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Feb. 12, 2021, 12:01 p.m.
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News organizations are ejecting some badly behaving men. Will they be back?

Plus: Bon Appétit gets further filleted, and McClatchy is giving employees a raise.

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.

“Despite even major public failings, they keep coming back because they work behind the scenes to protect themselves and each other to stay in power and preserve the status quo,” writes Jennifer Barnett in her Medium piece: “I Left My Career in Prestige Media Because of the Shitty Men in Charge and They Are Still In Charge and Still Fucking Up.” While working as managing editor of The Atlantic, Barnett discovered a pattern: Men, after leaving newsrooms where their abuse was acknowledged, are able to secure jobs within the same industry.

Her assessment of the industry is especially accurate now as some newsrooms part ways with a few of their shitty men.

A week ago, The New York Times’ Donald McNeil, Jr. and Andy Mills both resigned following separate controversies. In his apology, McNeil admitted to using the n-word while chaperoning a high school trip, but didn’t address other claims about his behavior, such as denying the existence of white privilege and making racist comments about Black teenagers.

Andy Mills also released a statement (it would be inaccurate to call it an apology), in which he clarified that his departure is not a result of the Caliphate correction, but instead to prevent coworkers from receiving criticism for his past mistakes at The Times and “reputation as a flirt” at WNYC.

“That’s not what we do here.” When journalist Matt Krupnick interviewed with a nonprofit based in California, he wrote that its founder resisted suggestions to improve diversity: “I don’t want them writing about racial justice and stuff like that. That’s not what we do here.” It was later revealed that the nonprofit was FairWarning.

Levin rejected the claims and said that, though FairWarning’s newsroom is completely white, it’s “not because [they] are averse to hiring people of color.”

FairWarning’s two staff writers sent a letter to the organization’s board, in which they asked Levin to resign. The board is reportedly “seriously investigating the incident.”

Boiling over: Bon Appetit’s downfall on demand. “Original Sin,” the first episode of podcast Reply All’s limited series on Bon Appétit, “The Test Kitchen,” is out now. It’s the first of four episodes, reported by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, that chronicles the newsroom’s toxic culture. While Pinnamaneni spoke to over 40 staffers in the newsroom, only voices from people of color are featured in the episodes.

Pinnamaneni describes Bon Appétit as a newsroom that, had you stripped its name, would have fit any number of places: It was rife with microaggressions, insidious lack of opportunity and growth for people of color, and the constant insecurity that, for people of color, no amount of work was enough.

The series comes in the wake of last summer, when non-white Bon Appétit staffers, like Sohla El-Waylly, came forward with their experiences of pay inequity after a photo of former editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport in brownface went viral. The incident and its aftermath launched the exodus of 10 members of Bon Appétit’s Test Kitchen.

The episode is about a number of things: how Bon Appétit felt like high school, how white favoritism was endemic to the newsroom, how the magazine got rebranded under Adam Rapoport. It loops back, consistently, to a sense of powerlessness experienced by people of color in the newsroom.

But it doesn’t always connect the environment and systemic problems at Bon Appetít to the issues plaguing the media industry — and America at large — in general, focusing on the newsroom’s culture as a microcosm.

New episodes might go further. And at the very least, the podcast series is a cautionary tale for newsrooms, a “what-not-to-do” for places looking to commit to being more equitable.

The McClatchy Company is reportedly setting a minimum salary of at least $42,000 a year for all employees.

This comes after a year of heavy union action in McClatchy newsrooms: The Packet/Gazette Guild in South Carolina was voluntarily recognized in September 2020, setting the stage for recognition of the Fort Worth News Guild in Texas the following month. And, at the same time, journalists across McClatchy newsroom guilds fought for equitable parental leave and against pay-for-click proposals.

The message is clear: National media organizations like McClatchy have the means to better support journalists, but won’t settle up unless challenged by employees (which, it should be noted, is a job in and of itself).

It’s also clear that union organizing won’t stop anytime soon. The company’s four Washington papers are still trying to unionize together despite McClatchy’s petition to the National Labor Relations Board that each newsroom should have its own separate union, and the Idaho News Guild is asking supporters to stand behind its union as members push for more resources and a fair contract.

Related: An Idaho newspaper editor struggled to get Excel access for staff. After tweeting about it, she was fired.

$42,000 still isn’t liveable for many journalists, especially in high-cost areas (even with an adjusted salary of $45,000). And — despite what Tucker Carlson might think — journalists can’t survive on power alone.

Q&A: Media reparations with Collette Watson. While Black Americans have held steady conversations for years on how to repair the generational harms enacted by slavery, American institutions have only recently begun to take the question of reparations seriously. Case in point: HR 40, a House bill that would simply study what reparations could look like, has still not passed the House after decades of Congressional sessions (the bill was first introduced in 1989).

But in October, Black staff members at Free Press posed a more specific question: What do media reparations look like?

