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Jan. 29, 2021, 12:39 p.m.

A two-year investigation into racism and sexism at CBS leads to…well, it’s not completely clear what

Plus: The New Yorker Union work stoppage, media outlets quote anti-immigrant extremist groups, and “it’s highly likely his comments will become public at some point.”

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.

This issue is by Holly Piepenburg and Janelle Salanga with a Q&A from Gabe Schneider and editing by Curtis Yee.

What happened at CBS. More than two years after an original investigation was launched, CBS executives Peter Dunn and David Friend have been placed on administrative leave following allegations of racist and sexist behavior.

In the wake of sexual misconduct claims against its former CEO Les Moonves, CBS hired two outside law firms to investigate overall mistreatment within the company, reports the Los Angeles Times. Multiple allegations of racism, sexism, and homophobia were brought to the attention of president of CBS Television Stations Peter Dunn, who himself was the subject of several complaints, but interviews with staffers showed many weren’t convinced the company actually took steps to address the concerns.

At CBS3 in Philadelphia, the inaction — and direct opposition — was especially apparent. Five current or former female executives, including former news director Margaret Cronan, told the Times that Dunn verbally abused them. When former general manager Brien Kennedy promoted Ukee Washington and hired Brooke Thomas, both of whom are Black, Dunn and Friend made several racist comments about the journalists in-person and over emails.

CBS3 has since issued a statement in which the current general manager Brandin Stewart denounces “racism, homophobia, misogyny and hostile work conditions,” a conviction shared by the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, which called for “immediate changes to their managerial practices, culture, and vetting,” in addition to the apology. Bearing in mind that two third-party law firms could not properly discipline those at fault under the leadership of Dunn and Friend, it’s regretfully improbable the station’s issues will be addressed in the near future, but we nevertheless send the journalists at CBS3 our support.

Black authors are an important voice for Southern journalism. Reporting on the South often neglects the demographic diversity of the region, especially given that the South has the highest population of Black folks in the United States. The South’s history, Zoe McDonald writes, cannot be separated from its present.

Black storytellers like Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison have been integral in painting a multifaceted picture of the South, rooting the region in the ways it perpetuated and platformed racist policies and beliefs without reducing it to that image. Contemporary Black authors are doing the same.

McDonald argues that it is instrumental for news organizations to tap into Black authors’ work, regardless of what title they give themselves. She writes:

If someone is doing the work of telling important stories buried by the supposedly bias-less ideals of traditional journalism, then news organizations have a responsibility to amplify them, to give readers a different lens through which to experience and process the interplay between the past and current events.

You can read more here.

New Yorker Union challenges wage proposal. Last week, the New Yorker Union members stopped working for 24 hours to “demand fair wages and a transparent, equitable salary structure, and to protest management’s unacceptable response to [their] wage proposal.”

The wage proposal, put forward in November 2020, would ensure a base salary of $65,000 and graduated annual raises to keep up with the cost of living. This month, management at The New Yorker and Condé Nast countered with their own proposal, which would set the salary floor at $45,000 and make no promise of annual increases.

As it stands, unionized employees of The New Yorker make, on average, $64,000 a year — $3,000 less than industry and marketplace peers, according to the study — with “a gender pay gap that especially affects women of color.” Even so, in the bargaining session that followed the work stoppage, management stuck to its $45,000 salary floor proposal, a sum which barely surpasses the current lowest full-time salary.

Union members have requested that management schedule a makeup meeting before the upcoming February 9 session, as no counter proposals were presented at Wednesday’s convening, which should have lasted an entire day.

Q&A: ONA’s Irving Washington on Vision25. 2020 was a year of commitments in journalism. Commitments to doing better. Commitments to anti-racism. Commitments to diversity and inclusion.

While 2021 will be the year of gauging just how serious many news organizations are about confronting their history of racism, both in their coverage and in their hiring, at least one major collective of organizations aims to “go beyond conversations about diversity and inclusion to work vigorously to build anti-racist organizations that become institutions of belonging.”

The collaborative effort, called Vision25, is run by three organizations at the forefront of pushing journalism to be more collaborative and inclusive: OpenNews, the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, and the Online News Association.

The Objective talked with Irving Washington, ONA’s executive director, about how the collaborative effort is moving forward during the pandemic and why he remains hopeful. The interview is edited for length and clarity. You can read the whole thing here.

I know it’s outlined in the Vision25 statement, going back to the Kerner Commission. And maybe this is a very cynical question, but the problems that we see today are not new, right? This has been a problem throughout journalism’s history. So I wonder, what do you see about this moment that gives a possibility to actually making change and making a big step forward? 

