Power to the People—of Color
Session facilitator(s): Emmanuel Martinez, Julia B. Chan
Day & Time: Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, at 5:15pm
JULIA: Hi, everyone. We’re going to get started in just a couple minutes. Ideally people sit together because there’ll be activities, and conversations and Post-Its. So maybe come on up and find new friends! There’s a big box up here, too, in case we can’t get to everyone and you need more. Everyone’s silent, I guess that means let’s get started.
EMMANUEL: Emmanuel Martinez, and I’m a data reporter. I work at Reveal.
JULIA: I’m Julia and I’m the director of audience for Mother Jones. So this session, we called it “power to the people of color” but it is essentially about how to cover communities that we’re not a part of, especially in journalism, we’re doing that a lot. And often, the person doing the reporting, editing, at any stage of the reporting, is not necessarily reflective of the community, right? So how do we kind of do this in a respectful and insightful, and meaningful way, just because like over the summer, I’ve seen a lot of journalism, especially journalism about people who look like me, that have made me really feel my color and had been really more harmful than helpful. So I guess just kind of starting off that. I kind of want to say that we don’t know all the answers. And in terms of covering the communities that we’re a part of, I think the first step is acknowledging some sort of humility. That we are not the experts when we come in to these communities that we’re not a part of.
JULIA: So this is very much a two-way conversation. As questions and comments pop up, please feel free to put your hand up. There’s a lot of interactivity, for those of you who are new to SRCCON. And for those of you who are new, I definitely want this to be a conversation. Although the head is power to the people of color, ‘cause it just, you know, editorially, sounds nice and looks nice, we’re going to be far more expansive to that because there’s so many under-represented communities that we want to make sure that we touch on.
Also I think it’s worth a little bit of a trigger disclaimer as we explore stories in our field that were not reported, or presented in the right way like Emmanuel was speaking to, really getting to the biases and blind spots across all stages of journalism, not just in the reporting, not just in the editing, which we’re going to touch on throughout today.
So how to cover communities that you’re not a part of. The three main buckets that we have really split up the session into is acknowledging implicit biases. How to look through communities and their members through intersectional lessons and to be aware of thought lines across journalism production stages. I think, you know, something like this phrase, “How do I cover communities that you’re not a part of” would really resonate with reporters. It may seem like an ire session for reporters but we think that the thinking, and the zooming-out we do needs to happen at all production stages.
EMMANUEL: And it happens with the headlining and the audience engagement. It’s everywhere in journalism. So this is what the Post-Its and pens are for this activity that, you know, we want to examine our circles of trust. And so, what we’re going to do is — or what we would like you to do is on those Post-It notes and on those pens, write down the initials of the six people you trust and the one caveat is that they cannot be a part of your family. So just take a few minutes to do that.
JULIA: We’re going to do it too!
[ Group Work ]
Anyone who knows me knows I can’t be silent. I made a power playlist. All right. We’ll give you 30 more seconds. So if I have Emmanuel on my list, which you should do. Also, sexual orientation, we’re both cis, or no, orientation.
EMMANUEL: So anyone who shares the race as you, the same gender, the same class. Anything you have similar when it comes to these characteristics, you put a checkmark next to their initials.
AUDIENCE: So multiple checkmarks if you share?
JULIA: Yeah, then you get to see who has more checkmarks, who has less, and then overall, what, kind of, this list looks like for you. All right. Anyone else need more time. Great. So now you’re all tables with other folks. If you feel comfortable sharing. Curious if there are any surprises, any revelations, any, “Oh, I already knew this” feelings, thoughts?
EMMANUEL: So the point is the more checkmarks you have for these people in your circle of trust, it’s supposed to signify the less diverse your circle of trust is, and the fewer the checkmarks, the more diverse your trust circle is among these categories. One of the things that I thought about in terms of when I was looking for this activity was the fact that a lot of my — a lot of the people I trust come from immigrant parents because my parents are immigrants. So it’s like the fact that there’s shared similar experiences there. And I tend to gravitate toward those people. So I don’t know if you want to talk about these things, like, things you learned while doing this amongst, like, your peers — people sitting next to you at the table.
JULIA: And some of the conversations you have can go beyond this like Emmanuel’s example of really figuring out maybe you kind of grew up the same way. So feel free to have these conversations. Afterwards, if you feel comfortable sharing with the larger group, we’ll ask for that, as well. And I’ll play more from the power playlist.
AUDIENCE: All of mine are journalists!
[ Group Work ]
All right. When Jake Hall stops singing, that’s know when it’s time for the bigger conversation here. Anything anyone wants to share with the group?
AUDIENCE: Hi, my name is Linet, one of the things that we found from our list is that the biggest difference is socioeconomic status. Everyone is query except for one person. But also something I just realized afterwards is even though we have this economic difference, my experience as a black American is a lot of times, economic stuff doesn’t create a chasm between us the way that I’ve seen it with white folks or people who might be third- or fourth-generation American, or just got here. So those are my observations.
