A decimated media rededicates itself to truth

“The notion that one can be completely without bias in their reporting is a nice idea until you realize what’s ‘objective’ is actually determined by what doesn’t rock a white, male, upper-class sensibility and worldview.”

If your news organization was on thin ice at the start of 2020, it probably didn’t survive to 2021, the great destroyer of local newspapers, the Black press, fledgling digital sites, and the continued consolidation of smaller, weaker organizations swallowed up by media behemoths. Basically, in 2020, the brakes stopped working, and we were a runaway semi-truck heading into a wall of disruption.

2020 revealed weaknesses everywhere — in financial models that brought entire companies near death, in the loss of in-real-life events like the iconic Essence Festival, or rocked by their decades-long lack of diversity and history of discrimination, revealed in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the great “awakening” in the white mainstream on the plight of African Americans.

In 2021, we’re bound to see even more. More restructuring. More losses. More reckonings. More disruption. But out of all this turmoil, I do see one bright light — the end of the journalistic myth of “objectivity,” forcing a much needed refocusing on fact-finding and telling the truth.

The notion that one can be completely without bias in their reporting is a nice idea until you realize what’s “objective” is actually determined by what doesn’t rock a white, male, upper-class sensibility and worldview. Many police departments and police unions have always been biased or intentionally misleading in their view of the “subjects” they interact with, but for most of my life — until 2020 and the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by local police — most newsrooms took what police said as gospel, largely unquestioning their version of events during deadly encounters with African Americans.

Compounding this realization, that “objectivity” came with its own biases, was the fall of the Trump administration and its “anti-truth” reality. Trump forced the media to let go of the “bothsidesism” that plagued it for generations and rededicate itself to reporting the truth, sticking to the facts, and questioning everything.

While this same administration relentlessly attacked the press for simply doing its job, this dire situation revealed how important a free press is in a fledgling democracy — which is what America has always been, considering it was an autocratic, democracy-for-some apartheid state for most of its history, with an enslaved and later segregated and oppressed black and indigenous underclass. Trump’s actions unintentionally revitalized and energized the fourth estate, giving it a clarity of purpose in a year of desperation, plague, and government-sponsored chaos.

Maybe things will calm down after the inauguration of President-elect Biden; somehow covering the White House under Trump was both a marathon and a sprint for the beleaguered press. But just as you can’t unring a bell, you can’t magically undo what transpired in this country in 2020, rocked by a failed pandemic response, economic uncertainty, a negligent and antagonistic president, and police brutality. We will be contending with what happened in 2020 for a generation, as this was the year that ended any notions of American innocence or feelings of invincibility, and begets our hopeful, but fragile and uncertain future.

Danielle C. Belton is editor in chief of The Root.

If your news organization was on thin ice at the start of 2020, it probably didn’t survive to 2021, the great destroyer of local newspapers, the Black press, fledgling digital sites, and the continued consolidation of smaller, weaker organizations swallowed up by media behemoths. Basically, in 2020, the brakes stopped working, and we were a runaway semi-truck heading into a wall of disruption.

2020 revealed weaknesses everywhere — in financial models that brought entire companies near death, in the loss of in-real-life events like the iconic Essence Festival, or rocked by their decades-long lack of diversity and history of discrimination, revealed in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the great “awakening” in the white mainstream on the plight of African Americans.

In 2021, we’re bound to see even more. More restructuring. More losses. More reckonings. More disruption. But out of all this turmoil, I do see one bright light — the end of the journalistic myth of “objectivity,” forcing a much needed refocusing on fact-finding and telling the truth.

The notion that one can be completely without bias in their reporting is a nice idea until you realize what’s “objective” is actually determined by what doesn’t rock a white, male, upper-class sensibility and worldview. Many police departments and police unions have always been biased or intentionally misleading in their view of the “subjects” they interact with, but for most of my life — until 2020 and the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by local police — most newsrooms took what police said as gospel, largely unquestioning their version of events during deadly encounters with African Americans.

Compounding this realization, that “objectivity” came with its own biases, was the fall of the Trump administration and its “anti-truth” reality. Trump forced the media to let go of the “bothsidesism” that plagued it for generations and rededicate itself to reporting the truth, sticking to the facts, and questioning everything.

While this same administration relentlessly attacked the press for simply doing its job, this dire situation revealed how important a free press is in a fledgling democracy — which is what America has always been, considering it was an autocratic, democracy-for-some apartheid state for most of its history, with an enslaved and later segregated and oppressed black and indigenous underclass. Trump’s actions unintentionally revitalized and energized the fourth estate, giving it a clarity of purpose in a year of desperation, plague, and government-sponsored chaos.

