History as a reporting tool

“In 2021, journalists must use history to report stories that proactively invite reckoning and, ultimately, accountability.”

Sometimes I type the word “reckoning” into the Google search bar and hit the “News” tab. I enjoy seeing what news editors think the world is reckoning with this week.

For example, as I write this, The Wall Street Journal is writing that “A Reckoning Looms for Commercial Real Estate — and Its Lenders.” A letter writer at the Helena Independent Record argues “A reckoning is coming for Republicans.” There are apparent reckonings on the way within the travel industry, the tech industry, and French soccer, too.

Somewhere in this news feed will be the phrase “racial reckoning” or “reckoning on race.” These are often headlines for stories about a person, place, or institution, usually white, acknowledging and sometimes confronting their own legacy and history of racism.

Sometimes these are good stories. Often they’re worth doing. But in 2021, let’s take it further. In 2021, journalists must use history to report stories that proactively invite reckoning and, ultimately, accountability.

A good example is this story from WBEZ and City Bureau. The team analyzed where banks lend money in Chicago, and found that the vast majority of the money loaned for housing purchases — 68.1 percent — went to majority-white neighborhoods. They could have left it there. It would still have been an important story about racial disparities. But they didn’t. “Call it modern-day redlining,” read the story’s dek. Reporters tied the present racial inequity perpetuated by banks today to similar behaviors of banks past. One outcome of the story was Chase Bank committing to lending $600 million in Chicago’s Black and Latino communities.

There are people and institutions who still need to be held accountable for their past actions, because the harm they caused remains among us. The WBEZ/City Bureau story was not a story about reckoning with the past. Rather, it was a story that connected past and present in a way that powerful institutions had to reckon with.

In 2021, newsrooms that use history as a reporting tool will shed needed light on present racial injustice. Many Americans lack accurate knowledge of history on a national and local level, which contribute to harmful myths that continue to depict people who are not white as inferior and explain away systems of oppression as simply incidental.

As storytellers, journalists have the power to help break these narratives. Just as we seek truth in our reporting, we must seek to correct and reframe racist and inaccurate narratives by telling the truth about the past, and reporting boldly about its connection to the present.

In 2021, “reckoning” is not the headline. Rather, the headline shows how our past failures to “reckon” have failed us all.

Logan Jaffe is an engagement reporter for ProPublica Illinois.

Sometimes I type the word “reckoning” into the Google search bar and hit the “News” tab. I enjoy seeing what news editors think the world is reckoning with this week.

For example, as I write this, The Wall Street Journal is writing that “A Reckoning Looms for Commercial Real Estate — and Its Lenders.” A letter writer at the Helena Independent Record argues “A reckoning is coming for Republicans.” There are apparent reckonings on the way within the travel industry, the tech industry, and French soccer, too.

Somewhere in this news feed will be the phrase “racial reckoning” or “reckoning on race.” These are often headlines for stories about a person, place, or institution, usually white, acknowledging and sometimes confronting their own legacy and history of racism.

Sometimes these are good stories. Often they’re worth doing. But in 2021, let’s take it further. In 2021, journalists must use history to report stories that proactively invite reckoning and, ultimately, accountability.

A good example is this story from WBEZ and City Bureau. The team analyzed where banks lend money in Chicago, and found that the vast majority of the money loaned for housing purchases — 68.1 percent — went to majority-white neighborhoods. They could have left it there. It would still have been an important story about racial disparities. But they didn’t. “Call it modern-day redlining,” read the story’s dek. Reporters tied the present racial inequity perpetuated by banks today to similar behaviors of banks past. One outcome of the story was Chase Bank committing to lending $600 million in Chicago’s Black and Latino communities.

There are people and institutions who still need to be held accountable for their past actions, because the harm they caused remains among us. The WBEZ/City Bureau story was not a story about reckoning with the past. Rather, it was a story that connected past and present in a way that powerful institutions had to reckon with.

In 2021, newsrooms that use history as a reporting tool will shed needed light on present racial injustice. Many Americans lack accurate knowledge of history on a national and local level, which contribute to harmful myths that continue to depict people who are not white as inferior and explain away systems of oppression as simply incidental.

As storytellers, journalists have the power to help break these narratives. Just as we seek truth in our reporting, we must seek to correct and reframe racist and inaccurate narratives by telling the truth about the past, and reporting boldly about its connection to the present.

In 2021, “reckoning” is not the headline. Rather, the headline shows how our past failures to “reckon” have failed us all.

Logan Jaffe is an engagement reporter for ProPublica Illinois.

Danielle C. Belton   A decimated media rededicates itself to truth

Jennifer Choi   What have we done for you lately?

