The Front Page: A closed letter

It’s Friday, July 17. 

This time on The Front Page: G/O Media fires a staffer because of the clothing they wore, a response to Harper’s Letter, and layoffs at Vox. 

This edition is by Siri Chilukuri and Gabe Schneider with a Q&A by Marlee Baldridge and editing by Holly Piepenburg.

We want to welcome the 711 of you that have joined us since our last edition. As always, if you like what you’re reading, forward this to a friend (or your boss).

On Thursday, Business Insider published an account of G/O Media’s unceremonious firing of employee Victor Jeffreys II — the result of homophobic and queerphobic harassment, most attributed to an unevenly enforced dress code which banned crop tops and shorts, clothing that Jeffreys often wore. Employees told Business Insider that Jeffreys’ firing was part of a larger culture change that happened after G/O Media was sold to Great Hill Partners in 2019, a purchase that also caused the downfall of Deadspin.

The Objective Publishes a Rebuttal to the Harper’s Letter

Last Friday, The Objective published a response to the now-infamous Harper’s Bazaar Letter: a vague message about “cancel culture” signed by 153 of the world’s most prominent writers, academics, and public figures.

The reason for publishing the response letter—which did not deny the existence of cancel culture—is simple: The Harper’s letter failed to reckon with power. Our response letter points out that not only did the Harper’s letter fail to use a single specific example, it fails to recognize that the problems they describe are not new: 

“What the signatories are describing are things that have happened to journalists, academics, and authors marginalized by their respective industries for years — just not in the ways the signatories want to highlight. The problem they are describing is for the most part a rare one for privileged writers, but it is constant for the voices that have been most often shut out of the room.”

Our response letter was a group effort, started by journalists of color with contributions from the larger journalism, academic, and publishing communities. There was no particular order to this list of signatories, nor did any one person do the bulk of the work in writing the letter. Since it was published, the response letter has been reported on in The New York Times, the BBC, and WNYC. The letter signatories have been referred to as “liberal and leftist” writers in The New York Times, despite the fact that a large majority of signatories identified themselves as journalists. 

Erin B. Logan, a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, argues in a column that the Harper’s letter is just a reaction to how powerful people who are protected by powerful institutions are now forced to listen to marginalized people because of the egalitarian aims of social media: “For the first time in American history, institutions are forced to finally listen to those they’ve canceled.” 

Logan argues that this access increases the number of people included in the conversation. Black, Indigenous, and trans people (like Vox’s Emily VanDerWerff) have been harassed due to their opposition to the original letter, which calls into question whose free speech is in peril. 

Bari Weiss Quits The New York Times 

Bari Weiss, the infamous New York Times opinion columnist, resigned this week. In her letter of resignation submitted to publisher A.G. Sulzberger (and published as a special page on her website), Weiss cited a “hostile work environment” as the reason for her departure. Critics celebrated her departure after three years of poorly written and harmful op-eds. Sympathizers decried the downfall of free speech, despite the fact that she left on her own accord. One of those sympathizers, Atlantic writer Caitlyn Flanagan, tweeted that Weiss’ departure was “the biggest media story in years.”

Weiss, it should be noted, apparently reported a Times staffer to their boss for declining to get coffee. 

In the New Republic, Alex Shepard argues that “Weiss wants to frame her resignation as a consequence of this supposed hostile takeover—that she’s a free thinker cast out by an intolerant, illiberal regime. But her letter, while long on invective (and just plain long), is short on evidence, and what she’s done instead amounts to auto-cancellation: quitting, then blaming her peers for driving her out.”

New York Magazine/Vox Announces Layoffs

Vox Media laid off 72 staffers on Thursday across its brands, including Curbed, The Cut, and Vulture. Some of those staffers had already been on furlough since April due to economic losses from the pandemic. According to CNBC, there will likely be additional cuts.

What is The Objective? 

The Objective is a new publication meant to confront the inequities in journalism that are rooted in the notion of “objectivity” since the 1950s and continue today. To that end, we publish reporting, first-person commentary, and reported essays on how journalism has interacted with historically-ignored communities in terms of hiring and retention in newsrooms, as well as coverage.

We are an all-volunteer collective, several of us with full-time jobs outside of this work. But we believe this kind of coverage is not an occasional way to cover journalism, but the focal point. 

If you’re interested in pitching to us, you can read more about our process here. All pitches should be sent to [email protected] 

Trans Media Workers Make Their Own Space

Last week, The Objective covered the launch of the Trans Journalists Association. The association was born out of a Slack group for LGBTQIA media workers and dissatisfaction with how NLGJA has failed to support its trans members. The group is non-hierarchical (meaning there’s no central leadership) and is currently surveying members about how it can best provide support.

Here’s a Q&A with one of its members and co-founders, Oliver-Ash Kleine, a trans media worker whose producing can be heard on American University radio, the Mother Jones podcast, and other outlets. 

This is a preview of the full Q&A by Marlee Baldridge, which can be read here

MB: How hands-on is the organization trying to be with newsrooms reaching out to TJA? Do you plan on being more involved like API or Poynter? Or is TJA there to provide  self-education tools?