Maybe things will calm down after the inauguration of President-elect Biden; somehow covering the White House under Trump was both a marathon and a sprint for the beleaguered press. But just as you can’t unring a bell, you can’t magically undo what transpired in this country in 2020, rocked by a failed pandemic response, economic uncertainty, a negligent and antagonistic president, and police brutality. We will be contending with what happened in 2020 for a generation, as this was the year that ended any notions of American innocence or feelings of invincibility, and begets our hopeful, but fragile and uncertain future.

Danielle C. Belton is editor in chief of The Root.

Matt DeRienzo   Citizen truth brigades steer us back toward reality

Jody Brannon   People won’t renew

Rodney Gibbs   Zooming beyond talking heads

María Sánchez Díez   Traffic will plummet — and it’ll be ok

Rachel Glickhouse   Journalists will be kinder to each other — and to themselves

Joshua Darr   Legislatures will tackle the local news crisis

Kawandeep Virdee   Goodbye, doomscroll

Talmon Joseph Smith   The media rejects deficit hawkery

Burt Herman   Journalists build post-Facebook digital communities

Errin Haines   Let’s normalize women’s leadership

Loretta Chao   Open up the profession

Andrew Donohue   The rise of the democracy beat

John Garrett   A surprisingly good year

Marcus Mabry   News orgs adapt to a post-Trump world (with Trump still in it)

Garance Franke-Ruta   Rebundling content, rebuilding connections

Chase Davis   The year we look beyond The Story

An Xiao Mina   2020 isn’t a black swan — it’s a yellow canary

Anna Nirmala   Local news orgs grasp the urgency of community roots

Pablo Boczkowski   Audiences have revolted. Will newsrooms adapt?

Anthony Nadler   Journalism struggles to find a new model of legitimacy

Ben Collins   We need to learn how to talk to (and about) accidental conspiracists

Sara M. Watson   Return of the RSS reader

Delia Cai   Subscriptions start working for the middle

Meredith D. Clark   The year journalism starts paying reparations

Masuma Ahuja   We’ll remember how interconnected our world is

Julia B. Chan and Kim Bui   Millennials are ready to run things

Logan Jaffe   History as a reporting tool

Tanya Cordrey   Declining trust forces publishers to claim (or disclaim) values

Marissa Evans   Putting community trauma into context

Edward Roussel   Tech companies get aggressive in local

Charo Henríquez   A new path to leadership

Heidi Tworek   A year of news mocktails

Candis Callison   Calling it a crisis isn’t enough (if it ever was)

Tonya Mosley   True equity means ownership

Shaydanay Urbani and Nancy Watzman   Local collaboration is key to slowing misinformation

Nikki Usher   Don’t expect an antitrust dividend for the media

Kristen Muller   Engaged journalism scales

Jer Thorp   Fewer pixels, more cardboard

Sarah Stonbely   Videoconferencing brings more geographic diversity

Pia Frey   Building growth through tastemakers and their communities

Megan McCarthy   Readers embrace a low-information diet

Danielle C. Belton   A decimated media rededicates itself to truth

Ashton Lattimore   Remote work helps level the playing field in an insular industry

Tshepo Tshabalala   Go niche

Andrew Ramsammy   Stop being polite and start getting real

Sonali Prasad   Making disaster journalism that cuts through the noise

Gabe Schneider   Another year of empty promises on diversity

Ben Werdmuller   The web blooms again

Jennifer Brandel   A sneak peak at power mapping, 2073’s top innovation

Samantha Ragland   The year of journalists taking initiative

Whitney Phillips   Facts are an insufficient response to falsehoods

Julia Angwin   Show your (computational) work

Raney Aronson-Rath   To get past information divides, we need to understand them first

Rishad Patel   From direct-to-consumer to direct-to-believers

Jessica Clark   News becomes plural

Robert Hernandez   Data and shame

Cory Haik   Be essential

Kate Myers   My son will join every Zoom call in our industry

Cindy Royal   J-school grads maintain their optimism and adaptability

Sam Ford   We’ll find better ways to archive our work

Francesco Zaffarano   The year we ask the audience what it needs

Basile Simon   Graphics, unite

Marie Shanahan   Journalism schools stop perpetuating the status quo

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, a push for pluralism

Cory Bergman   The year after a thousand earthquakes

Ray Soto   The news gets spatial

Jonas Kaiser   Toward a wehrhafte journalism

Beena Raghavendran   Journalism gets fused with art

Hadjar Benmiloud   Get representative, or die trying

Laura E. Davis   The focus turns to newsroom leaders for lasting change

Victor Pickard   The commercial era for local journalism is over

Sue Cross   A global consensus around the kind of news we need to save

L. Gordon Crovitz   Common law will finally apply to the Internet

Stefanie Murray and Anthony Advincula   Expect to see more translations and non-English content

Joni Deutsch   Local arts and music make journalism more joyous

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting dodged a bullet in 2020, but 2021 will be harder

Celeste Headlee   The rise of radical newsroom transparency

Ariane Bernard   Going solo is still only a path for the few

Alfred Hermida and Oscar Westlund   The virus ups data journalism’s game

Steve Henn   Has independent podcasting peaked?

