Reflect and repent

“We should repent for words spoken and unspoken. I have heard colleagues of color described as ‘not sophisticated enough,’ ‘not ready,’ or ‘too angry,’ and not responded. I’m sure I’m not alone.”

In the Jewish religion, we celebrate the new year in the fall. It’s a solemn time of holiness and hope, a time of repentance, reflection, and committing to righteous acts in the year ahead.

Before we turn the page on 2020, we white journalists should reflect and repent for each of our roles in perpetuating racial inequity in our newsrooms. In 2021, we should commit to creating equitable and anti-racist newsrooms that serve the needs of all our audience and ourselves.

We should repent for words spoken and unspoken. I have heard colleagues of color described as “not sophisticated enough,” “not ready,” or “too angry,” and not responded. I’m sure I’m not alone. I’ve been careless with the language that I’ve used in ways that unintentionally hurt others. And have I done enough to recognize the editorial strength of my colleagues of color, to promote them and the values they uphold, and to accept how challenging it can be for them to come to work everyday? Sometimes, but not enough.

We should all be asking what we can do in the coming year to avoid our failures of the past. Here are a few suggestions.

Get comfortable with the word “racist.” Instead of being defensive about it, learn what it means. Speak openly about it with others.

Read Ibram Kendi’s How To Be An Antiracist, Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House. There’s a great reading list in this article by S. Mitra Kalita. As she points out, there are no shortcuts to creating equitable and just newsrooms.

It’s also critical to understand just how dire the situation is for our colleagues of color and our industry. One of my most searing memories of 2020 was a presentation by John Hernandez at SRCCON in July who openly asked if it is time to burn legacy newsrooms to the ground and start over. His conclusion was not yet — for now.

On the Journalism of Color Slack, there are open conversations about how fed up these journalists are and how many are ready to leave our profession. Not a few dozen — hundreds of them.

What else can you do? Embrace being an ally. The burden of fixing our newsrooms should not fall on our colleagues of color. By this point, you should understand the emotional toll and the effort required by journalists of color to do the heavy lifting to “diversify” our profession. “I’m all about allies,” a Black woman leading one of the country’s most influential newsrooms said to me this summer. Believe it when you hear words like that. Do something meaningful and impactful to make things better.

Lastly, I have a critical message for every leader of a news organization: Do your job! Nothing will get better, no change will ever take place, unless you fully commit to leading by word and deed in the coming year. If our industry is going to have a future, it’s on you to lead the way.

It’s not enough to listen to your staff. It’s not enough to hire more journalists of color. It’s not enough to make diversity a “priority.” It should be the priority for the year and years ahead. This is an existential crisis for our industry, and it’s up to our senior executives to accept this challenge to make it right.

Make a commitment to Vision25, a collaboration between Maynard Institute, the Online Journalism Association, and OpenNews to commit to building racial equity in our newsrooms.

As they say at the end of the Jewish Day of Atonement: May you (our industry) be inscribed in the book of life in the year ahead. Amen to that.

John Davidow is former managing director for digital at Boston’s WBUR.

In the Jewish religion, we celebrate the new year in the fall. It’s a solemn time of holiness and hope, a time of repentance, reflection, and committing to righteous acts in the year ahead.

Before we turn the page on 2020, we white journalists should reflect and repent for each of our roles in perpetuating racial inequity in our newsrooms. In 2021, we should commit to creating equitable and anti-racist newsrooms that serve the needs of all our audience and ourselves.

We should repent for words spoken and unspoken. I have heard colleagues of color described as “not sophisticated enough,” “not ready,” or “too angry,” and not responded. I’m sure I’m not alone. I’ve been careless with the language that I’ve used in ways that unintentionally hurt others. And have I done enough to recognize the editorial strength of my colleagues of color, to promote them and the values they uphold, and to accept how challenging it can be for them to come to work everyday? Sometimes, but not enough.

We should all be asking what we can do in the coming year to avoid our failures of the past. Here are a few suggestions.

Get comfortable with the word “racist.” Instead of being defensive about it, learn what it means. Speak openly about it with others.

Read Ibram Kendi’s How To Be An Antiracist, Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House. There’s a great reading list in this article by S. Mitra Kalita. As she points out, there are no shortcuts to creating equitable and just newsrooms.

It’s also critical to understand just how dire the situation is for our colleagues of color and our industry. One of my most searing memories of 2020 was a presentation by John Hernandez at SRCCON in July who openly asked if it is time to burn legacy newsrooms to the ground and start over. His conclusion was not yet — for now.

On the Journalism of Color Slack, there are open conversations about how fed up these journalists are and how many are ready to leave our profession. Not a few dozen — hundreds of them.

What else can you do? Embrace being an ally. The burden of fixing our newsrooms should not fall on our colleagues of color. By this point, you should understand the emotional toll and the effort required by journalists of color to do the heavy lifting to “diversify” our profession. “I’m all about allies,” a Black woman leading one of the country’s most influential newsrooms said to me this summer. Believe it when you hear words like that. Do something meaningful and impactful to make things better.

Lastly, I have a critical message for every leader of a news organization: Do your job! Nothing will get better, no change will ever take place, unless you fully commit to leading by word and deed in the coming year. If our industry is going to have a future, it’s on you to lead the way.

It’s not enough to listen to your staff. It’s not enough to hire more journalists of color. It’s not enough to make diversity a “priority.” It should be the priority for the year and years ahead. This is an existential crisis for our industry, and it’s up to our senior executives to accept this challenge to make it right.

Make a commitment to Vision25, a collaboration between Maynard Institute, the Online Journalism Association, and OpenNews to commit to building racial equity in our newsrooms.

As they say at the end of the Jewish Day of Atonement: May you (our industry) be inscribed in the book of life in the year ahead. Amen to that.

John Davidow is former managing director for digital at Boston’s WBUR.

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