One of the anchor questions we asked with Vision 25 was: “Are we being additive to this?” Because there is a lot happening right now and we do have the Kerner Commission Report report and we have several programs that have tried to act out with that. So this is my personal opinion. The reason why I feel more hopeful now is I do feel there is a sense of freedom of expression for journalists of color, even if it’s not matched by action yet.

So many journalists of color were fighting this battle in their newsroom. And it was, it was camouflage of bias or objectivity. All words other than what it was. And now there’s a freedom of expression, I think, not for all journalists, but I think for more journalists to express those things. is. More people are listening, more people are speaking out, and more people appear to be committed to it. I’m hopeful that I’m not naive in that, but I do think that that is a moment for change.

What’s happening.

  • Today: “Democracy, human rights, and the freedom of expression: A conversation with Maria Ressa.” The event will include excerpts from “A Thousand Cuts,” a Frontline documentary centered on Ressa and press freedom in the Philippines.
  • February 2: “Race and the media: Two newspapers address 100+ years of racism.” In this SPJ-sponsored webinar, staff from Stuff and the Kansas City Star will discuss the history of their respective newsrooms’ racist reporting.
  • February 4: “Localizing the ‘land grab universities’ story,” co-hosted by NAJA and the Fund for Investigative Journalism. Project leaders will share ways to localize data on expropriated Indigenous land in this online forum.
  • February 4: Global Investigative Journalism Network’s “Keeping alive the work of silenced journalists.” This free webinar will include Spanish interpretation.
  • February 12: “Caring for photojournalists: Preventing burnout, treating trauma and ensuring equity.” This panel, presented by the National Press Photographers Association and the National Press Club Journalism Institute, will include trauma therapist Rich Glickstein.

A bit more media

An anti-racist future: A vision and plan for the transformation of public media. More than 200 journalists have created and signed a letter that outlines their vision for an anti-racist public media. “Public media has had the opportunity and time to change since [the 1968 Kerner Report], but stations, networks, and nationally distributed shows have not done enough,” reads the open letterRelated: When will public media be public media for all?

The Fourth Estate is failing non-white communities.. Cierra Hinton, executive director-publisher of Southern-focused Scalawag, argues that the Fourth Estate itself upholds white supremacy. Disconnected from the communities they are supposed to cover, journalists preserve existing power structures and contribute to the injustice many swear to challenge.

The Washington Post tries to pull a fast one. Last month, The Washington Post forged a memory hole in its own reporting when it removed a quote from Kamala Harris where the former prosecutor and now-vice president compared campaigning to prison. The Post says the section was removed so the story, a profile of Harris’ sister, could be “repurposed” for the inauguration. The original story was restored after Reason called attention to the change.

The Boston Globe’s new initiative offers “Fresh Start.” By filling out an online form, individuals previously covered in the Boston Globe can request the paper update or anonymize stories that mention them. Jason Tuohey, the Globe’s managing editor for digital, said “stories about public figures or serious crimes” would face more scrutiny. Answers to frequently asked questions about the program can be found here.

“It’s highly likely his comments will become public at some point.” In 2019, New York Times reporter Donald McNeil Jr. made multiple racist and sexist comments on a student trip to Peru, sources told The Daily Beast. In a statement, the Times said it was aware of the allegations — which include using the n-word and denying the existence of white privilege — but that the publication apologized to the group of at least 26 students. While executive editor Dean Baquet wrote that he found McNeil’s comments “offensive,” they “did not appear … hateful or malicious.” Baquet says McNeil was “formally disciplined” and “not given a pass.” McNeil’s recent work is reportedly part of the Times’ Pulitzer Prize submission.

Media outlets quote anti-immigrant extremist groups. Media Matters for America reports that local and national newsrooms are citing well-known hate groups in their coverage of President Biden’s immigration policy. NPR has referenced both the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Local outlets, including The Sacramento Bee, The San Francisco Chronicle, and, have also cited FAIR. Related: Several major media outlets failed to quote trans people in reports on repeal of trans military ban.

URL Media launches with eight media partners. The multi-platform network — named for uplift, respect, and love — will share content from “high-performing Black and brown media organizations.” Inaugural members include The Haitian Times, Palabra, and WURD, among others. Sign up for the newsletter and other updates here.

“Friendly to all political persuasions.” In another extraordinary display of bothsidesism, Politico asked far-right commentator Ben Shapiro to guest-host Playbook. Alex Shephard relates the subsequent staff revolt and the routine nature of the situation in The New Republic: “Backing Shapiro — and, in the process, alienating large portions of Politico’s young staff — only enhances the case that it’s an outlet that won’t be bossed around by the woke.”

Photo by ActionVance on Unsplash.

POSTED     Jan. 29, 2021, 12:39 p.m.
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