Aaron Foley   Diversity gains haven’t shown up in local news

David Skok   A pandemic-prompted wave of consolidation

Mandy Jenkins   You build trust by helping your readers

Mark Stenberg   The rise of the journalist-influencer

M. Scott Havens   Traditional pay TV will embrace the disruption

Jesse Holcomb   Genre erosion in nonprofit journalism

Bo Hee Kim   Newsrooms create an intentional and collaborative culture

Rick Berke   Virtual events are here to stay

Don Day   Business first, journalism second

Taylor Lorenz   Journalists will learn influencing isn’t easy

Ariel Zirulnick   Local newsrooms question their paywalls

Sarah Marshall   The year audiences need extra cheer

Francesca Tripodi   Don’t expect breaking up Google and Facebook to solve our information woes

John Davidow   Reflect and repent

José Zamora   Walking the talk on diversity

Janet Haven and Sam Hinds   Is this an AI newsroom?

Kevin D. Grant   Parachute journalism goes away for good

Richard J. Tofel   Less on politics, more on how government works (or doesn’t)

Jeremy Gilbert   Human-centered journalism

Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli   Defund the crime beat

Jennifer Choi   What have we done for you lately?

Benjamin Toff   Beltway reporting gets normal again, for better and for worse

Nabiha Syed   Newsrooms quit their toxic relationships

Bill Adair   The future of fact-checking is all about structured data

Ståle Grut   Network analysis enters the journalism toolbox

Kerri Hoffman   Protecting podcasting’s open ecosystem

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky and Cassie Haynes   A shift from conversation to action

Joanne McNeil   Newsrooms push back against Ivy League cronyism

John Ketchum   More journalists of color become newsroom founders

Mike Caulfield   2021’s misinformation will look a lot like 2020’s (and 2019’s, and…)

Nicholas Jackson   Blogging is back, but better

David Chavern   Local video finally gets momentum

Doris Truong   Indigenous issues get long-overdue mainstream coverage

Tim Carmody   Spotify will make big waves in video

james Wahutu   Journalists still wrongly think the U.S. is different

Brian Moritz   The year sports journalism changes for good

Parker Molloy   The press will risk elevating a Shadow President Trump

Ryan Kellett   The bundle gets bundled

Rachel Schallom   The rise of nonprofit journalism continues

Matt Skibinski   Misinformation won’t stop unless we stop it

Nonny de la Pena   News reaches the third dimension

Alicia Bell and Simon Galperin   Media reparations now

Hossein Derakhshan   Mass personalization of truth

C.W. Anderson   Journalism changed under Trump — will it keep changing under Biden?

Alyssa Zeisler   Holistic medicine for journalism

Nisha Chittal   The year we stop pivoting

Jim Friedlich   A newspaper renaissance reached by stopping the presses

Mike Ananny   Toward better tech journalism

Amara Aguilar   Journalism schools emphasize listening

Cherian George   Enter the lamb warriors

Zizi Papacharissi   The year we rebuild the infrastructure of truth

Mariano Blejman   It’s time to challenge autocompleted journalism

Colleen Shalby   The definition of good journalism shifts

Annie Rudd   Newsrooms grow less comfortable with the “view from above”

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   Stop pretending publishers are a united front

Michael W. Wagner   Fractured democracy, fractured journalism

Nico Gendron   Ask your readers to help build your products

Astead W. Herndon   The Trump-sized window of the media caring about race closes again

Christoph Mergerson   Black Americans will demand more from journalism

Brandy Zadrozny   Misinformation fatigue sets in

Ernie Smith   Entrepreneurship on rails

Renée Kaplan   Falling in love with your subscription

Catalina Albeanu   Publish less, listen more

Linda Solomon Wood   Canada steps up for journalism

Imaeyen Ibanga   Journalism gets unmasked

Gonzalo del Peon   Collaborations expand from newsrooms to the business side

John Saroff   Covid sparks the growth of independent local news sites

Tamar Charney   Public radio has a midlife crisis

Chicas Poderosas   More voices mean better information

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   The download, podcasting’s metric king, gets dethroned

Jacqué Palmer   The rise of the plain-text email newsletter

A.J. Bauer   The year of MAGAcal thinking

Patrick Butler   Covid-19 reporting has prepared us for cross-border collaboration

Mark S. Luckie   Newsrooms and streaming services get cozy

Natalie Meade   Journalism enters rehab

Sumi Aggarwal   News literacy programs aren’t child’s play

Zainab Khan   From understanding to feeling