote that Singal “focused solely on the one narrative that validated his worldview” and played a part in “the gatekeeping and silencing of trans voices by cisnormative media.”

Though The Atlantic was legally permitted to use the image, the fact that Brewer was unaware his photo would be on the cover raises ethical questions, writes Bauer in Poynter. An art director could have certainly minimized harm by consulting Brewer during the process.

The Trans Journalists Association is working to correct disrespectful coverage with the creation of its own style guide. In it, journalists are told to never out their sources and to always explain the implications of being featured in a story. In a Q&A with The Objective, co-founder Oliver-Ash Kleine stressed the power journalists have over public discourse and the importance of newsroom education:

“The way that the media is telling stories about trans people has a big impact on public discourse and how people think about and talk about trans people. That’s a really big responsibility. One that the media really needs to take more seriously, because right now they’re really failing trans people and their audiences.”

We are [The Loop]. On August 31, freelancer and staff writer for NextAdvisor Taylor Moore called out Chicago Magazine for its treatment and lack of hiring of journalists of color. After a week of silence, she tweeted at Chicago magazine again.

“Nothing will materially change at @ChicagoMag as long as Susanna Homan, Terrance Noland, and Tal Rosenberg continue to work there,” Moore wrote, naming the editor in chief and publisher, executive editor, and culture editor, respectively. Moore said that she was invited to join the Prairie Museum Project, a collaborative journalism project associated with the magazine, after being told plainly there “weren’t enough POC on the team.”

Other contributors to the magazine added their own stories. Claire Voon, a freelancer, was paid $25 for a one-day-turnaround. Resita Cox, another freelancer, had to chase down $100 for a story that the magazine pitched to her. And a former Chicago magazine editor shared how the intern pool was pushed to be diverse, while full-time positions were not.

This underlines an ongoing conversation about how interns and freelancer pools are cultivated to make a newsroom appear “diverse” without investing in people from marginalized backgrounds in a meaningful way.

In a city that is less than 35% white, the magazine styles itself as, “We are Chicago.”

Related: How to charge a late-fee for publishers and a step-by-step guide to diversify your newsroom.

A bit more media.

  • “When they refused to change it, I quit.” After working at The Kenosha Times for three years, editor Daniel Thompson resigned after the paper published an article with a misleading headline. The headline, which originally read “Kenosha speaker: ‘If you kill one of us, it’s time for us to kill one of yours,’” has since been changed. Thompson said he was the paper’s only full-time Black staffer and is now looking to start a new local journalism project in Kenosha.
  • Self-care strategies for Black journalists. Opening up their “toolbox of coping strategies,” Black journalists are sharing their tips for addressing trauma and managing stress. According to clinical psychologist Monnica Williams, “all Black Americans have some degree of PTSD.” The Black Journalists Therapy Relief Fund offers financial support to those with limited access to mental health resources.
  • #TransformTheInquirer. Journalists of color at The Philadelphia Inquirer have launched a website to demand and document change at the newspaper. Data compiled by the authors shows that no journalists of color work on the investigations team and that no Black or Latinx journalists cover science or politics full-time.
  • Mapping out credit. Following a tweet from Folded Map Project creator Tonika Johnson and numerous requests from her supporters, The New York Times credited Johnson’s work on segregation in Chicago in its suspiciously similar reporting. Johnson created the project more than two years ago to address misconceptions about Chicago neighborhoods.
  • “Bullshit phrases.” It’s not just “officer-involved shooting” and “racially charged” — there are dozens of phrases used by journalists that benefit people in power. Davide Mastracci breaks down some of the worst offenders, including “had sex with,” “concerned citizens,” and “protestors clashed.” Hundreds more can be found in Mastracci’s original Twitter thread.
  • Racism and sexism at TMZ. At least two dozen current and former employees of TMZ said the news site’s workplace culture is rife with racism, sexism, and abuse. Founder Harvey Levin, who is at the root of many complaints, and TMZ parent company Warner Bros. did not immediately respond to requests for comment from BuzzFeed News.
  • Woodward holds story, explains decision. In an interview with The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan, Bob Woodward explained why he withheld President Trump’s statements concerning the coronavirus. Some said this information could have saved lives had it been released six months ago, while Woodward said he needed time to verify Trump’s statement and that his “purpose” is not daily journalism.
  • What makes local news less newsworthy? In a study published last month, Hans J.G. Hassell found that journalists viewed stories published by a local newspaper as less newsworthy. What’s worse, journalists themselves view a story published in a local paper “less newsworthy than one that hadn’t been published at all,” wrote Mark Coddington and Seth Lewis in Nieman Lab. Over 1,500 newspaper journalists were surveyed in Hassell’s study.
  • This edition of The Front Page was written by Holly Piepenburg and Marlee Baldridge with editing by Curtis Yee. The Objective was Gabe Schneider, the Washington correspondent for MinnPost, and Baldridge, a Master’s student at the University of Missouri (and a former Google News Initiative fellow at Nieman Lab).

    Photo of a bubbling pot by Caribb used under a Creative Commons license.
POSTED     Sept. 17, 2020, 12:19 p.m.
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