Where Do Black Journalists Go From Here? – The New Republic - Freelance Rack

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Friday, June 19, 2020

Where Do Black Journalists Go From Here? – The New Republic

Organizing and discussion about the lack of meaningful newsroom diversity and the marginalization of Black journalists and coverage of Black communities can be found as far back as the nineteenth century. “We want absolute impartiality in newspaper treatment, and when we fail to get it from white papers we forthwith go to publishing and editing newspapers ourselves—hence the Globe, the Recorder, and other papers published to proclaim the wrongs, and demand redress for the people,” a Black journalist with The Cleveland Gazette wrote in the August 1883 issue.

Black media workers today are still tasked with filling information gaps with no real industry support. In response to a lack of sustained national coverage of the issue, journalist Patrice Peck launched a newsletter focused on the coronavirus’s impact on Black communities. Nearly two hundred years earlier, Black journalists at Freedom’s Journal, the nation’s very first African American–owned and operated newspaper, launched the publication to serve as the only official voice pushing back against the racist propaganda published in the white journals of the time. “We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us. Too long has the public been deceived by misrepresentation in things which concern us dearly,” the journalists wrote in the very first issue in March 1827.

The 1968 Kerner Commission report noted the same pattern more than a century later. “The journalistic profession has been shockingly backward in seeking out, hiring, and promoting Negroes,” the Commission wrote. “The press has too long basked in a white world looking out of it, if at all, with white men’s eyes and white perspective. That is no longer good enough. The painful process of readjustment that is required of the American news media must begin now.”

But it didn’t begin then in any meaningful institutional sense. It is difficult to disrupt whiteness in newsrooms when the white supremacy of the nation is so embedded in these institutions that it feels almost impossible to eradicate. Still, despite the institutional marginalization, trauma, and constant fatigue that accompanies this work, Black journalists continue reporting, writing, and telling stories with nuance, care, and expertise. From the Ferguson uprising and the Flint, Michigan, water crisis to the current protests following the killings of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and Breonna Taylor, and the routine violence faced by Black trans women, Black journalists must report on Black death in spite of the ever-present dread and despair of doing so. Speaking to this experience in 2015, MSNBC’s Trymaine Lee told NPR, “As journalists who are also humans, I don’t think we always do a good enough job of identifying that this does take a toll in some way. We’re taught to be vigilant and courageous and seek the truth and shine light in very dark places. But that means you have to go to dark places and shine light. And that can take a lot out of you.”

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