A slow burn inside newsrooms about the efficacy of objectivity, “both-sides-ism,” and a view-from-nowhere approach to reporting burst into a public flashpoint this week. Much of it has to do with how journalists cover race as nationwide protests rage over police violence against Black Americans. Much of this is also generational.
Ben Smith of The New York Times wrote this week about a wave of digitally native young journalists who covered Ferguson and have risen to prominence in large newsrooms where they’ve challenged older norms and won a series of battles along the way. In the piece, NYT publisher A. G. Sulzberger declared “We don’t pretend to be objective about things like human rights and racism.” NPR’s program 1A on Tuesday dedicated nearly an hour to “the debate over objectivity in journalism.” The NYT also reported this week that the co-founder of the inside-the-Beltway news site Axios sent “a memo that the company would support staff members who take part in public protests, a shift from the stance journalists normally adopt to avoid the appearance of partisanship.”
In Colorado, at least five newsrooms in the past week have made public pledges about how they’re approaching their work — from hiring practices and denouncing racism to their plans for future coverage. Two separate outlets used these exact words: “Silence is not an option.”
In a letter to supporters of Rocky Mountain Public Media, CEO Amanda Mountain wrote her outlet joins “the call to end racism in all its ugly forms.” She noted the role media plays in bringing about “true system-wide change.” An excerpt, emphasis mine:
We have already begun the long, hard work of looking within to ensure we are truly awake to the power of media and ensure we do not inadvertently reinforce, but rather work to dismantle, institutional racism and systemic bias wherever it exists within our industry. Silence is not an option to overcome the change that lies ahead. We don’t accept that racism is a political issue alone. And we don’t accept that to be “objective,” as public media, we cannot give direct voice to the innate value and dignity of Black lives. We want to be a part of a new, better “normal” we are all trying to build together as a community.
The nonprofit education-focused Chalkbeat, which has a newsroom in Colorado, pronounced that Black lives matter, and added antiracism to “the list of core values” that guide its work and govern its team. “I know that some might view this statement as a departure from our journalistic values and may even trust Chalkbeat’s reporting less as a result,” wrote co-founder and CEO Elizabeth Green. “I need to state clearly that our commitment to telling the truth without consideration of ideology or advocacy has not changed.”
More from Chalkbeat’s pledge, emphasis mine:
We know the legacy press is another institution imbued with racism. As we recreate local news, we must dismantle the journalistic practices and traditions that uphold white supremacy, such as overwhelmingly white male ownership structures, disproportionately white newsrooms and newsroom leadership, and a tradition of objectivity that silences the voices and perspectives of the majority of Americans who are members of marginalized groups and eschews writing directly about uncomfortable truths. Only if journalists embrace antiracism can we fulfill our potential to serve Americans of all races and backgrounds with the news and information they need to participate in civic life.
At Colorado Public Radio, president and CEO Stewart Vanderwilt acknowledged in a letter to the CPR community that “silence sends a message.” He noted how earlier this year, the station confirmed diversity and inclusion as part of its organizational values. More from the CPR letter, emphasis mine:
We could point to and rely on the work we do on a daily basis, our values, and our commitment to an expansive and inclusive mission as our answer to ignorance, intolerance and racism. But these are clearly not enough. We must do more. Colorado Public Radio is committed to combating racism and building a more equitable and inclusive community. This week, we brought many illuminating voices, experiences and perspectives to our audiences. We need to make this the standard. Implicit bias is everywhere. I’ve participated in more than a few self-assessments and been surprised and disbelieving of my own blind spots. And moved on with my day. I own that and have the responsibility to learn and grow – and to provide the same opportunity for everyone at CPR. I will do so. Today, we are committing to equity, access and social justice as a pillar of coverage by CPR News and all our services. This will begin with a dedicated position in the newsroom along with training and discovery efforts we will need to identify.
On June 17, CPR will elect new board members, and Vanderwilt said the station made strides to ensure it “better reflects our vision of serving all Coloradans.”
In Colorado Springs, the independently owned Colorado Springs Independent alt-weekly ran a note from its publisher Amy Gillentine Sweet who said “repeated lessons we privileged take for granted must make people of color exhausted, sick-at-heart and furious.”
We know it’s time to stand up and speak out. When we see racism in action, we will call for justice. If we uncover biased courts, we will hold judges accountable in print. If we see neighbors abused by the authorities, we will demand action. Silence is not an option; it never was. Our job is to seek truth – and report it. We’re going to do that job.
We’ve always supported social justice causes. The Indy was founded to stop legally sanctioned discrimination against the LGBTQ community because of Amendment 2. It’s a legacy we will put to use in today’s environment. It’s our job to examine institutional bias in Colorado Springs and to shine a light on injustice; and we want to give voice to the people who haven’t been given one in the past. We also want to celebrate the successes of the region’s minority communities. We’re going to look at hiring at the papers, to ensure that our staff reflects the diversity of the Springs. We fall short there now. We acknowledge the failure and we pledge to do better.
