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Sept. 25, 2020, 12:46 p.m.
Reporting & Production

The fight over racism, sexism, and other misconduct in public radio isn’t going away

Plus: Unions at HuffPost, Wired, and the Dallas Morning News continue to fight for pay equity and recognition; how “objectivity” has played into immigration reporting; and a new Python script helps reporters keep diversity in style.

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 Friday, September 25th. This time on The Front Page: Public radio and updates from the bargaining table.

Reports of racism, sexism, and further misconduct in public radio have not slowed in the past two weeks. Still, some actions signal that more changes may be around the corner.

More than a month after the publication of their first letter, St. Louis Public Radio staffers say they have no confidence in the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ inspection of diversity, equity, and inclusion practices. Employees have not been offered “the right to legal representation, witness, or mediator” in advance of the investigation led by two attorneys, leading some to believe they could experience retaliation for comments made during interviews. However, the removal of general manager Tim Eby on Thursday morning could be a step in the right direction.

Further north, journalists at NPR Illinois say the newsroom makes no effort to represent the city and the state as a whole. Though an advisory board recommended “a diversity of voices in sources and staff” in 2017, one staffer says that the station allows high turnover while doing nothing to recruit diverse journalists.

Likewise, information about the destructive environment at WAMU continues to surface, though former employees say accounts in DCist and The Washington Post fail to tell the whole story and, in some cases, excuse the conduct of managers such as JJ Yore and Andi McDaniel.

Moreover, changes are underway following Marianne Combsresignation from Minnesota Public Radio (MPR). Though editors reportedly refused to move forward on her story about an abusive employee at their sister station, The Current, the DJ in question was fired one day after Combs’ resignation.

In addition, it’s probable that a letter published on Transform MPR prompted the resignation of American Public Media Group President and CEO Jon McTaggart. Having said that, the memo announcing McTaggart’s departure did not mention McCombs’ statement nor the firing of Garrett McQueen, who was MPR’s sole Black classical music host.

After McQueen’s termination, American Public Media president Dave Kansas said in a joint statement that the company and MPR “[value] McQueen’s contributions to [their] commitment to increase diversity and inclusion in classical music.”

McQueen’s podcast, Trilloquy, will continue online. You can donate here. Moreover, the journalists behind Counter Stories have ended their partnership with MPR but want to continue producing meaningful content on their own terms. Listeners can contribute to their upcoming independent podcast via Venmo or Paypal.

Unions at HuffPost, Wired, and the Dallas Morning News continue to fight for pay equity and recognition. As pay inequity and a lack of newsroom diversity loom large across the industry, unions nationwide continue to advocate for their workers at the bargaining table.

On September 14, the HuffPost Union released a series of demands for both HuffPost and its owner Verizon Media, asking the companies to adopt measurable benchmarks to increase newsroom diversity and release pay equity data. All of these demands have been denied.

Despite claiming that the company has “100% pay equity in salary with respect to race/ethnicity,” Verizon Media has refused to confirm this assertion with data and the union says it knows of at least one situation where a POC is being paid “thousands less” than a white peer in the same role. Demands for the increased hiring and promotion of non-white workers — at least 50 percent of new jobs and promotions must be given to POC over the next two years — have been met with opaque responses.

Meanwhile, on the five-month anniversary of its formation, Wired Union held a half-day work stoppage on September 22, demanding that Condé Naste recognize their union. The publishing company is claiming erroneously that Wired’s product review writers and audience development team are not members of the editorial department, and should therefore not be recognized as a part of the bargaining unit.

In North Texas, members of the Dallas News Guild, a group that includes employees at both The Dallas Morning News and Al Día Dallas, are submitting ballots to the National Labor Relations Board in support of their new union efforts. Formed on July 20, the group of reporters are asking for recognition from the publications’ parent company, A.H. Belo Co.

Gaby Del Valle on “objectivity” in immigration reporting. Gaby Del Valle has been a reporter at The Outline, Vox’s The Goods, and most recently, an immigration reporter at Vice News. She’s also one half of the team behind BORDER/LINES, a weekly newsletter on immigration policy, with Felipe De La Hoz.

Now, as a freelance reporter, Del Valle talked to The Objective about what it means to be an immigration reporter, the assumptions reporters make in reporting on immigration, and how “objectivity” has played into immigration reporting.

Here’s a portion of the conversation, edited for length and clarity. You can read the rest here.

The Objective: I wonder what you think about the way immigration reporting is done by general assignment reporters and when it lacks historical context about the history of migration in the United States?