JULIA: Thanks for sharing.
AUDIENCE: One of the things that I kind of noticed is if you’re someone who reflects a lot of what’s typically not seen as norms on those lists, then you still will have a lot of checkmarks but your friend group may be fairly diverse because you yourself might have a lot of intersectional identities. So it was kind of an interesting experience for me. I was like, I have a lot of checkmarks, but my friends are as diverse I am but… there’s still a lot of checkmarks.
JULIA: That’s a great transition to…
AUDIENCE: One thing we talked about and kind of struggled about is kind of thinking about six people outside of your family. So my proxy was people I would put my kids with. Like, be willing to have my children be in their presence without me there. And that was sort of an interesting conversation for us to think about how do you think about who do you trust?
AUDIENCE: Interestingly as I reflect on it. I actually think that, for me, personally the person that has the most checkmarks are also the ones with the most distinct life experiences from mine. Overlap in a lot of these categories. So in inform respects, you would read us out on paper and say, “Oh, they’re two of a kind.” But, in fact, we’re divergent.
JULIA: What’s one example that you’ve diverged.
AUDIENCE: Well, one way in which we’re both similar is we’re both black. One way even in that commonality is he’s African-American. I’m a child of immigrants. My ancestor is Guyanese. I’m African-American also, but I’m the West Indian subset of African-American that has distinct — that creates a distinct experience within the black experience.
AUDIENCE: I was just gonna say that my closest, closest friends had a lot of checkmarks which was surprising to me. And I realized the reason is, similarly, that the thing that’s different about us that’s on here is disability issues and a wheelchair. And it made me think it would be interesting to add that.
EMMANUEL: Yeah, and I think a lot of what you all are mentioning are some of the things that we go on to cover. But I think the point of this exercise is, you know, a lot of you all mentioned that there’s a lot of checkmarks. And this is kind of like the literature suggests affinity bias. We tend to go with people who are like us for various reasons. And how this plays into implicit bias is very important. And so just moving on in terms of that — this is a really cool cartoon in terms of two people and the mitigating factors and the risk factors that mediate people saying “hi” to each other, and it’s how affinity bias plays into that. And so that is to say, like, that we hold people in higher regard who have the same characteristics as us. Or we are likely to withhold praise from outgroup of people who don’t look like us. So these biases really affect our everyday interactions with everyone and it’s important to acknowledge these things as these things as biases when we’re talking about journalism. And when we’re talking about covering communities who don’t look like us, who don’t speak like us, who don’t have the same life experiences as us. And why is this important? Because it affects the way we ask people’s questions. It affects the way that we associate their actions. Do we associate their actions with criminality, or do we defend them as victims. Do we associate someone as the main driver of the story meaning do they have to have a perfect past? Or do you automatically write them off if there’s some sort of a thing that isn’t necessarily considered a good thing. And it affects this — journalism — in terms of who we see as an empathic figure and who we don’t.
JULIA: Well, I want to ask you, what are some examples of how a victim can be maybe not perfect and would kind of discount them from being included in a story?
EMMANUEL: So I think back to — I did my most recent work at Reveal was focused on redlining and mortgage denial. And there was a lot of conversations we had that people were, like, we need to find someone with a perfect credit score. We need to find a person of color with the perfect credit score in order for them to meet the narrative, and in order for them to drive the story. And I think, if that’s what we base it off, we’re no better than lenders. This is what I mean by perfect victim. The minute you start thinking about a perfect victim, you start perpetuating the same injustices that you’re trying to cover, and then you increase this narrative that only perfect people need to be covered in journalism and helped in your stories.
JULIA: That was exactly what I wanted to say. I mean, that was a great primary for our next point which is that objectivity does not exist! Objectivity does not exist! That’s a very fancy orange slice. So this idea as I know you’re all familiar with that journalists are supposed to have this view from nowhere is patently false if we really, really think about it. We all have biases. We all have life experience. There’s just no such thing as objective journalism. Neutral is really about our perspective and whose perspective is the dominant one, and it just assumes that everyone has the same life experience and working at Mojo this comes out in politics. Traditionally, journalists have been trying to report on politics as a context of partisan extremes, and our role chronicling what what each side is saying. And I think we need to start pushing back on that, and say things that fits into accurate reporting essentially.
EMMANUEL: So this idea of, like, objectivity and how —
AUDIENCE: Eeeeeee! Ahhhh!
EMMANUEL: So this idea of objectivity and the false sense of objectivity, how it plays out. I’ve seen it spoken about many times, but the fact that, like, my colleague and friend Aura, I saw her put it most eloquently, she reports on immigration. Everyone is asking the same types of questions, and the way she illustrates it here, that her, as an immigration reporter, she’s asking: why did you leave your country. While other immigration reporters she’s interacted with ask: why did you come to the United States. And this affects the type of narrative you’re constructing. And so she elaborates and says, why did you leave your country, it opens up this narrative of persecution, and violence, and the reason is why people actually leave their country, like poverty, whereas if you’re asking the question: why did you come to this country? Then it opens up like that American Dream narrative. So this idea that this is the perfect example I felt in my mind that objectivity is false because no one’s asking the same types of questions to people.