Marie Shanahan   Journalism schools stop perpetuating the status quo

Heidi Tworek   A year of news mocktails

Loretta Chao   Open up the profession

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

Robert Hernandez   Data and shame

Mark S. Luckie   Newsrooms and streaming services get cozy

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

Ariel Zirulnick   Local newsrooms question their paywalls

Pia Frey   Building growth through tastemakers and their communities

David Skok   A pandemic-prompted wave of consolidation

Delia Cai   Subscriptions start working for the middle

Sarah Stonbely   Videoconferencing brings more geographic diversity

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

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

Alicia Bell and Simon Galperin   Media reparations now

Rodney Gibbs   Zooming beyond talking heads

Colleen Shalby   The definition of good journalism shifts

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

Zizi Papacharissi   The year we rebuild the infrastructure of truth

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

Jesse Holcomb   Genre erosion in nonprofit journalism

Zainab Khan   From understanding to feeling

Meredith D. Clark   The year journalism starts paying reparations

Jim Friedlich   A newspaper renaissance reached by stopping the presses

Errin Haines   Let’s normalize women’s leadership

Anthony Nadler   Journalism struggles to find a new model of legitimacy

Renée Kaplan   Falling in love with your subscription

Joni Deutsch   Local arts and music make journalism more joyous

Nico Gendron   Ask your readers to help build your products

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

Victor Pickard   The commercial era for local journalism is over

Kerri Hoffman   Protecting podcasting’s open ecosystem

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

Rick Berke   Virtual events are here to stay

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

Ray Soto   The news gets spatial

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

Ernie Smith   Entrepreneurship on rails

Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli   Defund the crime beat

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

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

Whitney Phillips   Facts are an insufficient response to falsehoods

John Saroff   Covid sparks the growth of independent local news sites

Celeste Headlee   The rise of radical newsroom transparency

Joshua Darr   Legislatures will tackle the local news crisis

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

A.J. Bauer   The year of MAGAcal thinking

Julia Angwin   Show your (computational) work

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

Marissa Evans   Putting community trauma into context

Taylor Lorenz   Journalists will learn influencing isn’t easy

Doris Truong   Indigenous issues get long-overdue mainstream coverage

Tshepo Tshabalala   Go niche

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

Michael W. Wagner   Fractured democracy, fractured journalism

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

Mike Ananny   Toward better tech journalism

Amara Aguilar   Journalism schools emphasize listening

Sara M. Watson   Return of the RSS reader

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

Imaeyen Ibanga   Journalism gets unmasked

David Chavern   Local video finally gets momentum

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   Stop pretending publishers are a united front

Mariano Blejman   It’s time to challenge autocompleted journalism

Mandy Jenkins   You build trust by helping your readers

Anna Nirmala   Local news orgs grasp the urgency of community roots

Joanne McNeil   Newsrooms push back against Ivy League cronyism

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

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

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

Gonzalo del Peon   Collaborations expand from newsrooms to the business side

Natalie Meade   Journalism enters rehab

Kawandeep Virdee   Goodbye, doomscroll

Jody Brannon   People won’t renew

Edward Roussel   Tech companies get aggressive in local

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

Nicholas Jackson   Blogging is back, but better

Nabiha Syed   Newsrooms quit their toxic relationships

Logan Jaffe   History as a reporting tool

Jonas Kaiser   Toward a wehrhafte journalism

Masuma Ahuja   We’ll remember how interconnected our world is

Kevin D. Grant   Parachute journalism goes away for good

Sonali Prasad   Making disaster journalism that cuts through the noise

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

Beena Raghavendran   Journalism gets fused with art

Jessica Clark   News becomes plural

Tim Carmody   Spotify will make big waves in video

M. Scott Havens   Traditional pay TV will embrace the disruption

Rachel Schallom   The rise of nonprofit journalism continues

Cherian George   Enter the lamb warriors

Cindy Royal   J-school grads maintain their optimism and adaptability

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

Nisha Chittal   The year we stop pivoting

Francesco Zaffarano   The year we ask the audience what it needs

Charo Henríquez   A new path to leadership

Jer Thorp   Fewer pixels, more cardboard

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

Sarah Marshall   The year audiences need extra cheer

Samantha Ragland   The year of journalists taking initiative

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

Tonya Mosley   True equity means ownership

Hadjar Benmiloud   Get representative, or die trying

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

Matt Skibinski   Misinformation won’t stop unless we stop it

Ben Werdmuller   The web blooms again

Andrew Donohue   The rise of the democracy beat

Nonny de la Pena   News reaches the third dimension

Gabe Schneider   Another year of empty promises on diversity

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, a push for pluralism

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

Jacqué Palmer   The rise of the plain-text email newsletter

Cory Haik   Be essential

Christoph Mergerson   Black Americans will demand more from journalism

Catalina Albeanu   Publish less, listen more

Janet Haven and Sam Hinds   Is this an AI newsroom?

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

Steve Henn   Has independent podcasting peaked?

Ryan Kellett   The bundle gets bundled

Brian Moritz   The year sports journalism changes for good

Garance Franke-Ruta   Rebundling content, rebuilding connections

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

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

Kristen Muller   Engaged journalism scales

John Garrett   A surprisingly good year

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

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

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

John Ketchum   More journalists of color become newsroom founders

Cory Bergman   The year after a thousand earthquakes

Pablo Boczkowski   Audiences have revolted. Will newsrooms adapt?

Parker Molloy   The press will risk elevating a Shadow President Trump

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

Jeremy Gilbert   Human-centered journalism

Chase Davis   The year we look beyond The Story

Matt DeRienzo   Citizen truth brigades steer us back toward reality

Burt Herman   Journalists build post-Facebook digital communities

John Davidow   Reflect and repent

Mark Stenberg   The rise of the journalist-influencer

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

Basile Simon   Graphics, unite

José Zamora   Walking the talk on diversity

Chicas Poderosas   More voices mean better information

Bo Hee Kim   Newsrooms create an intentional and collaborative culture

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

Alyssa Zeisler   Holistic medicine for journalism

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

Don Day   Business first, journalism second

Megan McCarthy   Readers embrace a low-information diet

Hossein Derakhshan   Mass personalization of truth

Linda Solomon Wood   Canada steps up for journalism

Andrew Ramsammy   Stop being polite and start getting real

Tamar Charney   Public radio has a midlife crisis

Ståle Grut   Network analysis enters the journalism toolbox

Brandy Zadrozny   Misinformation fatigue sets in

Talmon Joseph Smith   The media rejects deficit hawkery