We need to stand up, speak out and call for justice when we see black people murdered on the streets of America by people wearing badges and uniforms. When we hear racial slurs, we need to stop them. If we know the courts are biased, that banks are illegally denying loans — we need to sound the alarm and change the people in charge.
For centuries the media has cloaked the genocidal and racist foundations of the country by villainizing, demonizing, dehumanizing, demeaning, and disenfranchising Black people and non-whites. The media has produced and perpetuated mass narratives justifying the systematic and institutional violence against Black people, violence designed to deprive people of their basic human rights, dignity, and decency.
KGNU is committed to expanding our own anti-oppression training within our organization with a focus on anti-racism, patriarchy, and privilege. [We’re] further committed to working with community partners to improve trust in local media, developing spaces for community conversations between community members, media outlets, and journalists while focusing efforts on investing in the diversification of the local media landscape and supporting emerging journalists of color.
These are the ones I noticed this week, and I might have missed some. Has your local news outlet in Colorado made similar statements or anything of the kind? If so, pass along a link.
Denver CBS4 producer: ‘We cannot be objective about racism’
When the news director of Denver’s CBS affiliate, Tim Wieland, saw a tweet from one of his TV station’s Black journalists, Tori Mason, saying she was “the kind of tired you can’t sleep off,” he wrote that it stopped him cold. Wieland has been keeping CBS4’s audience informed of the stories behind the stories from his newsroom during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now he’s doing it for the outlet’s protest coverage.
For his latest dispatch, “I wanted to understand the pain that prompted Tori’s tweet, along with the perspective of our other black journalists now covering this moment in history,” he wrote.
Some excerpts from the powerful report:
- “A white protester asked me why I’m working, and not part of the march. I felt frozen. As a journalist, I have to ask myself is it even appropriate to be in the march? I’m having to choose between being black and being a good reporter — it’s the worst feeling in the world.” — Tori Mason, reporter
- “I have traveled to almost all of the 50 states. Big cities and small towns. I still have the fear of being stopped and having to prove why I am in a vehicle with thousands of dollars of camera equipment. (The reason for the stop? I would be late, and speeding.) As a black man, unfortunately these stories are too often common. As a photojournalist, I still strive to be the best, to cover the stories, and be a role model for my younger colleagues of color.” — Kevin Hartfield, chief photographer
- “As a black journalist, this isn’t just another story, unfortunately this is a lived experience.” — Sports reporter Justin Adams talking about his story “Talked With Your Child About Racism Lately? Denver Expert Recommends Doing It Now” involving “a delicate topic and I selected quotes which would best help parents as well as myself put in words what I was feeling.”
- “More than ever as a black journalist, I feel a fierce commitment and pride in using my voice to empower others fighting the good fight. Those who are demanding change to make this a more United States. Those who want to simply be viewed as equal. Those who are, much like myself, tired.” — Mekialaya White, reporter
- “When working in journalism, I often have to remove myself from the story. I struggled to do that over the last two weeks. For me, it is not just George Floyd. It is Trayvon Martin. It is Ahmaud Arbery. It is Philando Castile. It is Emmett Till. I cannot remove myself from the story when the color of my skin is the story. … As journalists, we cannot be objective about racism. There’s a right and there’s a wrong. That’s it.” — Gabrielle Cox, producer
Tribal broadband: Seeking ‘spectrum sovereignty’
In the United States, roughly 25% of rural residents don’t have access to the internet. “Even starker,” reports the American Library Association, “nearly 7 in every 10 residents on rural tribal lands remain without access to fixed high-capacity broadband and are cut off from educational and economic opportunities.”
Blackwater recently traveled to the Navajo Nation to help install equipment for over-the-air internet. But only after the Federal Communications Commission made the radio waves, also known as spectrum, available to Navajo organizations to use for internet. Historically, applications by Indian Country to obtain part of the spectrum from the FCC move slowly, if at all. In 2018, the agency even estimated that 35% of Americans living on tribal lands lack broadband service. The sprawling Navajo Nation has one of the lowest broadband connectivity rates among tribes but is also suffering from one of the country’s highest COVID-19 infection rates. …
The FCC, Blackwater told KSUT, “dragged its feet” on authorizing the use of part of the frequency spectrum needed to provide wireless broadband to parts of the Navajo Nation. It took a crisis to get them to move, but generally, she notes that “tribes have had a lot of trouble being able to access the spectrum on and over their lands.” Her efforts focus on what she calls “spectrum sovereignty,” or the recognition of tribal spectrum rights.
KUST spoke with Blackwater about this effort; listen to the whole report here.
Reporter Mark Duggan asked Blackwater if she thought one of the “silver linings of the pandemic” is that it might lead to better tribal broadband access. “I really hope so,” she said. Because the radio waves on tribal land have been there since time immemorial, they “should be recognized by the Federal Communication Commission so that each tribe has and owns their own spectrum rights and they can utilize them or allocate them or sell them if they want to however they choose, which is what respecting sovereignty is all about,” Blackwater said. “It’s just like sunlight.”