JULIA: Which brings us to an issue that a lot of folks raised after our first activity: which is who goes where. It’s obviously not black and white. Folks don’t just belong the one community. They can belong to a number of of them. We shouldn’t assume who goes where. And we should really understand folks, and really be asking these questions through an intersectional lens which we’re about to dive a lot deeper into.
EMMANUEL: I don’t know if you all are familiar with intersectionality. I know someone mentioned the term but it comes from this black woman named Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw and it’s just looking at different identities that don’t necessarily exist separate from each other, but are kind of interwoven together to form one person, right? And she came up with this term because there’s no one effective way to talk about a black woman’s experience where on the one hand you get gender discrimination from black men, and on the other hand, you get racial discrimination from white women or other women. So how do you kind of talk about that experience — that dual-sided discrimination that black women often feel? And so in thinking in intersectionality, going back to when we’re talking about diversity within journalism, the default always happens to be about race. And diversity is not always about race. We have to ask this question through an intersectional lens. Are we talking about race, gender, class? What are these factors we’re talking about when we’re talking about diversity?
JULIA: Which, with these new lessons, ideally we have a new vision a lot what journalism could look like, what a story could look like. If we were to go back and look at a body of a story, the characters, the sources. The team that put this project together. Through, which we’ll talk about next, faultlines. What do these stories look like? Could we have gone back and done something better? What were the successes and what were the failures in these projects or in these stories. And through these lessons, through these faultlines, ideally we’re expanding on the context of our stories and our characters, and ideally are able to integrate these nuances into the final product in some way. And so we’re going to talk about faultlines which is a common framework, you know, in language and terminology that folks have been using to deepen our understanding of issues. The — ooh, Maynard’s Institute.
EMMANUEL: Yeah, so a lot of this work comes from the Mayard’s Institute, Martin Reynolds is a co-director of it. I bothered some of his slides and some of his information because I feel like a lot of when we talk about biases, we can solve these things through when we look at faultlines. So this concept comes out of the Maynard Institute, Robert Maynard who was the former owner of the Oakland Tribune, he has sort of the ability to talk about these in these contexts.
JULIA: So what are some of the faultlines. We’re going to talk about some of the ones that we don’t have time for the slides for. But the ones that Maynard Institute kind of focuses on is race, class, gender, and geography. So we’ll start with race. These are some of the major categories that have been spelled out. Then there’s class, economics influences how we see things. Expensive and cheap are relative. One point that the Maynard Institute really hits home is that a lot of folks consider themselves to be middle class but there’s a wide range of definitions of what middle class really means for different people, especially dependent on the other faultlines: geography or gender. Consider how minimum wage differs in each state. That’s a big part of that.
EMMANUEL: And so when we talk about gender, you know, and, like, sexual identity, sexual orientation and identity, are we — we should be able to think beyond, like, the cis-gendered norm. Other things aren’t necessarily being talked about. And then there’s generation, right? Like, how the year we were born also affects how we perceive and interact with things. And then there’s also geography, right? Urban, suburbs, rural. Last night, Julia and I were talking about our presentation and then we kind of got off the rails and were like, what are our faultlines, and how do we differ? Julia grew up in the suburbs, I grew up in the country. So that kind of affects how Julia and I see things differently. And kind of the reason for faultlines is why two people can look at one thing and come away with two distinct takeaways from that same event, from that same experience.
JULIA: So I thought it would be a fun experience to kind of think through what we’re missing. I mean, obviously, we went through some of the more major categories but just in our quick brainstorming last night we were like, what about immigration status, or nationality? Education? Some of these may fall into the bigger class buckets. But I wanted to think about what else might have come up and I’ll take notes.
AUDIENCE: Religion and ideology.
EMMANUEL: I know disability was discussed earlier.
AUDIENCE: I would tie mental illness and mental disability into the conversation, as well.
EMMANUEL: Especially because there’s a lack of ability to talk about mental illness in an effective way.
AUDIENCE: Family structure you grew up in.
AUDIENCE: Access to Internet, access to often didactical materials. Like, your ability to teach yourself even if you are so inclined.
JULIA: Yeah, that’s a big one.
AUDIENCE: Definitely in terms of regions. You go to different cities, you come across different slang and colloquialisms. And I don’t know if this is a safe way to put it but literacy for resources. Like, someone who knows they can go to a library and apply for a job, versus someone who doesn’t think that can ever happen.
AUDIENCE: Economic burden or economic class structure. Like, it is very different if you have — if you make $100,000 and the only person you’re supporting yourself, but if you’re making $100,000 and you’re supporting yourself, your mama, your cousin on the side.
