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The state of media, especially with regard to journalistic practice, is under scrutiny — and rightfully so.
Many Americans came to understand in 2020 that this country and its practices, conditions and policies are founded in structural and systemic inequalities. Many others refused to acknowledge the complicated narrative of social progress, or lack thereof, in favor of complacency and comfort in their privilege. Nevertheless, the national public discourse on the matter elicited questions and concerns about diversity, equity and inclusion in the publishing industry, specifically because of its tendency to uphold elitist practices that benefit white, wealthy content producers.
According to a 2018 Pew Research study, about three-quarters of newsroom employees are non-Hispanic white, compared to two-thirds of all U.S. workers identifying as non-Hispanic white. The big take-away: newsrooms are less diverse than U.S. workers overall.
For writers of color, there is a barrier to entry similar to the glass ceiling for women, but more aggressive in the gatekeeping that takes place. That gatekeeping includes bring passed over for promotions, strict work and dress codes that restrict cultural expression (i.e., the wearing of hear in a natural afro), exploitation and tokenization of minority voices for profit and superficial, liberal lip service for brownie points in the category of diversity and inclusion (i.e., “we see you, we hear you” — but we’re not going to engage in any real structural changes).
Journalists in the U.S. preach to be the watchdog of those in positions of power, to challenge the privileged and call out corruption, uncover the truth and minimize harm for people in a community — and often, they do hold powerful people accountable and inform the public. But journalism is also transactional by nature, as the industry manufactures stories for profit, hoping an audience will support their mission and allow a paper or magazine to outlive others that are dying from a lack of funding or unsustainable publishing models.
Now, don’t confuse this as an attack on the media. I am a journalist with faults, too, who strives to better the publications I work at and establish clear ethical coverage. There are already newspapers, magazines and digital platforms across the country making the intentional push to be better and diversify their staffs and engage in challenging discourse about how to best provide ethical and equitable coverage to the people in their communities that rely on them to stay informed. The Gazette, in my personal experience, is one such newspaper. While the staff is glaringly white, there is a clear effort to change that in new hires and potential pipeline programs like The Gazette Fellowship Program, which I am a part of.
Pulitzer Prize winner, investigative journalist, Iowa native and now tenured professor at Howard University Nikole Hannah-Jones maintains a unique positionality as a woman writer of color, working at a legacy news organization, The New York Times. What Hannah-Jones did was reframe tired and harmful narratives about Black Americans, diving into the history to provide context for how America got to where it is today. In doing so, she started a national discourse on history and race relations in the U.S., concerning the conceptual framework of critical race theory — a theory widely supported by academics and intellectuals; a theory also recently posited by Republican lawmakers as liberal “indoctrination” that is aimed to convince white children they’re inherent oppressors.
Hannah-Jones and her work have undoubtedly informed future visions and plans for fostering a more sustainable, equitable, diverse and inclusive structure in media in her demand to be seen and heard, but also treated fairly.
To succumb to the crippling pressure of white institutions and placate white sensibilities for the comfort of the privileged and the discomfort of the marginalized would be harmful to the entire future of media and would limit the narratives that get told to influence the people of America.
Nichole Shaw is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: email@example.com