What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado
A Coloradan’s new approach to sorting out legit news online
Last fall, this newsletter spotlighted a new idea by entrepreneur and former journalist Scott Yates who envisioned a standards body to evaluate journalism to help curb the spread of misinformation online. Now he’s launched JournaList, a startup that seeks to sort out which outlets are professional journalistic operations based on associations they belong to. He argues a simple line of code, a trust.txt file, might help.
“In the real world we know that being a member of an association is an indicator of trust,” Yates told the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. “But in the online world we can’t see that. This is a way to make that visible.” More from CFOIC:
In other words, Facebook and Google can’t tell whether The Denver Post, The Colorado Sun, 9NEWS or CBS4 belong to the Colorado Press Association or the Colorado Broadcasters Association. The online platforms don’t know if news organizations are members of the Associated Press, the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Institute for Nonprofit News, the Online News Association or CFOIC.
But a news publisher’s trust.txt file could list all those relationships plus its official social media channels and its ownership of other websites. Working in the background, the file will be “a positive signal” that platforms can use to determine whether news posted online is trustworthy, Yates said. It should also make it easier for platforms to detect fake social media accounts purporting to be connected to reputable news organizations, he added.
“In short, the idea here is it’s time for journalists to start calling our own shots,” Yates says in a promotional video. “And that’s why we’ve created JournaList.net.” He told Roberts that JournaList will be a nonprofit membership organization that won’t “fix fake news overnight” but could be a tool to help.
The question of “who is a journalist,” I think, is one that’s kind of been out to pasture for a while now. In our current media environment, I’m personally becoming more interested in who is doing acts of journalism and how we evaluate that. Associations and gatekeepers can help, but I learn information these days from some outfits that might not ever be allowed into certain clubs, or might not even want to be. Then again, I consider myself a savvy consumer and realize the onus of evaluation is shifting much more in the direction of the consumer every day. So initiatives like these will be important to watch, especially as tech platforms gain more power to decide what we see, and also as local organizations, like, say, COLab, have to make decisions about who is in or out.
Gannett’s Colorado newspapers did a thing
When the nation’s two largest newspaper chains merged, bringing together GateHouse and Gannett, it affected The Coloradoan in Fort Collins and The Pueblo Chieftain, among a handful of smaller papers in Colorado. The merger puts both papers under the USA Today network, which recently rolled out a project called Rebuilding America.
Here’s how the Coloradoan’s editor Eric Larsen and sales manager Shane Morris described it:
Today, we’re proud to launch Rebuilding America, an ambitious, nationwide examination of how our small businesses and communities are rallying to define a “new normal” in the COVID-19 era. Journalists across the USA TODAY Network’s 300-plus newsrooms in 46 states have worked for weeks to compile stories of the resiliency, innovation and grit that will ultimately raise our nation out of this pandemic.
Here’s how the Chieftain’s editor Steve Henson described it:
As you will see as you read through it, we tell the stories of our institutions, our businesses and our citizens as they rise from isolation and closures to reopening our beloved community.
“We see our advertisers as partners,” he went on. “We want to help them tell their stories, to be successful because we help them reach customers with our advertising efforts.”
Other Colorado local media news odds & ends
- Pueblo PULP’s John Rodriguez: “Newsrooms: going on a diversity hiring spree after a national crisis is a start but the real accomplishment is diversity in leadership, and making diverse hires when no one is looking.”
- The Colorado State Patrol responded to allegations that officers targeted press during Denver protests.
- Former Rocky Mountain PBS VP of journalism Laura Frank was chosen as the inaugural executive director of the Colorado News Collaborative, or COLab, a new partnership among of Colorado Press Association, Colorado Media Project and The Colorado Independent, where this newsletter appears as a column. (“Under her leadership, COLab will be the force Colorado needs to navigate the future of accountability and public-service journalism in our state,” COLab Board Chair Damian Thorman said in a statement.)
- A 9News headline this week read “Groups from 2 different protests in Denver on Sunday feel like they’re not being heard.” They were (wait for it) vaccine protesters and Black Lives Matter protesters.
- Gannett ends mugshot galleries at former GateHouse newspapers.
- iHeart Radio, with stations in Colorado, will stop using “urban” to “refer to music by black artists.”
- NEEDLES TO NEWS: “What was once a neglected warehouse with a needle-strewn parking lot at the corner of 21st and Arapahoe streets in Denver is now Buell Public Media Center, the new, one-of-a-kind hub for Colorado’s leaders in public media and journalism.”
- Gazette editor Vince Bzdek: “My worry is that us local journalists, trying mightily to serve our communities fairly, objectively and honestly, get smeared by the clouds of partisan gas floating here from Washington like a toxic airborne event.”
- Is this a Colorado journalism job? I kid, I kid.