AUDIENCE: Body type.
AUDIENCE: Yes, absolutely.
EMMANUEL: Yeah, and the thing that I’ve been kind of thinking about lately a lot is also just in terms of journalism how hard it is. Like, I don’t have any children, but how hard it is to be a parent, and especially a single parent. Like, coming to the airport, I saw this woman traveling with a child. She had just all the things that her child needed, right? Let alone all the things she needed. How tough is it traveling, when you’re the only one looking after your child. So some of the other things that, you know, just because we don’t identify with, it doesn’t mean that it’s not a problem for other people.
AUDIENCE: If you enter Heathrow Airport, if you and your family don’t have the same name, don’t expect to take off. Just plain and simple.
JULIA: I don’t know what your thoughts are about this. In California, we recently changed a bill about daylight savings, meaning we don’t have to do it. And overhearing conversations about it I don’t know, at the salad bar, bar-bars, people based it on the commute. They would say, hey, I commute really early in the morning, and I would like more light in the morning. Or I hate changing clocks. But who changes their clocks anymore because we have phones. But folks’ reasons for making that decision were really, really personal. So imagine that but on a broader scale that speaks to the different lenses and experiences what we’re reporting.
EMMANUEL: And the other thing that I wanted to mention is this idea of intersectionality. This is going tangential, off topic, but the idea when we look at journalism through an intersectional lens, just think about the more nuanced stories that we can tell as journalists. When we look at our characters in our stories through an intersectional lens, how complex things can be for people who have multiple identities and those identities help them navigate or don’t help them navigate the world. And so that was something that I was thinking about. Like, we should be looking at — we should be applying intersectionality in journalism because it makes it so much more rich, more nuanced, and it will quite frankly, just produce better journalism.
JULIA: And, hell, after our onboarding presentation, it could be applied to tech. So like I said, faultlines in journalism. Stories happening across different faultlines. It really does take into account, the more nuanced parts of the community. And really parachuting in is really something that we’re all trying to avoid. So what can we do to get everything we need, but also make sure we’re telling the whole story as much as possible. Oh, this. Now I want to pause real quick. Who got that joke? Who didn’t got that joke. Now there’s a faultline between who watched the seminal classic Speed As a child…
AUDIENCE: And also a faultline between people who remember movie lines and people who don’t.
EMMANUEL: Considering what we learned about faultlines, what faultlines are at play when we look at stories, and how do they exist in those stories. This is a story that our former colleague Bernice Yearn did, and it’s a story about cleaning ladies who work at night and how they’re subjected to rape by their bosses. So like, from you all, what are some of the faultlines at play for this story?
AUDIENCE: Immigration status.
AUDIENCE: Safety was one of the ones that I was thinking of that wasn’t part of the list, but how concerns about your own safety concerns where you go, what you do, and what threats you’ll take in the first place. What jobs you’ll take, won’t take, and how you navigate these different spaces.
EMMANUEL: Class, yeah.
AUDIENCE: Race and language.
EMMANUEL: And gender, right? And it’s funny when I think about this story and I forget when it came out. Maybe in, like, 2014, 2015? Years — like, two years, three years, like, before the Me Too stuff happened. And I think about, well, why didn’t this story resonate as well as the New York Times, Harvey Weinstein, and how does that — how would our thought lines at play in terms of who gets the coverage, and who doesn’t.
JULIA: And three years before that, she had a big investigation on Rape in the Fields on national farm workers and that, too, didn’t get national attention.
AUDIENCE: I would say that people’s orientations in terms of assault or sexual assault can really govern their reaction to a story. For somebody who’s never really experienced either a sexual assault or a threat of one, I found that they — it can be more difficult for them to connect with key aspects that are core for people who have been on the other side of that experience.
EMMANUEL: And I think that is something that kind of as an industry, the journalism industry, we struggle with. How do we deal with people who have dealt with some type of trauma and how do we get their stories to really come out? I don’t really think that’s something that we have an effective way to deal with people who have experienced trauma.
AUDIENCE: I think age is also a factor. I think a lot of reporting focuses on people younger than 30. You don’t see a lot of coverage on folks, you know, victim who are victims over 40. Sexual assault in nursing homes is a thing. We don’t really tell their stories.
AUDIENCE: And we also don’t talk — I’m sorry — we also don’t talk about how often we’re making assumptions about these things. Like, this this was traumatic but to externalize it a little bit, there was a tweet from a TV writer, John Rogers, and he was talking about how he was watching the hearings, as he as it got further and further in, he kept a bottle of whisky on his desk. And he said, that every single woman that walked into the room poured that whisky. Or being in journalism rooms they ask: how do we reach out to the working class? And he would be the first person saying, “My mom was a maid!” We start like that. We talk to each other like we don’t know what’s in.
