Newsrooms grow less comfortable with the “view from above”

“2020 has prompted a more profound acknowledgment of the fact that people who make news images — much like people who write news stories, and people who run newsrooms — are situated and partial.”

As unprecedented numbers of marchers pounded the pavement to protest racist police violence in 2020, expressing outrage at the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, some of the most impactful and widely circulated news images were, rather counterintuitively, views from above.

City streets themselves became sites for the inscription of protesters’ central message: street murals reading BLACK LIVES MATTER were painted in cities across the U.S. and beyond. And although the first of these murals was instigated by a municipal government rather than by a crowd of marchers — D.C.’s Department of Public Works, not far from the White House — groups of volunteers in multiple cities swiftly emulated its example, painting the movement’s slogan on their streets and giving it a public presence far more expansive and durable than any cardboard sign.

Conspicuous in public space and, for the most part, collectively generated, these murals quickly became a potent icon of the mass movement that gave rise to them. Their production, visibility, and defacement soon became a story in its own right. And aerial photographs depicting them soon became a familiar feature of the protests’ press coverage.

Much of the strategic brilliance of the Black Lives Matter street murals lay in the way that they inverted the normal functions of aerial imagery. Views from above tend to render subjects on the ground small, unindividuated, and subject to potential surveillance; they tend to dehumanize. It’s no coincidence that the visual culture theorist Nicholas Mirzoeff has associated aerial views with the gaze of authority — an “authority to tell us to move on” and that “there’s nothing to see here”; an authority on which policing has traditionally rested. But when the streets themselves are emblazoned with a movement’s slogan, even the most detached, godlike photographs from above are forced to acknowledge the sanctity of Black lives.

Despite the unusual potency and impact of photographs from above in the coverage of 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests, the movement as a whole has actually helped to hasten a shift away from disembodied “views from nowhere.” Instead, 2020 has prompted a more profound acknowledgment of the fact that people who make news images — much like people who write news stories, and people who run newsrooms — are situated and partial.

As the protests forced news institutions to reckon with their own complicity in the day-to-day maintenance of white supremacy, two observations that photographers and journalists of color have been making for years were expressed with renewed urgency: first, that news institutions need to do more to make themselves genuinely representative of the diverse populations they serve; and second, that the ideal of objectivity is often practiced in a way that reinforces racial bias, upholding whiteness as an unspoken norm. In 2021 and beyond, news institutions will need to adapt to this political and epistemic reckoning.

In World Press Photo’s most recent State of News Photography report, published in 2018, questions about race and ethnicity seemed to rankle one respondent, who wished to discuss their profession without reference to race. “I don’t see any reason why you need to know if I am Black or white, yellow or green,” the respondent wrote, offering a trope that purportedly “colorblind” white people often recite.

But the statistics presented in the report made it abundantly clear why a frank discussion of race was needed. Among the news photographers who responded to World Press Photo’s large-scale survey, only 1.4 percent of them — a total of 14 people — were Black.

It is unsurprising, then, that many news institutions struggle to present nuanced depictions of Black lives. The visual journalist Tara Pixley, writing for Nieman Reports in 2017, reported seeing “a dearth of diverse perspectives” during her decade and a half working in several newsrooms: “When both photographers in the field and photo editors in the newsroom are primarily white and male, news images will reflect that singular perspective,” she wrote. Initiatives among photographers of color to redress this lack of representation — such as Diversify Photo, an organization that promotes the work of BIPOC photographers and offers a database intended to help editors incorporate diverse perspectives — have issued a challenge to the positioning of whiteness as a tacit norm, a default setting.

This is crucial work, because when whiteness operates as a default setting, calls for journalistic objectivity often have the effect of excluding, hemming in, or silencing people of color. In a rousing and important New York Times op-ed in June, the reporter Wesley Lowery observed that too frequently in newsrooms, “The views and inclinations of whiteness are accepted as the objective neutral. When black and brown reporters and editors challenge those conventions, it’s not uncommon for them to be pushed out, reprimanded, or robbed of new opportunities.”

