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March 26, 2021, 12:15 p.m.

The Front Page 3/26: Reporting on violence, Medium’s latest pivot, and newsroom social media policies

Plus: The Emancipator pays homage to abolitionist newspapers, student paper diversity reports, and a future for local news.

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.

Last March, as coronavirus cases climbed in the United States, the Asian American Journalists Association issued a joint statement denouncing violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, urging reporters to abandon language that supports racism: “It is more important than ever that the media collectively gets it right so that we don’t give others, including politicians and the general public, an excuse to get it wrong.”

Almost a year later, in the aftermath of the tragedy in Atlanta, it’s clear that a significant portion of mainstream media did not accept that guidance, even after AAJA’s February update that challenged newsrooms to not only prioritize coverage of escalating violence, but “empower their journalists to report on these incidents immediately, accurately and comprehensively.” Instead, much of the coverage from national newsrooms was racist, sexist, and devoid of the context provided by local Asian media.

AAJA issued guidance for covering the shootings with a pronunciation guide for the Asian victims that crashed from initial traffic. Additionally, AAJA and Sonia Weiser launched the AAPI Journalists Therapy Relief Fund to distribute grants to AAPI journalists for mental health resources. If you’d like to apply for funds, use this form.

A new Medium?

Less than a month after Medium’s unionization effort was derailed by a single vote, the company’s billionaire CEO Ev Williams announced the company would go in a different direction, transitioning away from the company’s internal publications (though it’s unclear what will become of them), and putting numerous editorial jobs in a state of uncertainty. The company offered buyouts to its editorial staff.

Platformer’s Casey Newton interviewed 14 current and former employees about what went wrong. A current Medium employee told Motherboard’s Edward Ongweso Jr. that they believe the move was in retaliation to the unionization effort: “Editorial was the department that supported the union most vocally and visibly … this is coming basically a month after a failed union drive preceded by pretty blatant union busting tactics by management.”

Elsewhere, media workers in Digital First newsrooms report that hedge fund Alden Capital is trying to undermine another bid to take over Tribune Publishing, a network of newsrooms that includes The Baltimore Sun, the Chicago Tribune, and The Orlando Sentinel.

And finally, a win for media workers: Reporters at Stat, the science and medicine newsroom affiliated with The Boston Globe, have filed to join the Globe’s union, The New York Times reported.

Q&A with Capital B.

A national newsroom with local hubs around the country, specifically built to serve Black communities. That’s the goal of Capital B: a newsroom founded by Lauren Williams, most recently SVP and editor-in-chief of Vox; and Akoto Ofori-Atta, most recently the managing editor of The Trace.

The newsroom aims to launch in fall of 2021, but Williams and Ofori-Atta talked to The Objective about the newsroom’s next steps. This interview is edited for length and clarity. Read more here.

Gabe Schneider: What was the impetus to start Capital B? How did you get to this point where you decided, “Okay, we’re going to leave, we’re going to do our own thing. We’re going to leave the infrastructure that already existed, where you were both at.”

Lauren Williams: We met about 10 and a half years ago at the, at The Root, where we worked together for about three years. And then we’ve been friends since. And we’ve often talked about a Black news organization — like a Black news utopian organization — what that could be. And it’s evolved over the years as our careers have evolved and the things that we know and understand about the industry have evolved. But last June, when everything was happening at once — Black Lives Matters Matter protests, COVID, the election, racial reckonings in our newsrooms across the industry […] plus Akoto and I had both reached points in our career where we were experienced newsroom leaders who really understood how to run a news organization — we realized it was just the right moment to do it.

What’s happening

A bit more media

  • DEI Coalition Slack. OpenNews, the organization behind SRCCON, has opened the request form for membership in its DEI Coalition Slack workspace. In addition to the Coalition-wide public channels, interested individuals can also apply to join private staff-only and manager-only channels. The space is “dedicated to sharing knowledge and taking concrete action to make newsrooms more anti-racist, equitable, and just.”
  • “Social media policies are not the real issue.” On Tuesday, The Objective’s Gabe Schneider joined Karen K. HoKendra Pierre-Louis, and Sisi Wei for a conversation on newsroom social media policies and, more specifically, how selective enforcement of said policies stand in the way of anti-racism commitments. You can watch a recording of the conversation, hosted by the Reynolds Journalism Institute, here.
  • The Emancipator pays homage to abolitionist newspapers. Ibram X. Kendi and Bina Venkataraman — of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research and the Boston Globe Opinion Team, respectively — have teamed up with their institutions to “resurrect and reimagine” The Emancipator, the United States’ first abolitionist newspaper. The Emancipator seeks two editors-in-chief, one with an academic lens and the other editorial.
  • A future for local news. A report from Michigan’s Outlier Media proposes that the future of local news is dependent on news organizations creating essential information ecosystems. Since 2016, Outlier Media has used SMS messaging to fill information gaps in Detroit. In the white paper, founder and editor Sarah Alvarez writes that “efforts to shore up or rebuild local news often continue to ignore or marginalize people and communities who were also never truly contemplated by the institutions we are now losing.”
  • Editorial boards should reflect their communities. While newsrooms attempt to address their racist coverage and internal staffing processes, they should also examine the homogeneity of their editorial boards, writes Gabe Schneider for RJI. “If papers want to demonstrate a commitment to the communities they serve, and they insist on having an editorial board, then there is a necessity to ensure they actually represent those communities.”
  • The Uproot Project. Climate change disproportionately impacts non-white communities, yet the top reporters on the environment beat are rarely people of color. The Uproot Project, launched on March 20, plans to address that disparity by being “a network for and by environmental journalists of color.” Yessenia Funes, of the project’s steering committee, told Nieman Lab that the group will focus on “providing guidance, tools, trainings, workshops, and any other materials that would be helpful to journalists of color who are covering climate change.”
  • Here We Are makes space for students of color. “Family. Identity. Loss. Joy.” On March 15, Kori Suzuki, a senior at Minnesota’s Macalester College, launched Here We Are, a daily podcast meant to allow the predominantly white institution’s students of color to “share a part of them that’s important, something they want to be seen.” In each episode, a different student shares a personal story, from leaving a children’s choir to seeing Kung Fu Panda 2 at the movie theater.
  • Abby Phillip on objectivity. In a conversation with Gayle KingAbby Phillip shared her view on objectivity: “It’s long overdue for us to critically rethink what is considered ‘mainstream’ or ‘objective,’ versus what is often treated as a special interest. Journalism, particularly political journalism, has never treated communities of color as deserving of the same level of attention and coverage as they do white communities.” Since January, Phillip has anchored her own show on CNN.
  • Student paper diversity report. Editors at the Nevada Sagebrush, The University of Nevada’s student news publication, surveyed their paid staff members to create a diversity report for the first time in the paper’s “127-year history.” 14 Sagebrush staffers were asked to share their “name, year in college, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, major and languages they can speak.”
  • How Condé Nast failed employees (again). Alexi McCammond won’t be Teen Vogue’s next editor-in-chief. Due to Condé Nast’s mismanagement, McCammond’s future with the publication was “doomed from the start,” writes Discourse Blog’s Aleksander Chan: “Getting approval from the staff for a senior hire like this is far from standard, but had Condé Nast — knowing their preferred hire’s past, conceivably knowing how it might be received publicly and internally, knowing how severely they fucked up at Bon Appétit — taken a little extra care and introduced McCammond to the staff earlier, giving both parties the opportunity to suss each other out, then maybe we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in now.”

    Photo by yaoyu chen on Unspash.
POSTED     March 26, 2021, 12:15 p.m.
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