AUDIENCE: Well, part of it is the assumption that because you’re in the room that you have the same experience, or if you don’t have the same experience, you can weave a narrative so you don’t have to touch it and it’s more about their comfort about your background. And it impacts the way the story gets told. For instance, I did a Obamacare tax prep thing, and I was really pretending to talk to these people, but the article was like, look at these poor people who don’t know how to file their taxes! It’s like that will be it’s the assumption that the way that you come into the room is the only way that you can be.
AUDIENCE: And if you’re not, it’s shameful.
AUDIENCE: We do this all the time!
AUDIENCE: Yeah, going back to an earlier comment, it’s also making assumptions about how people perceive themselves. So my stepmom is in her late 60s, early 70s, so experiences she had younger, she maybe didn’t think of as sexual assault back then and that’s pretty common for women in that generation but people in my generation who are younger are like, maybe that was a case of sexual assault, and we’re trying to tell them how to feel about certain situations.
EMMANUEL: Right, and yeah, that goes back to how people of different generations view the same thing. And one person might think, oh, it’s okay. And another person may say like no, this was wrong. So how do we kind of, like, talk about these things?
AUDIENCE: Yeah, I was just gonna say, rather than say view it, I would say dealt with it.
AUDIENCE: Language can be a really tricky — even on — the folks who have had the experience of sexual assault, whether they identify with the term “victim” or “survivor” is different for different people.
JULIA: Words matter.
EMMANUEL: And we’ll get to that.
JULIA: Okay. Next example: Brett Kavanaugh. So everyone is familiar with the hearings. What faultlines were at play here?
AUDIENCE: Ooh definitely the gender… yeah. Class.
AUDIENCE: Not even class — so when we talk about class, I think of somebody like him as a walking money bag. There is a certain class that he has and I’ve spent time around people similar enough to him that it’s not even like, I’m upper middle class. And somebody else is rich-rich. He’s a walking money bag that he has nothing to do with anyone else.
AUDIENCE: He said he grew up in the “hood.” He said he grew up in Maryland.
JULIA: So geography?
AUDIENCE: I think to the point where class ties into it. The school that he went through, and the system that engenders.
EMMANUEL: The one thing that I had going when I first saw this. I was talking to Martin, one of the things that wasn’t really touched on in terms of a lot of, like, the immediate coverage was race. Like, this isn’t the first time we’ve had this, right? Like, Anita Hill, and how did she navigate the situation or how did society force her to navigate the situation versus Brett Kavanaugh, and Christine Blasey Ford.
AUDIENCE: Well, for Blasey Ford everyone was more sympathetic because of her degree.
EMMANUEL: I think what’s sometimes missing is context. And context sometimes in a historical sense. And I think as journalists, we get wrapped up in the now where —
AUDIENCE: And we don’t look back. You know, history repeats. We definitely did not do enough reflecting what happened 30 years ago.
AUDIENCE: I think sexuality is a factor, too. If it was a queer relationship, people would have reacted differently.
AUDIENCE: And even Lindsay Ford being this respected psychology professor, and her decision to do this, criticize the tasks. If she were still single. If there was any information about her having any problems with substance abuse. If she had not made it going to those prep schools, and stuff like that.
AUDIENCE: And they still tried to ding her for it.
AUDIENCE: I mean, with the sexuality, even with the Me Too movement, we focus on the typical heterosexual assaults versus what happened with Kevin Spacey. So it’s something that we’re not really paying attention to. And I don’t think there were bisexual people that called out in Me Too, but if they did that would be a whole nother level of complexity.
AUDIENCE: And we didn’t see any women come out and call it out at all. And there was a whole bunch of women, I think, at NYU who said we lost a whole chunk of women.
AUDIENCE: And slightly off topic, I think there’s capitalizing on these narratives created, or help to build. I felt Michael Mayor’s — there was an ad from a woman running a campaign somewhere and basically her whole ad is, like, so it’s me versus this man, who would you trust more not to show you my penis. So first of all, it’s transphobic, right, let’s just all assume. Secondly, the construction of women as not being able to sexually assault someone, not enact violence on their own, not being able to facilitate violence. How she was able to capitalize off of that narrative. And how it became fodder for a lot of jokes, and a lot of quote-unquote cheap whoop points. I don’t know if it was the Today Show, but they just show the ad, and the camera switches back to the host and the audience cheers madly. Like, yeah! Girl power! And feminism! But that leaves out a lot of context.
JULIA: That leaves out a whole lot of context.
AUDIENCE: And I’m going to bring it in the room, there’s Leah Dunhams that exist.
AUDIENCE: Who groomed his…
AUDIENCE: Victim. Yeah, there are people who groom victims. There are people who are participatory in their abuse, and I know for a fact that, you know, anything Brett Kavanaugh has done or not done, there are women complicit in him having been an abuser. There are people who are complicit in silencing Christine for it, and there are victims we’re never going to hear from. And when we talk about gender at the faultline we need to be willing to be honest that the gender that you’re assigned, or the gender that you take on later in life exempt you from being an abuser or an enabler.