A more morally sound and intellectually honest approach, Lowery wrote, would be for editors to “consider truly listening to” news workers of color and working to center the perspectives they offer. Editors would also do well, as Lowery and others have noted, to think carefully about whether their image of objective reporting is implicitly, invisibly calibrated to white readers. As the journalist Lewis Raven Wallace — whose book is aptly titled The View from Somewhereasserted in a discussion with the Columbia Journalism Review, “The journalism we call objective is generally just biased towards accepted social and political norms.” If this is so — and I believe it is — then the “view from nowhere” that proponents of journalistic objectivity claim to offer is, in practice, usually a view from above: It is a perspective that issues from a position of authority but refuses to acknowledge its exclusionary status.

It is my hopeful prediction that in 2021, editors will make good-faith efforts to learn from 2020’s protests and eschew an illusory image of objectivity in favor of staffs and stories that better reflect the diversity of the world that surrounds them. If this happens, the slogans that occupied city streets will find new life in newsrooms — and journalism will be better for it.

Annie Rudd is an assistant professor in the department of communication, media, and film at the University of Calgary.

As unprecedented numbers of marchers pounded the pavement to protest racist police violence in 2020, expressing outrage at the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, some of the most impactful and widely circulated news images were, rather counterintuitively, views from above.

City streets themselves became sites for the inscription of protesters’ central message: street murals reading BLACK LIVES MATTER were painted in cities across the U.S. and beyond. And although the first of these murals was instigated by a municipal government rather than by a crowd of marchers — D.C.’s Department of Public Works, not far from the White House — groups of volunteers in multiple cities swiftly emulated its example, painting the movement’s slogan on their streets and giving it a public presence far more expansive and durable than any cardboard sign.

Conspicuous in public space and, for the most part, collectively generated, these murals quickly became a potent icon of the mass movement that gave rise to them. Their production, visibility, and defacement soon became a story in its own right. And aerial photographs depicting them soon became a familiar feature of the protests’ press coverage.

Much of the strategic brilliance of the Black Lives Matter street murals lay in the way that they inverted the normal functions of aerial imagery. Views from above tend to render subjects on the ground small, unindividuated, and subject to potential surveillance; they tend to dehumanize. It’s no coincidence that the visual culture theorist Nicholas Mirzoeff has associated aerial views with the gaze of authority — an “authority to tell us to move on” and that “there’s nothing to see here”; an authority on which policing has traditionally rested. But when the streets themselves are emblazoned with a movement’s slogan, even the most detached, godlike photographs from above are forced to acknowledge the sanctity of Black lives.

Despite the unusual potency and impact of photographs from above in the coverage of 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests, the movement as a whole has actually helped to hasten a shift away from disembodied “views from nowhere.” Instead, 2020 has prompted a more profound acknowledgment of the fact that people who make news images — much like people who write news stories, and people who run newsrooms — are situated and partial.

As the protests forced news institutions to reckon with their own complicity in the day-to-day maintenance of white supremacy, two observations that photographers and journalists of color have been making for years were expressed with renewed urgency: first, that news institutions need to do more to make themselves genuinely representative of the diverse populations they serve; and second, that the ideal of objectivity is often practiced in a way that reinforces racial bias, upholding whiteness as an unspoken norm. In 2021 and beyond, news institutions will need to adapt to this political and epistemic reckoning.

In World Press Photo’s most recent State of News Photography report, published in 2018, questions about race and ethnicity seemed to rankle one respondent, who wished to discuss their profession without reference to race. “I don’t see any reason why you need to know if I am Black or white, yellow or green,” the respondent wrote, offering a trope that purportedly “colorblind” white people often recite.

But the statistics presented in the report made it abundantly clear why a frank discussion of race was needed. Among the news photographers who responded to World Press Photo’s large-scale survey, only 1.4 percent of them — a total of 14 people — were Black.

It is unsurprising, then, that many news institutions struggle to present nuanced depictions of Black lives. The visual journalist Tara Pixley, writing for Nieman Reports in 2017, reported seeing “a dearth of diverse perspectives” during her decade and a half working in several newsrooms: “When both photographers in the field and photo editors in the newsroom are primarily white and male, news images will reflect that singular perspective,” she wrote. Initiatives among photographers of color to redress this lack of representation — such as Diversify Photo, an organization that promotes the work of BIPOC photographers and offers a database intended to help editors incorporate diverse perspectives — have issued a challenge to the positioning of whiteness as a tacit norm, a default setting.