In an interview for the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri, The Objective’s Gabe Schneider talked to Collette Watson, vice president of cultural strategy at Free Press, who is one of the architects of the project (along with folks like Alicia Bell and Joseph Torres). This interview is edited for length and clarity. Read more here. 

I realize everyone has their own conception of how we move forward, but I wonder what your conception is? If you’re bringing the concept of media reparations to a larger audience of younger Black journalists who want to change things, maybe current non-Black journalists who want to change things. Where do we go from here? What do you see as the route forward?

There is usually a knee-jerk response to times of unrest and social awakening. Especially after the shootings of unarmed Black people, or, you know, this uprising at the Capitol. And that knee-jerk reaction is usually a call for newsroom diversity. Diversity is kind of the flag and the banner, and I think newsroom diversity should be promoted of course. But there’s something my colleague, Alicia Bell, the director of the Media 2070 project, has said before that sticks with me, which is that oftentimes, we are integrating our people (Black and POC journalists) into burning buildings. And that is taken from the famous quote from Martin Luther King — “I fear that I’ve integrated my people into a burning house.” What I’m saying is that, though diversity is key, it is not the entirety of the solution and the only direction that we need to go in.

What’s happening. $$$ denotes a paid event.

  • February 18: Destrezas de Negociación Salarial. This training, led by Fundamedios USA, is designed to equip Latina journalists with the skills necessary to conduct a successful job interview. NAHJ membership is not required to attend.
  • February 20: The Houston Bar Association’s 35th Law and the Media Seminar, co-hosted by the Society of Professional Journalists Houston Chapter. Registration is free for journalists and students.
  • February 23: A National Press Club Virtual Book Event with Michelle Duster. Duster, the great-granddaughter of journalist Ida B. Wells, will discuss her new book, “Ida B. the Queen,” during this free virtual event.
  • February 25: Lunch & Learn: Ethics Guidelines on Social Media and Blogging. The 30-minute session will include review and further discussion of RTDNA’s updated coverage guidelines.
  • March 3–5: NICAR 2021. You must be a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors to register, but fellowships are available for a select number of journalists, students, and educators. ($$$)

A bit more media.

G/O Media denies wrongful termination. The Writers Guild of America East alleges Alex Cranz, a former Gizmodo editor, was fired by G/O Media Inc. for union activism, a violation of federal labor law. Cranz said the termination came after “a pattern of harassment and fabricated allegations” from G/O management, but the company denied the claims in a statement.

“Trust me, she was my stepmother.” The New York Times has added an editors’ note to an article written by freelance reporter Claudia Lawrence stating that Lawrence, who self-identifies as Native American, was “unable to provide evidence of Native ancestry.” Last month, her ex-step daughter Serene Lawrence and true crime writer Matthew Randazzo V revealed that Claudia was lying about her identity, which she claimed “through marriage.”

Sara Simon’s exit interview. Sara Simon, a former software engineer at The New York Times, says she won’t “go back to a newsroom that doesn’t regularly reflect on past work and that doesn’t proactively address mental health.” Simon’s reflection is part of Source’s “Exit Interviews,” which share “honest critique” from individuals leaving the field of journalism. “If a reporter cannot engage in thoughtful conversations about race, they are simply not qualified to serve as a reporter covering politics,” says Simon. Read the rest here.

— News consumers should demand change, too. Allegations of racism and sexism at CBS (and within other outlets) serve as a reminder that the public can join journalists in the fight for equity, writes Free Press’ Tauhid Chappell. “If the internal behavior continues without pushback from community members and organizations, Black communities will continue to suffer as Black journalists leave local outlets and community representation erodes,” argues Chappell.

Time magazine unintentionally fuels conspiracy theorists. Though Time magazine intended to explain efforts to defend democracy during the Jan. 6 insurrection, some far-right readers are using one line from the article to validate their “stolen election” theories, reports Claire Goforth. “A well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions,” reads part of the article, which serves as evidence of a conspiracy to many, including Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC).

— To tweet or not to tweet. “Many of the battles over Twitter are really battles over journalism itself, and over whose perspective and judgment is central,” reasons  New York Times media columnist Ben Smith. Though he hints at the double standards employed by media organizations, Smith’s analysis fails to acknowledge that race is often at the center of the disputes.

Related: RE: About your tweet.

Former anchors say station excluding Emmy submissions. NY1 is withholding the work management agreed to submit for Emmy consideration, according to five anchors who left the station last year. In 2019, the women filed an age and discrimination lawsuit, which they claim is reason for retaliation. A spokesperson for the station owner did not explain why the anchors’ work has not been submitted, reports The New York Times.

— New York Daily News editor to new union: “I pretend I do not see it.” On Feb. 5, employees of The New York Daily News announced they were forming a union. Four days later, editor-in-chief Robert York issued a statement declining to recognize the union, but said he and Tribune Publishing, the News’ parent company, would “respect the outcome of the election conducted by the NLRB.” Want to show support?Ed. note: The top section of this story has been edited to differentiate between different kinds of behavior.

POSTED     Feb. 12, 2021, 12:01 p.m.
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