JULIA: I think I saw one more comment over here.
AUDIENCE: I don’t want to derail where you were going, but I’m really curious how you experienced this story in your newsrooms, because, for me, I was totally struck and kind of dumbfounded about how supportive our upper management was.
JULIA: I was expecting the opposite direction of where you were going to go.
AUDIENCE: It was pretty amazing actually. And as a woman of color, I was trying so hard not to be bitter about that, you know, because we’ve had so many traumatic events that have affected people of color and nobody ever acknowledged how traumatic that can be for people of color. So when we’re talking about power to the people of color, how can that play in?, you know, because if most of the white people in the room have checkmarks on their lists, how do we give more power to the people of color, that relate more deeply to this story that relate more deeply to others, but maybe not us.
AUDIENCE: I cannot let this go without saying that I think the political party had a huge influence in this, the political ties, agency, had a huge role to play.
EMMANUEL: To your point, I understand how triggering, upsetting, and demoralizing this stuff can be because I’m also a person of color, so I do have some slides that can hopefully steer the conversations with people who don’t necessarily see your experience. And so we’ll get to that point.
JULIA: And then we can talk more after. There are a couple more examples here and I’ll give you a sneak peek and I’ll share the slides later. We’ve got the U.S. Open, and Starbucks.
EMMANUEL: So we have this story about Starbucks, and people’s schedules. To me, looking back at this story when I read it, and now compared to, like, faultlines, right? Class, and it involved parents, and people who have children and how do they navigate their work schedules when their life revolves around their children.
JULIA: And we have a CNN story about the bathroom bill.
EMMANUEL: And transgender and is it because she is young, is she getting this positive fighting the bathroom bill as opposed to someone who’s older and, like, this generational faultline?
JULIA: So what happens when we don’t consider faultlines?
[ Laughter ]
You know, a story can be factually correct but lacking in the kind of context that we just spent a wonderful time talking through. And with that lack of nuance and context, journalism can become a perpetuator of injustice and equality.
EMMANUEL: And this point, I think, is really important to me. Because I work in investigative reporting and it’s with the mindset that, like, we’re supposed to have an impact. We’re supposed to make people’s lives better. But what happens when, like, the words we use, when the framing we have kind of has that opposite effect where we promote these things like that just further push injustice or inequities where we do more harm to these communities instead of actually seeking the impact that we want and we want to see happen with our work.
JULIA: Right, instead of reporting on communities, we should also be considering how we’re reporting for these communities. So how journalism can fail with this happens, right? When words don’t matter. When framing isn’t considered. When characters and communities are reduced to stereotypes and when, again, we point back to the perfect victim. We’re only telling their stories. So we have a couple more examples of kind of how we’ve seen this play out recently.
EMMANUEL: I know this was kinds of a Bay Area story. But her name is Nia Wilson, and she was murder on BART by this white man who had a mental illness, but I think they determined that there was a lot of police, and investigators determined that it was racially motivated. So this was a photo from local TV, local news. That’s Nia Wilson, and what she’s holding there is a gun. And this is a perfect example of how journalism perpetuates these stereotypes, these injustice. Why are we criminalizing her? Why does she have a photo of her with a gun? Could you not find any other photo? It promotes the perfect victim story. Maybe she doesn’t deserve the justice that the news is providing because she’s holding a gun.
AUDIENCE: That’s not even a gun; it’s a phone case.
EMMANUEL: So it’s like, why should you use this photo that could be misconstrued as a gun?
AUDIENCE: I remember her family calling and saying, asking them to have these photos removed because it makes her look like a sinister character when she was just riding the BART with her sister.
JULIA: And media research before her Facebook profile went private, when it was public, there were literally hundreds of photos. And they picked this one. I believe it was KTVU. Another good example is what do migrants call themselves. This has been heavily debated with the term illegal immigrants.
EMMANUEL: And I think, for me, my first introduction to use is Univision. I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household and I was not familiar with the term “illegal immigrant” until I started watching English-speaking news, like the New York Times and mainstream English media because Univision uses “undocumented” and they always use that term. And this is one of these things. What do migrants call themselves in terms of when words matter and when words don’t. Because there is a lot of criminality associated when we say that someone is illegal, and it goes back to, like, the thing that Aura was tweeting about — why do people come here in the first place? Why do people leave their native countries? And also kind of like playing on that same thing. Again, I saw a lot of bad journalism, particularly with people who look like me. Like, there is always a criminality associated with immigration that people that look like me committed crimes, their immigration status is always come into question and it then becomes a theme. As journalists, are we supposed to be doing that? And this was another — like, they, Washington Post since took this line out. But like this women of color and promiscuity, and I bolded the part where it says, “And while it would be irresponsible to speculate…” This is Aretha Franklin’s obit. And the rest of the graph says that she had a child at 12 years old. So, like, associating her father’s promiscuity with her — like, that’s really problematic.
