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April 23, 2021, 12:15 p.m.

Centering journalists over protestors makes no sense

Plus: The Kentucky Lexington Herald-Leader’s “Clean Slate” trial, journalism as infrastructure, and the spectacle of anti-Asian violence on Instagram.

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.

After every protest, it’s a familiar story: journalists, just trying to do their jobs, are harassed, jailed, or injured by police.

But words from within the industry — both from reporters and organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists — never seem to go far enough. They often paint a lopsided picture, where the only thing worth mentioning is the harm done to themselves, ignoring the violence occurring against the communities they are supposed to be serving.

These sorts of comments are callous, overlooking that protestors are also protected by the First Amendment. Calling attention to journalists, as if we should be protected from police violence but our communities should not, is ridiculous.

We should be using the platforms we have to support communities impacted by police violence and call attention to the fact that police are kettling, harassing, and beating people without journalism credentials in the streets. We should be using the tools we have at our disposal to help people hold their police departments accountable.

As journalist Linda Tirado wrote after police shot her in the eye with a foam bullet last year: “All anyone wants to talk about is freedom of the press, if I am angry, what I will do next. I think that I am angry — but no more than I was this time last week, when I was watching America burn…”

Covering the Chauvin guilty verdict. While de-centering journalists is often a goal for newsrooms, whether reporters should acknowledge the personal effect events like Derek Chauvin’s sentencing have on them is up for debate according to the internet. Some media professionals warned young reporters against commenting on the event, especially because editors and hiring managers may be watching their social feeds. But it’s impossible for many Black journalists to distance themselves from their lived experience, and that should never be asked of them by editors or hiring managers, especially considering that white experiences are often framed as “objective.”

Meanwhile, media professionals have an extensive history of exploiting Black trauma, as contributing writer Hannah Getahun laid out this week in The Objective. The “objectivity” surrounding police violence has negatively affected community relationships with papers. As papers fail to hold power to account, relationships with those directly harmed also fail.

Getahun wrote:

This summer, after a police officer killed George Floyd, mainstream and social media played a role in perpetuating the trauma of Black people by constantly replaying the infamous videos of his final moments. In my mind, it was a gruesome reminder of our place in American society. That people like me must be forced to operate normally after watching these images is a feat in itself. But the news media should not be a part of the problem.

A union with impact. Tech workers at The New York Times might have a union. This is not only a big deal for The New York Times, which has had a union for reporters since the 1940s, but a huge deal for tech workers on the whole. If created, the new unit would contain around 650 workers, making it the largest union of tech workers in the country. That unit would be larger than the one formed by employees at Google this year and significantly larger than the one formed by Kickstarter employees in 2020 (the first union formed by tech workers at a major company).

As KQED’s Sam Harnett put it: “The biggest tech unionization effort is happening at The New York Times.”

Management has denied voluntary recognition of the union and asked representatives to file for an election.

In other union news:

Q&A with Jude Ellison S. Doyle on why Substack isn’t about Substack. Substack is still chugging along as a company and a content management system (although we’ll be leaving it soon). The company, now in a fresh new round of fundraising, has either ignored or combatively engaged with the criticism it’s fielded over the last few months — namely, that it does not enforce its community guidelines when it comes to the harassment of trans people, and that it has been (opaquely) providing money to a selection of writers in its “Pro Program.”

Jude Ellison Sady Doyle, a prominent non-binary writer on Substack and beyond, was one of the first people to publicly denounce Substack’s approach. Doyle has now left Substack for Ghost, after clearly breaking down what they think is wrong with Substack and clearly the way The New York Times’ Ben Smith wrote about Substack.

Here is a snipper of the conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity. You can read more here. 

What do you think of writers who remain with Substack or are joining Substack now? Or those that say it’s too hard to find another alternative?

I’m not Jesus. You don’t have to explain yourself to me. I can’t absolve you of sin. I also can’t tell anyone to move their newsletter. I think you should, but there’s a thin line between “protester” and “drill sergeant,” and you have to stay out of people’s faces if you don’t want to cross that line.

What I will say is that I’ve been frustrated by some performative allyship. I saw a few cis people make a big deal about Substack’s transphobia being unacceptable, with all these posts about how they wanted to organize and improve the material conditions of the workers and etc. They’d be raging against the machine, and then they’d get bored, and you’d see, like, a little post about how it doesn’t matter because we’re all compromised under capitalism. We’re all compromised, Debra, but some of us moved to Buttondown.

A bit more media.

  • What does movement journalism mean for journalism as a whole? The Objective’s Gabe Schneider writes about “movement journalism” and the journalists that practice it. One definition of the practice is as follows: “Movement journalism is journalism in service to liberation. This does not mean turning journalists into soapboxes for activists, but fostering collaboration between journalists and grassroots movements, and supporting journalism created by oppressed and marginalized people.”
  • CNN parachutes into Myanmar. Eleven Burmese sources were arrested after speaking to CNN correspondent Clarissa Ward, who visited the country on a parachute journalism trip sponsored by the state military. In a story for New Naratiff, reporter Aye Min Thant says, “CNN endangered 11 people and their families just to pursue celebrity-driven, parachute journalism that serves no purpose other than chasing higher ratings.”
  • The “fringe extremists” pushing flawed science to target trans kids. For Buzzfeed News, Aviva Stahl reports how disinformation groups spouting anti-LGBTQ claims and flawed science wormed their way into state legislatures and were cited by Reuters.
  • The spectacle of anti-Asian violence on Instagram. “For the young or tech-savvy, who are arguably the diaspora’s most vocal proponents, sharing such content is a subversive reaction to conditioned expectations of silence. Posting has become a means of processing.” Terry Nguyen reports on the vicious cycle of attention and traumatic imagery that’s become central to Asian Americans news distribution on social media.
  • Journalism as infrastructure. As Congress continues to shape its annual infrastructure bill, The New Republic’s Osita Nwanevu argues that allocating even 1% of the bill’s expected $3 to $4 billion total toward local newsrooms would be a “historic and legacy-defining investment in America’s civic infrastructure.”
  • “Clean Slate.” A new six-month pilot program at Kentucky’s Lexington Herald-Leader will offer story subjects a chance to have stories about them reviewed and potentially updated, deprioritized on Google, or even removed. The Boston Globe started a similar initiative earlier this year. According to The Sacramento Bee’s Alex Yoon-Hendricks, the pilot may eventually be rolled out at all other McClatchy papers.
  • Media’s “utter lack of humanity.” Journalism professor Arionne Nettles writes about Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, who wrote that the public should “wait before turning slain 13-year-old Adam Toledo into a martyr.”
  • Who defines a mass shooting? The media. For Chicago Weekly, Madison Muller explains how a newsroom’s definition of mass shootings can shift coverage away depending on a communities demographics.
  • Leah Finnegan’s Gawker (2021). Almost five years after it shuttered, Gawker will rise again — this time under the leadership of Leah Finnegan, who will revive the publication under Bustle Digital Group. New hires include reporters Jenny ZhangKelly Conaboy, and Sarah Hagi.

What’s happening.

This issue was written by Gabe Schneider and Marlee Baldridge with editing by Curtis Yee and Ethan Coston.

Photo of microphones by Rusty Sheriff used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     April 23, 2021, 12:15 p.m.
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