This is crucial work, because when whiteness operates as a default setting, calls for journalistic objectivity often have the effect of excluding, hemming in, or silencing people of color. In a rousing and important New York Times op-ed in June, the reporter Wesley Lowery observed that too frequently in newsrooms, “The views and inclinations of whiteness are accepted as the objective neutral. When black and brown reporters and editors challenge those conventions, it’s not uncommon for them to be pushed out, reprimanded, or robbed of new opportunities.”

A more morally sound and intellectually honest approach, Lowery wrote, would be for editors to “consider truly listening to” news workers of color and working to center the perspectives they offer. Editors would also do well, as Lowery and others have noted, to think carefully about whether their image of objective reporting is implicitly, invisibly calibrated to white readers. As the journalist Lewis Raven Wallace — whose book is aptly titled The View from Somewhereasserted in a discussion with the Columbia Journalism Review, “The journalism we call objective is generally just biased towards accepted social and political norms.” If this is so — and I believe it is — then the “view from nowhere” that proponents of journalistic objectivity claim to offer is, in practice, usually a view from above: It is a perspective that issues from a position of authority but refuses to acknowledge its exclusionary status.

It is my hopeful prediction that in 2021, editors will make good-faith efforts to learn from 2020’s protests and eschew an illusory image of objectivity in favor of staffs and stories that better reflect the diversity of the world that surrounds them. If this happens, the slogans that occupied city streets will find new life in newsrooms — and journalism will be better for it.

Annie Rudd is an assistant professor in the department of communication, media, and film at the University of Calgary.

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

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

Logan Jaffe   History as a reporting tool

John Saroff   Covid sparks the growth of independent local news sites

Chase Davis   The year we look beyond The Story

Rick Berke   Virtual events are here to stay

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, a push for pluralism

Parker Molloy   The press will risk elevating a Shadow President Trump

Julia Angwin   Show your (computational) work

Hadjar Benmiloud   Get representative, or die trying

Sarah Stonbely   Videoconferencing brings more geographic diversity

José Zamora   Walking the talk on diversity

Beena Raghavendran   Journalism gets fused with art

Mark Stenberg   The rise of the journalist-influencer

Kevin D. Grant   Parachute journalism goes away for good

Meredith D. Clark   The year journalism starts paying reparations

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

Whitney Phillips   Facts are an insufficient response to falsehoods

Victor Pickard   The commercial era for local journalism is over

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

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

Loretta Chao   Open up the profession

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

Tim Carmody   Spotify will make big waves in video

Anthony Nadler   Journalism struggles to find a new model of legitimacy

Joanne McNeil   Newsrooms push back against Ivy League cronyism

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

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

Colleen Shalby   The definition of good journalism shifts

Cory Haik   Be essential

Ariel Zirulnick   Local newsrooms question their paywalls

M. Scott Havens   Traditional pay TV will embrace the disruption

Cherian George   Enter the lamb warriors

Jim Friedlich   A newspaper renaissance reached by stopping the presses

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

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

Brian Moritz   The year sports journalism changes for good

Cory Bergman   The year after a thousand earthquakes

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

Alicia Bell and Simon Galperin   Media reparations now

David Skok   A pandemic-prompted wave of consolidation

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

Linda Solomon Wood   Canada steps up for journalism

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

Sara M. Watson   Return of the RSS reader

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

Jonas Kaiser   Toward a wehrhafte journalism

Steve Henn   Has independent podcasting peaked?

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

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

Janet Haven and Sam Hinds   Is this an AI newsroom?