AUDIENCE: So I’m from Detroit. And this was a big story in Detroit. And watching the local coverage as compared to the national coverage was like watching two completely different people being painted. And I’m so glad that you used this example. Because there’s no reason talk about her father. She was Aretha Franklin. And it was really disheartening to see this national narrative being painted and the complete opposite was a celebration of who she was as a human being in Detroit. And it also goes back, and I know you looked over me, the idea of parachuting into communities even on stories like this that should be easier to cover. This is a great example of how if you parachute into a story, you’ll often get it wrong.
AUDIENCE: She was saying, less than two hours. That’s almost physically impossible. I don’t need to know anything else about her.
AUDIENCE: Do we need to bring up the horrible things that one person did to another if it wasn’t to him? Like, why are we bringing up things that — yes, it affected what she did later but not in the grand scheme of how important she was.
JULIA: And it really speaks to the layers that this went through too good pubbed again and again and again. Especially at the Post, there’s a team. There’s the editor, the editor, the producer, there’s so many layers that this kind of fell through. Other fails within like, The Post, and the 🤦🏻♂️ emoji. You can’t see it. These aren’t food related — the boba piece, and the Olvera Street piece I know are things that folks have been talking about this year.
AUDIENCE: So most of the coverage on white supremacy and hate centers on the supremacy and not the war. Obviously, like the biggest one — the one that the New York Times did was on the white supremacist next door, looks just like you. That continually happens and it’s frustrating because often the response from newsrooms is like, no, we’re covering hate. We’re covering white supremacy. It’s like you’re not. You’re centering the white supremacist. You’re not actually talking about the harm that’s being created and actually being focused on.
AUDIENCE: I have a separate one but I wanted to jump on that one, as well, because there was one about how do we process it?
EMMANUEL: Sorry, can you repeat it?
AUDIENCE: So there was a story today called, there’s white supreme simple, and how did we miss it. I don’t remember the brand exactly, but they went to Waffle House — not Waffle House, Cracker Barrel, and treated it as, like, this sacred unicorn that people don’t go to. Like, I grew up in Florida. It has a weird gift shop. But…
AUDIENCE: They serve cinnamon apples.
AUDIENCE: Speaking with the biases, and all the sort of class systems that work into that. And highlighting this place that a lot of regular people eat at.
AUDIENCE: Oh, um, also, um, internal questions. A lot of coverage about how this all failed. Everything they did wrong while ignoring like, the very real movements that are happening in the south. All the coverage. It’s like, oh, my God, it’s not so racist. Stuff like that. I think that was it.
AUDIENCE: Also ignoring the fact that there was active voter suppression. There was a story about it maybe just last week, and the Ronald election and Stacy Abrahams, and how when she first entered the race, everyone was like, mostly, is she gonna die before she gets elected? And how that counters it, and how it’s like, America! Hope! Change! And I’m like, hi, have we not been living in somewhat of a hellscape for the last two years. So the biggest scale faultlines for me are, like, context and history even if you don’t understand 100% what’s happening, the information is there.
JULIA: All right. One more over here.
AUDIENCE: So I think — I live in Philadelphia, and I think one of the biggest challenges that Philadelphia is facing right now is one centered around addiction and recovery. And the media in Philadelphia, and elsewhere, too, I don’t think has really figured out what covering those populations really looks like. And, you know, recently the New York Times did this big piece on Kensington, which is an area in North Philly, and they called it the Walmart of opioids and it was really a horrible, horrible representation of what that community looks like. And residents of Kensington, felt like they just got punched. And yes, it feels like punishing, and it’s inextricable from public health, and tangential to covering sex workers, but that’s a narrative that is a huge challenge that, I think, for the news community and Philadelphia and beyond.
AUDIENCE: I wanted to add, I also grew up going to Crackle Barrel, and the point about context and history. I find it very disingenuous, from Brooklyn — from gentrified Brooklyn, or other places — and I also think this is class, too. Like, there’s so many people, especially white people over a certain class that are super into, like, this “eat local” and we’re going to use, like, old linens and we’re going to have, like, this nostalgia-fueled aesthetic that will be very profitable in certain places, and they’ll go to southern Florida and be like, wow, they have toys from 1960s, wow, that’s odd. I think it’s something about the same sort of maybe trends or sort of processes about, like, what’s hot, what’s not, where we’re sort of going in terms of our aesthetics, like you see it done by a certain educational class and a certain educational background. It’s enlightened, it’s creative. It’s reusing, reducing, recycling in innovative ways, or if it’s someone poorer, or in flyover country do it, it’s deviant, or weird people doing weird things.
JULIA: I strongly agree. I think this whole “this thing is new” line should end.
AUDIENCE: Can I add, which is any time a reporter from the northeast goes to LA and writes about LA, it’s just completely shat on.
