5 takeaways from More Equitable Coverage for Black America

Gracie McKenzie (@graciemckenzie), Chair of the volunteer ONA Resource Team, compiled these key moments from the ONA20 session on Oct. 1, 2020. To view a recording of the session, register for on-demand access to the ONA20 archive. Session participants included:

5 key takeaways:

  1. Our industry is having a lot of conversations right now about Black communities but “the Black audience has always been there. Many of the issues these newsrooms are discussing now are stories that our audience has tried to get them to cover for generations,” Imaeyen Ibanga says. The speakers on this panel have been “doing the work” throughout their careers, while being told they were serving a niche audience. Now, white-led media is catching up. How can these organizations show that they’re really committed to changing things? First, you really can’t, Todd Johnson says. You should have already been on board. That’s why he says, second, you need to admit that you were not paying Black issues and concerns enough attention before. And third, he and Patrice Peck say, you need to be hiring Black journalists and investing in their careers, providing resources to tell the stories they think are important.
  2. In her newsletter, Coronavirus News for Black Folks, Peck says she has been trying to focus on solutions-based journalism within the coverage area. “I’m tired of all these articles saying: ‘We’re dying, we’re getting infected.’ There are so many people and organizations within our community that are creating our own solution but those aren’t getting as much coverage.” She came into journalism wanting to write for Black audiences, but has been frustrated to see Black publications like Essence shrinking at such a critical time.
  3. Launching your own news outlet is challenging and chaos-inducing, Wendi Thomas, Glenn Burkins and Tiffany Walden agree. Next to her desk, Thomas has this quote taped to her wall: “The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you’re about to succeed.” “I have had many of those moments,” she says. “I haven’t cried this week. Week before it was one cry, just frustrated exhaustion. The week before that was four cries.” What she’s learned in the process: Have a good therapist, start with a team, let people invest in your vision rather than waiting until you have a product and don’t spend your energy convincing institutions to change. Further advice on this front from Glenn Burkins: “Running a business and being a journalist are two different skills … I wanted to create something that I was proud of journalistically, and that’s important but you’ve got to focus on the business.”
  4. Black people have a vast range of backgrounds, experiences, and points of view: “If you’re a grown adult professional and you don’t understand that we’re not a monolith, I don’t know what to tell you,” Peck says—and Burkins adds that Black people shouldn’t have to do the work of educating others in their workplace on this front.
  5. Organizations funding Black voices in journalism right now include: Borealis Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and Chicago Field Foundation (The Triibe); Borealis, Knight Foundation, Facebook, Google (QCity Metro); and also local businesses and subscribers/members/supporters.

Memorable/tweetable quotes:

  • “We are in a moment for journalism to meet the movement.” —Martin Reynolds (via Irving Washington in the introduction)
  • “It is fundamental to good journalism to cover Black America equitably and accurately.” —Imaeyen Ibanga
  • “Everything about The TRiiBE embodies the Black experience in Chicago because Chicago culture is Black culture, to be quite honest, and a lot of culture around the world comes from Chicago culture.” —Tiffany Walden
  • “At this stage in my life and at this stage in my career, I’m not really interested in trying to influence newsrooms that are not interested in genuine change.” —Glenn Burkins
  • “All the places that ‘normal’ newsrooms look for money we have to look for money as well. So, you know, there is no secret place to go. You just have to be resourceful and most of all, you just have to focus on the money, you can have a great product that goes broke.” —Glenn Burkins
  • “At the Grio, we don’t base what we do on the mainstream. Our position, backed up by history and humanity, is that Black people will always be at the forefront of the news conversation. Always. Always. Always. … We are the focus and center and central of everything that this country needs to be about. The problem is folks ain’t listening.” —Todd Johnson

Links to additional resources