OAK: At this moment, we’re more of an education tool. At some point I think that expanding is definitely in the cards, but we’re really not that far yet. And so we kind of figured: What do we need? What do we need for launch? We don’t need to have everything figured out about our organization. But we kind of need the basic resources. And so we see what we’ve put out this week as kind of just a first step.

I definitely don’t see speak for the whole organization. I’m one person, and we’re [TJA] non-hierarchical. I will say that there’s been a lot of excitement and energy put into the launch. And so we haven’t really set firm plans about what’s ahead. We have talked about doing a study of how many trans people are in newsrooms. How bad are the numbers, you know? And setting measurable goals for newsrooms in the industry to improve.

I think that in an ideal world, we’re a well-funded organization that can give trans people jobs. I would love that. The folks who are employed can educate newsrooms and be a resource for reporters in a way that currently we can’t because we just don’t have the bandwidth. I think that we’re really invested in forming a community and I would love to see some kind of gathering. We’re all over the country and conferences aren’t always accessible. We [want to] do more structured and intentional mentorship.

Based on what our resources are and what the needs are for the group. We’re accepting new members right now and we had 150 new requests for membership, which is fantastic. In the form, we asked what our members want from us, and because we’re non-hierarchical and really invested in responding to what our membership wants and making sure to support them, I think that what we do next will really be informed by our greater community.

Find out more about TJA here, and donate here.

The Front Page

Filipino Americans are watching the Philippines. Why isn’t American media? Janelle S. writes about how four million Filipino nationals and citizens living in the U.S. could be at risk if they return to the Philippines. She asks: Where is the coverage? Read more here. 

Want to improve your newsroom? Cancelling internships doesn’t help. Holly Piepenburg writes about remote newsroom internships and the need for better resources. Read more here.

You don’t mean “culture war.” Gabe Schneider says that writing “culture war” without any sort of analysis as to what you mean is fitting of a hackish political ad and not political coverage. Read more here. 

A bit more media

Tucker Carlson’s former lead writer is a white supremacist

Tucker Carlson’s lead writer Blake Neff resigned last week after his private forum posts, which are rife with racism, sexism, and homophobia, were published by CNN. Neff was responsible for most of the written content that aired on Carlson’s show.

Minnesota reporter asks: What’s the difference between a hijab and white supremacist gang regalia?

In a jarringly Islamophobic interview, a Minnesota reporter at KSTP-TV asked a Muslim woman, Sophia Rashid, to explain the difference between a hijab and white supremacist tattoos Sophia responded: “I guess I see that as a really strange thing to equate with each other. I’m a Muslim; they’re a violent white supremacist gang.”

The MetPro Hiring Spree!

The Los Angeles Times hired all 10 of its 2018 MetPro fellows.

From Minnesota, an exiled reporter covers Ethiopia

Henok A. Degfu built an audience of millions covering Ethiopia. But Degfu isn’t in Ethiopia — he fled the country 15 years ago and edits a staff of four reporters from an office 8,000 miles away in St. Paul. 

The news from inewsource

At least one former employee at inewsource, the nonprofit investigative outlet in San Diego, stressed that the work environment there was toxic. One student talked to the organization about a potential job and said he was called “simple-minded” for caring about newsroom diversity during an interview. 

It’s definitely been a minute

In a wide-ranging interview about diversity and objectivity in newsrooms, NPR’s Sam Sanders interviews The Undefeated‘s Soraya Nadia McDonald, Futuro Media president, founder, and Latino USA host Maria Hinojosa, and NPR public editor Kelly McBride. When asked if she thought that Latino USA has been successful “because of NPR or despite NPR,” Hinojosa said: “Despite. Despite NPR.”

Calling in on food writing

For the New Republic, chef Kate Telfeyan writes about how “journalists bear a lot of responsibility for the rise of the toxic celebrity chef. But they’re still in a state of denial.” And for Epicurious, author Tara O’Brady writes about “authenticity” in food writing: “When writers of color are asked to write about the food of their heritage, the answer often isn’t a simple yes or no.” Both pieces speak to pointed critiques that many (but not all) food journalists have refused to reckon with. 

Ben Smith doesn’t want to pick a side 

Jack Crosbie at Discourse Blog talked to Ben Smith, The New York Times media columnist and the former Editor-in-Chief of BuzzFeed News. “Smith’s career and current role is, I think, an interesting case study in some of the intermingling tensions across media,” Crosbie writes. “Between those who control power at its largest institutions and those who do the work, and between the two schools of thought as to how that work should be done.”

And finally, a few resources

Looking for a job? Here are a few places to look: INN | ONA | | 10 Jobs and a Dog | NABJ | AAJA | NAHJ | NLGJA | @WritersofColor | MEO Jobs | StudyHall XYZ | GLAAD | Radical Copyeditor

Thanks for reading. We’ll have more for you soon. 

Our stories are funded by readers like you. 

The Objective is a nonprofit newsroom holding journalism accountable for past and current systemic biases in reporting and newsroom practices. We are written by and for those underrepresented in journalism.

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