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Oct. 9, 2020, 12:30 p.m.
Reporting & Production

The Media 2070 project asks what media reparations would look like

Plus: The LA Times grapples with its racist history and journalists share the worst career advice they’ve received.

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, October 9. This time on The Front Page: Media 2070, an overdue apology, and a few union wins.

What would media reparations look like? “Can newsrooms reconcile and repair the harms they have caused? And can we count on the same profit-driven, white-owned corporate media institutions to fully integrate their newsrooms and allow Black journalistic brilliance to rise half a century after failing to heed the Kerner Commission’s recommendations to do so?”

These are the questions asked by Media 2070, a provocative essay that asks journalists to consider what media reparations look like after generations of exclusionary media and white centric coverage. The authors are direct in their accurate condemnation:

Media organizations were complicit in the slave trade and profited off of chattel slavery; a powerful newspaper publisher helped lead the deadly overthrow of a local government in Wilmington, North Carolina, where Black people held power; racist journalism has led to countless lynchings; southern broadcast stations have opposed integration; and, in the 21st century, powerful social media and tech companies are allowing white supremacists to use their platforms to organize, fundraise, recruit and spread hate.

The series of essays were co-created by a collective of Black staff at Free Press, an organization that has advocated for public funding of media and stronger media accountability. More specifically, the project was compiled and created by Joseph Torres, Tauhid Chappell, Alicia Bell, Diamond Hardiman, Collette Watson, and Christina Pierce.

“I think for us, 2070 is not so much about that actual date on the calendar in a temporal sense, for me anyway, but more so the idea that if we live in that future now, those are the ideas that we need to sustain us so that we can see 2070 and beyond,” Watson said in an interview with MuckRack. “Inhabiting a future of media, but in this time, could actually get us to where we really needed to be yesterday.”

You can read the full 100-page essay here.

“We apologize for the Times’ history of racism.” Late last month, the Los Angeles Times went beyond the abundance of diversity and inclusion pledges introduced by media companies this summer. In an editorial, they apologize for their history as “an institution deeply rooted in white supremacy” initiated by founding publisher Harrison Gray Otis and upheld by (an overwhelmingly white) staff over the paper’s 138-year history.

The Times’ “reckoning with racism,” as the piece is titled by the editorial board, also includes stories from current and former staffers who recount racism toward Black, Latino, and Asian American journalists and Angelenos at large. It’s unlikely that this comprehensive response would have been presented had staffers and members of the LAT guild not confronted newsroom leaders in June.

Likewise, the recent planned departure of executive editor Norman Pearlstine came only after Black and Latino journalists at the Times openly criticized the publication’s racist coverage and indefensible hiring and retention practices. Coupled with the recognition of the paper’s failures, it’s a start to correcting decades of damage, but there are already obvious holes in the Times’ transition.

Moreover, less than two weeks after the apology, it appears that the Times has already fallen back on old habits with both its coverage and internal management problems. While one can hope that the paper’s commitments will serve as a non-performative blueprint for other organizations, these actions are not promising.

New Yorker Union’s picket becomes a rally. On the night of their scheduled digital picket, the New Yorker Union ended the era of at-will employment with a “Just Cause” agreement, a provision that requires employers to adhere to an established standard when disciplining or firing employees.

Preceding the agreement, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who were both slated to speak on the day of the strike, pulled out of the New Yorker Festival in support of the union. If you want to help, find out how you can show solidarity as the union fights for a contract here.

On the West Coast, the Seattle Times Digital Union is now part of Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild following a unanimous vote in late September. Before the vote, the National Labor Relations Board denied an appeal from the Seattle Times Company, which sought to prevent the alliance.

And, after months of combating racism, discrimination, and sexual harassment, WAMU’s content staff is unionizing with SAG-AFTRA. With this announcement, the union hopes to establish pay equity, “set actionable plans to retain and grow a diverse staff,” and better support employees that don’t work full time. Leaders have not yet voluntarily recognized the union, which would allow staff a seat at the bargaining table.

Your worst advice. As Objective contributor Johanna Alonso reported in her latest piece, journalists giving career advice to early-career journalists over Twitter isn’t always that helpful. So, we asked early-career journalists: What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received? Here are some of the responses:

ICYMI at The Objective.

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

Today: The Online News Association’s annual conference ($$$). ONA 2020 runs until October 16.

Oct. 13: “A conversation with ‘trailblazing’ journalist Dorothy Gilliam,” the first Black woman reporter at the Washington Post. Questions for Gilliam can be submitted here before the virtual event.

Oct. 14: The Reuters Institute’s webinar on data bias in journalism. The conversation features Safiya Noble, a professor at UCLA. Register here.

Oct. 14: Covering the Movement, an online forum for southern organizers and journalists on covering protest, voting rights, and COVID, is hosted by Press On and the Highlander Center.

Oct. 15: RTDNA hosts a hands-on Google tools training. a hands-on Google tools training hosted by RTDNA. Mike Reilly, an SPJ digital trainer, will lead the workshop.

A bit more media.

  • “Defector is a white revolution.” David Dennis Jr. writes that Defector, a publication started after Deadspin staffer were told to “stick to sports,” has no excuse for launching with only one Black staffer on its masthead. Ironically, Dennis also notes that many of Deadspin’s new hires, including “high-level editors and writers,” are Black.
  • California Sunday suspends publication. On Monday, Emerson Collective pulled funding from Pop-Up Magazine Productions. As a result, California Sunday magazine is suspending publication after having moved to digital-only in June. According to the Pop-Up/California Sunday Guild, 11 employees across the two publications have been laid off.
  • Chicago Magazine update. More than a month after she called out Chicago magazine for racism, Taylor Moore’s name has been removed from the publication’s masthead. According to Moore, the magazine has still not reached out, even as other journalists continue to highlight problems at the publication.
  • Furloughs at Essence. Citing revenue losses from Covid-19, Essence magazine put an uncertain number of employees on furlough last week. Medical benefits will continue throughout the period, which is not expected to exceed six months.
  • Newsletters aren’t new. Mimeographs were the Substack of the mid-20th century when writers ditched traditional media to become their own publishers. Free of editors and benefiting from a general distrust of newspapers, underrepresented writers and leftist journalists carved out a relatively profitable profession until the late ’70s.
  • Pittsburgh Post Gazette. After being barred from covering “one of the biggest civil rights movements of our lifetime,” Alexis Johnson has resigned from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In a Twitter thread, Johnson said the paper hindered her professional growth and that she will continue to support the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh.
  • This edition of The Front Page was written by Holly Piepenburg and Gabe Schneider, with editing by Curtis Yee. The Objective was cofounded by Schneider, the Washington correspondent for MinnPost, and Marlee Baldridge, a Master’s student at the University of Missouri (and a former Google News Initiative fellow at Nieman Lab).

POSTED     Oct. 9, 2020, 12:30 p.m.
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