JULIA: So just to completely bring this on the round. Rather than just reporting on these communities, we need newsrooms to really think about what it means to report for these communities as well. And although a journalist doesn’t have to be a part of a community to report on it, it helps… why?
EMMANUEL: To those two points. Like, on the second one. I’m on the data team. So like, a lot of stories get done with a reporter who knows some data and I’m like, great, that’s a good story, but not next level. I think of, I think of, how much better could this story have been if you had involved someone on the data team. And to the first point, what do I mean reporting for? Like, do the people see themselves reflected in the story that you’re doing? Is it the language that they’re using? You know, can they go take the story, and say, like, this represents me? And I think when we do that, we avoid a lot of these things.
JULIA: And to speak to that as an audience person — it sounds a lot like, we’re asking for a lot. We’re very, very ambitious about all of this. But you publish a story. You can go and talk to that community. How is it received? What were the problems you had? And the next one, depending on what the commitment to the beat is, or the commitment to the story is. It doesn’t all need to be perfect on that first shot as long as you’re working towards improvement. So why? Aw, man, I ruined that. So why does a journalist not have to be a part of the community but it helps. Because power. That’s what the next two days are about. There’s power in our identity. We should flex it, we should flaunt. People of color, and people of under-represented community should really bridge their power, and community, and perspective, to help us all produce better, and more nuanced journalism, and we think that the industry has done a bad job at really elevating a balanced range of experience, and so it lives it to us.
AUDIENCE: Quick question. So I work in a prominently white newsroom. And I was wondering if anybody had tips or advice to convince editors that these stories are important. That’s kind of what I was struggling with. Kind of like the talk that I had this morning — it’s not going to get us views. So let’s either weave it into another story as a subset, or just not cover it.
EMMANUEL: So this is a good segue. This is how I’ve kind of dealt with it in my news role if you’re the only person who’s repeating the same stuff to the same people. So there’s a Harvard Implicit Bias Test that you can take which can be colors of dark skin versus light skin, whether it’s race. You can take these tests yourself. Faultlines training, I said that I dropped Martin’s slides in here. But he does this at the Maynard Institute. Something that we talked about as a newsroom as a whole, how do you look at these things through faultlines perspectives. And if you’re not sure whether you’re using the right word or not, there’s this diversity style guide. And to explicitly answer your question: like this is in the service of journalism. Like, you do not want to be producing bad journalism because that’s all you have is your credibility and the more, the better journalism you produce, the better you’re able to produce that trust and go into these communities later on.
JULIA: I think it’s also a conversation of who your audience is who do you want it to be. So we’ll talk about that more. Let’s go here first.
AUDIENCE: I think this is great. But I think it doesn’t go far enough.
JULIA: I’m sorry?
AUDIENCE: I think this is great but I don’t think it’s going far enough. I think trying to train prominently white newsrooms to have more trust is not enough. I think that, yes, it might be okay for a reporter to report on something that is not in their community but it is not okay for an industry to not have diverse people in that editorial process. I think, like, that line gives people an out, in a way that I think in this day and age is wrong. And we’re a collective. We all agree that we have a problem in our news industry. I think we shouldn’t give them these outs. I think, yeah, do bias tests, study the style guide. Hire people of color.
JULIA: And I think that’s the underlining theme and I think we should hammer that home. But all of this work is in tandem with this underlying current of hire people of color, promote people of color, support and develop people of color. That’s something that we want to make sure is happening this isn’t — we didn’t want to focus the talk on that because that’s a whole nother thing. But this is another piece in its work that also needs to be done that hasn’t really been discussed as much that we want to see happen more.
EMMANUEL: And it’s more —
JULIA: But and so real quick, if you are planning on trying any of this out, we would love to follow up with you. Ryan is here in the room. He wants OpenNews to be following up with anyone who’s willing to kind of let us get in touch with you in the next year, right?
RYAN: So I would say two things. I noticed that there was definitely hands up for people who seemed like they had tips. There’s an etherpad that’s posed on the schedule if you want to share the information on it. Also we’ve been doing a lot of thinking that closes are, yay, let’s do journalism, to where people go home, and do things to change the way their newsroom works. So if you’re willing for me to reach out to you, so, like, early January, and I want to cast, what is the idea that you took home, what is it that you tried, and then about a month later I’ll follow up and say, what did you learn, how did it go? And I’ll get back in touch with Julia and Emmanuel and we’ll publish a piece in Source, and maybe together we can share kind of what we took away from this.
JULIA: And even if it’s something that wasn’t from this session but if it’s a strategy or a tactic that you had, we would love to share it. Here’s the link to the etherpad. Here’s our emails if you want to follow up. And yeah, thank you so much for taking the time to kind of talk about these issues and really do some examination on both yourselves and the industry.
[ Applause ]
EMMANUEL: Yeah, thanks a lot!
JULIA: Let’s eat food!