Gaby Del Valle: I think there’s been really good immigration reporting that nobody pays attention to. And that was especially the case under President Obama when literally nobody cared about immigration except for immigrants rights activists and anti-immigration groups. It wasn’t really on the radar, other than that. So what ended up happening was a lot of publications — and I don’t mean to malign local publications — but a lot of local news outlets would see an ICE press release say something like “28 criminal aliens arrested in like Northern Virginia” and they would just rewrite it. There would be no reporting. It would literally be rewriting the press release. I wrote something for The Outline actually back in 2017 that looked at how people are just literally republishing ICE press releases, paraphrased ones, but not asking questions. There’ll be like 28 people arrested and like among them, the charges include “XXXX.” But they always pick like the worst charges. They’re like, “We arrested a pedophile and a murderer and 30 other people.” One time, I asked the ICE field office once, can you give me a list of offenses that these people were arrested for? If you look at that list and if you just look at the data in general, it’s like traffic offenses. You can get arrested for things that you did like a decade ago.

There’s just so much context that is missing, because of the way that law enforcement is treated as an authority and not as an entity with its own interests and its own biases, which I think is like part of like this broader conversation we’re having too about like how to report on police murders, for example.

ICYMI at The Objective.

Deanna Schwartz writes about how J-schools should stop promoting unpaid story placement.

Omar Rashad, originally for Poynter, writes about how the journalism industry’s elitism locks out folks from underrepresented backgrounds.

What’s happening. $$$ denotes a paid event.

0 days until… The Washington Press Club Foundation’s “Covering Race and Racial Injustice in America” webinar. Registration is free for this webinar moderated by The 19th’s Errin Haines.

3 days until… Covering Elections in Solidarity: An interactive workshop led by the Solidarity in Journalism Initiative. Journalists at all levels are welcomed to attend.

5 days until… Hope in the Dark: A Conversation with Rebecca Solnit. This event is hosted by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

5 days until… Covering Coronavirus: Young Journalists Share Stories of Pandemic Life. Journalists at NYU, University of North Carolina, and Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts discuss their work in this webinar.

6 days until… The Online News Association’s annual conference ($$$). ONA 2020 runs until October 16. It will be completely virtual this year.

A bit more media.

  • Chef says San Francisco Chronicle serves up racism. A chef at Zuni Cafe called out San Francisco Chronicle columnist Phil Matier for “racist, anti-immigrant, and lazy journalism.” Nate Norris, who has been a chef at Zuni for over a decade, told Eater San Francisco that he wants to use the restaurant’s platform to challenge “informed, educated, thoughtful people” in the city, and isn’t worried about losing diners.
  • Three months later, no change at the Inquirer. Three months after the Philadelphia Inquirer published its “Buildings Matter, Too” headline, the Philadelphia chapters of the Asian American Journalists Association and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists along with the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists have criticized the publication’s inaction and demanded the paper “rectify its harmful legacy of systemic racism.” Initial statements were published and shared by each organization in June.
  • “I wondered whether I had a future in journalism.” In a letter also posted on Twitter, former Washington City Paper reporter Morgan Baskin says the publication has “degraded and demoralized” journalists, especially during the pandemic. As a full-time employee, Baskin was denied a raise and discouraged from unionizing and after switching to freelance editing last year, she reports that payments from the paper were over two months late and overall communication was unprofessional.
  • A new Python script helps reporters keep diversity in style. Ethan Edward Coston, a CalMatters College Network Fellow, made a Python script that scrapes the Diversity Style Guide, reads your Google Doc, and returns appropriate style guide entries. The script (and instructions) can be found here.
  • The Sacramento Bee builds partnerships, gains readers. To correct a history of neglecting under-resourced communities, journalists at The Bee built strategic partnerships with local organizations and media companies, stopped publishing mugshots, and devised a plan for an equity journalism lab. Its pageviews — and paid subscriptions — have increased.
  • New newsroom puts the spotlight on West Virginia. Last week, three former Gazette-Mail employees launched Mountain State Spotlight, a newsroom dedicated to watchdog journalism in West Virginia. In Poynter, Spotlight co-founder Greg Moore said they “want to diversify [the] newsroom, to help [them] report on communities whose voices have traditionally been underrepresented,” but some have pointed out that all of the inaugural journalists are white.
  • New hotline meets deadlines. The Society of Professional Journalists, the Trans Journalist Association, and other journalists and educators have teamed up to answer questions about race, gender, and religion through the SPJ Race & Gender Hotline. According to SPJ, the consultations are off-the-record and experts are paid for their time.
  • Graphic designer makes sports coverage a no man’s land. Without men’s athletics, the front page of The New York Times’ sports section is generally stark. In order to highlight the lack of women’s athletics coverage in sports journalism, Katherine Burgess, a graphic designer and runner, took a literal Exacto knife to the paper’s sports section, snipping away at the sections that covered men’s sports. Burgess hopes to expose similar trends in broadcast journalism next.

This edition of The Front Page was written by Holly Piepenburg, Marlee Baldridge, and Curtis Yee, with a Q&A by Gabe Schneider and editing by Curtis Yee. The Objective was cofounded by 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 sourced from August Jennewein, via USML.

POSTED     Sept. 25, 2020, 12:46 p.m.
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