Megan McCarthy   Readers embrace a low-information diet

Tshepo Tshabalala   Go niche

Imaeyen Ibanga   Journalism gets unmasked

Alyssa Zeisler   Holistic medicine for journalism

Errin Haines   Let’s normalize women’s leadership

Kerri Hoffman   Protecting podcasting’s open ecosystem

Pia Frey   Building growth through tastemakers and their communities

Ståle Grut   Network analysis enters the journalism toolbox

Zainab Khan   From understanding to feeling

Rodney Gibbs   Zooming beyond talking heads

Marie Shanahan   Journalism schools stop perpetuating the status quo

Ben Werdmuller   The web blooms again

John Garrett   A surprisingly good year

Don Day   Business first, journalism second

John Davidow   Reflect and repent

Zizi Papacharissi   The year we rebuild the infrastructure of truth

Francesco Zaffarano   The year we ask the audience what it needs

Joshua Darr   Legislatures will tackle the local news crisis

Heidi Tworek   A year of news mocktails

A.J. Bauer   The year of MAGAcal thinking

Hossein Derakhshan   Mass personalization of truth

Nicholas Jackson   Blogging is back, but better

Mark S. Luckie   Newsrooms and streaming services get cozy

John Ketchum   More journalists of color become newsroom founders

Andrew Ramsammy   Stop being polite and start getting real

Danielle C. Belton   A decimated media rededicates itself to truth

Bo Hee Kim   Newsrooms create an intentional and collaborative culture

Pablo Boczkowski   Audiences have revolted. Will newsrooms adapt?

Ray Soto   The news gets spatial

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

Burt Herman   Journalists build post-Facebook digital communities

Doris Truong   Indigenous issues get long-overdue mainstream coverage

Jer Thorp   Fewer pixels, more cardboard

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

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

Tamar Charney   Public radio has a midlife crisis

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

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

Robert Hernandez   Data and shame

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

Catalina Albeanu   Publish less, listen more

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

Ernie Smith   Entrepreneurship on rails

Rachel Schallom   The rise of nonprofit journalism continues

Jody Brannon   People won’t renew

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

Taylor Lorenz   Journalists will learn influencing isn’t easy

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

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

Garance Franke-Ruta   Rebundling content, rebuilding connections

Marissa Evans   Putting community trauma into context

Masuma Ahuja   We’ll remember how interconnected our world is

Gonzalo del Peon   Collaborations expand from newsrooms to the business side

Jessica Clark   News becomes plural

Samantha Ragland   The year of journalists taking initiative

Delia Cai   Subscriptions start working for the middle

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

Joni Deutsch   Local arts and music make journalism more joyous

Sarah Marshall   The year audiences need extra cheer

Amara Aguilar   Journalism schools emphasize listening

Tonya Mosley   True equity means ownership

Kawandeep Virdee   Goodbye, doomscroll

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

Renée Kaplan   Falling in love with your subscription

Jacqué Palmer   The rise of the plain-text email newsletter

Matt DeRienzo   Citizen truth brigades steer us back toward reality

Michael W. Wagner   Fractured democracy, fractured journalism

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

Jeremy Gilbert   Human-centered journalism

Celeste Headlee   The rise of radical newsroom transparency

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

Nabiha Syed   Newsrooms quit their toxic relationships

Jennifer Choi   What have we done for you lately?

Mike Ananny   Toward better tech journalism

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

Ryan Kellett   The bundle gets bundled

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

Cindy Royal   J-school grads maintain their optimism and adaptability

Talmon Joseph Smith   The media rejects deficit hawkery

Natalie Meade   Journalism enters rehab

Sonali Prasad   Making disaster journalism that cuts through the noise

Kristen Muller   Engaged journalism scales

Basile Simon   Graphics, unite

Nonny de la Pena   News reaches the third dimension

Matt Skibinski   Misinformation won’t stop unless we stop it

Nico Gendron   Ask your readers to help build your products

Brandy Zadrozny   Misinformation fatigue sets in

David Chavern   Local video finally gets momentum

Edward Roussel   Tech companies get aggressive in local

Nisha Chittal   The year we stop pivoting

Jesse Holcomb   Genre erosion in nonprofit journalism

Christoph Mergerson   Black Americans will demand more from journalism

Gabe Schneider   Another year of empty promises on diversity

Charo Henríquez   A new path to leadership

Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli   Defund the crime beat

Mariano Blejman   It’s time to challenge autocompleted journalism

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

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

Anna Nirmala   Local news orgs grasp the urgency of community roots

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

Andrew Donohue   The rise of the democracy beat

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

Mandy Jenkins   You build trust by helping your readers

Chicas Poderosas   More voices mean better information

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

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   Stop pretending publishers are a united front