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Black Journalists In Constant Fear Of Retaliation

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Black journalist

After George Floyd was murdered, newsrooms pledged to hire more Black staff, address racism in the workplace and ensure the standard of objectivity wasn’t being used to silence their voices. I wanted to talk to Black reporters about whether what had been promised had come to fruition.

I sent interview requests to about a dozen Black reporters at white-owned outlets asking if they could talk to me about how supported they feel in their newsroom. One reporter after another declined to comment on the record. All of them said they were afraid of retaliation in their newsroom, except one.

His story highlights the ways in which white-led newsrooms are failing. And how the racial reckoning in 2020 after Floyd’s murder was just another way newsrooms tried to save face. Some of those promises included increasing diversity in newsroom leadership, reporting on race and equity topics, anti-racist stance and building a better newsroom culture.

In reality, many of those promises are falling short.

But because so many Black journalists were afraid of going on the record, I got to thinking about what Black-led newsrooms are doing to support each other and their staff. Black news outlets aren’t necessarily nirvana for Black reporters. There are still times when a Black journalist working for a Black news outlet might be afraid of retaliation for speaking frankly.

However, there is a definite difference in the culture. So, I talked to two journalists about how they continue to amplify the voices of our community – and support each other.

Without Black journalists, there is no news

Gabe Schneider, Co-Director of The Objective

(The Objective)

26-year-old Gabe Schneider works in operations and strategy for the Los Angeles Public Press and is the co-director of The Objective, a nonprofit newsroom examining the power structure and inequity in journalism. During his eight years in the journalism industry, he’s worked in a number of newsrooms where he’s had to figure out how to exist in those spaces.

When Floyd was murdered, Schneider worked at MinnPost, a nonprofit, Minneapolis-based digital newsroom where he was the only Black reporter.

“I think there was an acknowledgment that the newsroom needed to be better, but I don’t think it should have taken someone’s death to sort of push that realization to the forefront,” he said. “Reporters … were huge advocates of fixing the newsroom. But they didn’t run the newsroom.”

Like many reporters of color, Schneider was often told by white editors his story ideas were not good enough. And to watch what he posted on social media. If he were to criticize the newsroom he worked in, those in newsroom leadership threatened to fire him.

But one thing is sure – reporters of color have built a community to support one another. For Schneider, that’s been instrumental to his career. A major reason he co-founded The Objective was due to the passive voice many reporters used after Floyd was killed.

“I was so pissed off about the state of journalism criticism and the ways in which national outlets covered George Floyd’s murder,” said Schneider. “For me, it was kind of painful and frustrating to watch national media just do the same thing.”

His current nonprofit is meant to be a space where Black reporters and reporters of color can talk about the objectivity of journalism. They’re amplifying stories that would not otherwise be published in white-led newsrooms and challenging the current structures in place.

The failure of mainstream media

Initially, funding for the newsroom was easier to come by. Now, three years after a nationwide racial reckoning, having enough funding has become more challenging.

“I think a lot of my time is spent scraping by,” Schneider said. “It feels like the further we get away from the summer of 2020, the harder it is to raise money to do that. And to be taken seriously in the idea that criticism from Black journalists about their experiences is important.”

When asked why he feels it’s become more difficult to raise money, Schneider says that for many funders, it’s more about the “flavor of the moment” than a long-term strategy. But still, he’s working to support and mentor Black journalists. Carrying the weight of supporting reporters of color in newsrooms that are usually not representative of them has come at a cost. At times, he has felt burnt out.

“If I don’t, some folks will just go without support and without anyone listening,” he said.

Unfortunately, Schneider is not alone in experiencing burnout. In a survey of more than 500 U.S. journalists, on average, 70% experienced work-related burnout, with the highest rates for journalists aged 34 and under.

Journalists in Black-led newsrooms

In the fight for racial equity, Black journalists stand on the front lines. Making sure that Black experiences and stories are told accurately, empathetically and with the depth they deserve. It’s not just about diversity, it’s about narrative control, the power of representation and the crucial role of the Black Press in shaping public perception.

Sam P.K. Collins, The Washington Informer Reporter

(The Washington Informer )

Sam P.K. Collins, 33, has worked at The Washington Informer, a Black publication, since 2012. He underscored the importance of creating space for Black experiences and ideas in a newsroom.

“Black people have been fighting for self-determination since our ancestors came to the so-called New World on those ships. In a world where perception becomes reality, it’s essential that we are in control of our narrative,” Collins said. “Our stories must be able to inspire, inform and mobilize, or else our people will perish for a lack of knowledge.”

Ashleigh Carrington Fields, 22, a reporter at Baltimore news outlet the AFRO since April, agrees.

“Our experiences as Black people are unique but often characterized through a shared lens of discrimination, oppression and the will to overcome,” she said. “As Black journalists, we must reflect on our nuanced encounters to provide empathetic coverage of news throughout the African diaspora.”

Collins says there are Black reporters who’ve been able to do this in majority-white newsrooms, “but only to some degree.”

That’s why he’s “a proponent and ardent advocate for the Black Press – a place where we can truly represent ourselves and control our voice.”

Black newsrooms supporting Black reporters

Supporting Black journalists and confronting racial disparities within the ranks is a matter of seizing narrative control, respecting the power of Black voices and recognizing the essential role of Black reporters.

“My newsroom is just an affirming place where everyone understands the assignment and gives kudos to one another,” Collins said. “The George Floyd murder, along with other events, took that culture to the next level.”

Similarly, Fields reports that her newsroom provides “our readers with intimate coverage from a diverse group of local Black journalists. Commentary addressing recent Black murders like Jordan Neely in New York have been helpful in bringing critical conversations involving racial injustice in reporting to the forefront.”

When asked what other newsrooms can do to better support Black journalists, Collins offered a sobering perspective. The very structures of non-Black newsrooms, he posits, create an insurmountable barrier to the kind of support Black journalists need.

“Speaking from personal experience, I wouldn’t wish the fight for self-determination in a non-Black newsroom on my worst enemy,” he said. “We as Black people have to create a situation where we are in control of our voices and where we are building Black-run news organizations. That should be our goal.”

This article originally appeared in The San Diego Voice & Viewpoint as part of “All Those ‘Racial Reckoning’ Promises,” a Word In Black series exploring pledges made to the Black community following the summer of George Floyd and what organizations and leaders can still do now to promote racial equity and justice.

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