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Dec. 4, 2020, 12:15 p.m.
Audience & Social

It’s a problem that most of the people paid to cover and criticize journalism are white

Plus: Bon Appétit messes up…again, and McClatchy drops a proposal that would force pageview quotas on journalists.

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, December 4. This is issue 13 of The Front Page.

U.S. newsrooms are very white. So are the critics and the journalists that cover them. The Objective was founded, this year, for a specific reason: To provide 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.

But there’s an undercurrent to this mission: Media criticism and reporting, as a field, has failed to hone in on how racism and exclusion in media isn’t just a story — it’s the story. American journalism has for generations failed to hold itself accountable. And by and large, media criticism and reporting have failed to center this glaring problem in their reporting.

As Objective cofounder Gabe Schneider writes this week (in a piece co-published with Poynter):

Media reporting about race or gender or class is still a rarity. Instead, reporting on race or gender or class or disability or sexual orientation is often relegated to a passing mention or a one-off story, not a theme that’s punctuated throughout media stories. And while this failure of American journalism is true across most beats, it’s particularly on the nose when these reporters are supposed to be reporting on journalism’s failures.

You can read more here.

Bon Appétit messes up…again. In June, Bon Appétit issued a public apology following Adam Rapoport’s resignation. The publication vowed to leave complicity in the past and “center…the contributions of marginalized people.” Earlier this week, Bon Appétit unequivocally went back on its promise, allowing Marcus Samuelsson to publish his version of Soup Joumou.

The controversy doesn’t stop at the appropriation of a culturally significant dish, however: One of the recipe’s original authors, Yewande Komolafe, who was cited in the byline of the dish, said she was not involved in the article’s creation.

Now the piece, “Pumpkin Soup With Spiced Nuts,” has one author — Samuelsson — and an editor’s note. In a statement to Business Insider, Samuelsson apologized to those who were offended but, if the publication’s past disciplinary actions are any indication, this author suspects Samuelsson will be invited to write for Bon Appétit again without much deliberation.

After all, when Rapoport wrote that he was working with staff to “better represent the fabric of this country and its remarkably dynamic food scene” his tolerance for racism and sexism, and the brownface photo, had already surfaced.

Perhaps Bon Appétit should take a cue from one recipe reviewer, Jay, who writes, “If being ignorant was not your intention, do better.”

NLRB rules Federalist publisher broke labor law. Last week, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Ben Domenech, publisher of The Federalist, violated federal labor law with a tweet that threatened to send unionizing employees “back to the salt mine.”

An NLRB administrative judge made the initial decision in April after a charge was filed by an external attorney. Domenech did not delete the tweet, which he calls a joke, and plans to challenge the ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals, according to the company’s legal team. Though Domenech has been ordered to delete the original Tweet, he hasn’t missed a chance to promote salt mine merch.

In other union news… Following significant resistance from the Sacramento Bee News Guild and their supporters, McClatchy has dropped a proposal that would force pageview quotas on journalists. Members of the guild still need to vote on the tentative agreement, which could serve as a template for other McClatchy publications subject to similar actions.

And some more good news: On Thursday, content creators at WAMU voted unanimously to join SAG-AFTRA. American University expects a new collective bargaining agreement to be established in 2022.

Unfortunately, the win comes after the news that managers will not renew the contracts of 13 employees, many of whom were hired as surge staffers.

What’s happening. Events are free unless otherwise noted.

  • Today: “Black media-makers and the fierce urgency of now,” a symposium presented by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, Media, Inequality, and Change Center, and Center for Media at Risk.
  • Saturday, Dec. 5:Effective grant writing for your next big project” with the International Women’s Media Foundation at #ARIJ20.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 8:How to manage and grow your freelance business.” This webinar is hosted by the American Society of Business Publication Editors.
  • Thursday, Dec. 10: NAJA’s “Covering domestic violence crisis within a crisis” virtual roundtable, co-sponsored by the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center.
  • Monday, Dec. 14: Reporting on the Covid-19 vaccine, a free training featuring the presidents of the American Medical Association and National Medical Association.

A bit more media.

  • Mapping black media. The Center for Community Media has mapped more than 300 outlets across the country that primarily serve Black communities. Newspapers, radio and television stations, magazines, and other media are included in the database, which can also be sorted by location, audience, and ownership.
  • Los Angeles Times denies equal pay. More than six months after Patricia Escárcega filed a pay discrimination claim, the L.A. Times says she is paid less than co-critic Bill Addison because he “has significantly more experience” and is a recipient of “one of the most significant awards in food journalism.” While both perform the same role, the Times wrote that Escárcega’s current pay is “well above the scale for her job classification and experience.”
  • HuffPost closes Brazil and India newsrooms. Less than a week after BuzzFeed purchased HuffPost, Verizon Media announced that the India and Brazil editions would be shut down. In a Slack message, BuzzFeed CEO and founder Jonah Peretti said the company was not “legally allowed” to take on the newsrooms.
  • Remembering Deb Price. Detroit News Journalist Deb Price, author of the first nationally syndicated gay issues column in mainstream newspapers, died on November 20. “Her 18 years as a groundbreaking gay columnist changed lives, healed families and helped our nation progress toward being a more perfect union,” said her wife Joyce Murdoch.
  • “We just realized, we can’t wait.” Despite a pandemic, Tasneem Raja and Darwin BondGraham launched The Oaklandside, recognizing a need for community-based service journalism. In CJR, Raja explains how the publication, staffed by a team of seven reporters, is working with Cityside to deliver stories that readers not only want, but need.
  • How Charlamagne tha God became the “voice of Black America.” Rachelle Hampton explains how the white political establishment made the host of The Breakfast Club the spokesman for all Black voters. Plus: A brief history of Black radio personalities and the Democratic political establishment.
  • Capital B launching in mid-2021. Lauren Williams and Akoto Ofori-Atta are introducing Capital B, “a Black-led, nonprofit local and national news organization reporting for Black communities across the country,” next year. To help fund their newsroom, become a founding member here.
  • Gabe Schneider on Diversity Hire. The Objective’s co-founder Schneider talked about “the Substack economy,” the whiteness of media criticism, and our critics on Diversity Hire. (You can learn more about the podcast in this November Q&A by Siri Chilukuri).
  • Ajit Pai stepping down next month. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai says he’ll quit the agency on Inauguration Day. Since his appointment in 2017, the Republican has pushed to eliminate the digital divide while simultaneously deregulating the industry.
  • Periplus mentorship deadline Tuesday, December 15. BIPOC writers seeking mentorship through Periplus Collective are required to apply by December 15. The group of fifty writers will select the inaugural class by the end of January 2021, then begin one-on-one half-hour training sessions.

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 assistant managing editor of Votebeat, and Baldridge, a Master’s student at the University of Missouri (and a former Google News Initiative fellow at Nieman Lab).

POSTED     Dec. 4, 2020, 12:15 p.m.
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