The Front Page: Our demands

It’s Friday, July 31. 

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This time on The Front Page: Journalists of color at The Star Tribune demand changes, the capital W at the Washington Post, and a bit about media unions. 

This edition is by Holly Piepenburg with a Q&A by Janelle Salanga and editing by Gabe Schneider

In 2019, The Star Tribune distributed about as many print issues as the Washington Post. But the largest newsroom in Minnesota has largely escaped national scrutiny for its failure to match its staff composition to the diversity of the Twin Cities.

On Thursday, non-white employees at the Star Tribune published a letter entitled “The changes we want for our newspaper” that outlines changes management at Minnesota’s largest newspaper can make in order to remedy a “systemic centering of whiteness and maleness.”

Marissa Evans, who co-authored the document’s opening statement, said on Twitter that it should serve as a “blueprint.” 

According to the document, only two of 14 reporters hired in the past two years were people of color. The authors request that 30 percent of future hires in each classification be people of color, a proportion which would better reflect the paper’s intended audience. Other calls related to recruitment and retention include annual implicit bias training, standardized promotion criteria, professional development support, and the release of newsroom diversity reports on a yearly basis. 

The document’s authors also want to review the number of A1 bylines by non-white reporters, as well as the current stylebook. In particular, writers request that the Star Tribune replace the words “illegal immigrant” with “undocumented” and “minority” with “people of color.”

Though the document may serve as a blueprint for demands in other newsrooms, it’s important to consider who takes on the bulk of the labor. Evans, who authored the document’s opening statement, affirms that non-white staffers shouldn’t be doing the heavy lifting when it comes to fixing a newsroom’s diversity problems.

The Star Tribune’s lax attitude toward change also helped prompt the creation of at least one new outlet: Sahan Journal, a publication founded by former Star Tribune reporter Mukhtar Ibrahim to cover Minnesota’s immigrant and refugee communities. “I could stay (at the Star Tribune),” he told MinnPost in May. “Or take a risk and do something that made a meaningful contribution to the media landscape in Minnesota.”

Washington Post with a Capital W

On Wednesday morning, the Washington Post announced changes to their newsroom style guide. From now on, the Post will use the uppercase B for Black, a modification that other newsrooms have adopted in recent weeks. 

The paper will also begin capitalizing white. 

The decision is unlike many of the Post’s competitors. While the Associated Press, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times have also started capitalizing Black, they’ve explicitly elected to continue printing the lowercase white. In their commitment, Post editors Jesse Lewis, Courtney Rukan, and Brian Cleveland cite the racial group’s “distinct cultural identity.”

Global Opinions editor Karen Attiah—whose Tweets are the starting point for much of the debate—supported the publication’s decision and writes that “identities are fluid and are constantly being constructed, reconstructed, and deconstructed.” 

The editorial change leaves a lot of questions unanswered. The Post says it was capitalize white because they argue white Americans are a “distinct cultural identity.” Will The Post not capitalize white when it comes to white British or Eastern Europeans? They also argue that many “white Europeans who entered the country during times of mass migration were the targets of racial and ethnic discrimination,” but never tell us who discriminated against them, which seems to be important.

Solidarity Forever

Newsrooms across the country are still struggling. However, a number of news guilds have something to look forward to.

The Dallas Morning News and Al Día Dallas have formed the Dallas News Guild, a CWA union composed of “reporters, photographers, copy editors, researchers, engagement professionals, artists and designers” working for the regional newspaper. The papers’ owner declined to recognize the guild. If you want to help, you can ask A.H. Belo to begin contract negotiations here.

Following a bargaining session, journalists at the Los Angeles Times will return to full-time work on Monday. In May, the L.A. Times Guild agreed to a 20 percent pay cut, a reduction which was expected to save the company more than $2 million.

Finally, following the resignation of Troy Young, employees at Hearst Magazine will form a union through WGA East. Despite a very unsupportive management, staffers from 28 brands voted 241-83—and with a bargaining unit of more than 500, the Hearst Magazines Media Union will be one of the largest in the industry.

What is The Objective? 

The Objective is a 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] 

Language is not neutral

In 2016, Alex Kapitan started the Radical Copyeditor website — which is prefaced on the idea that language isn’t neutral — to talk about the power of language. Alex works with those who want their writing to be sensitive and anti-oppressive with regard to different identities. I spoke to Alex about falling in love with words, the fallacies of the “censorship” argument used by those who criticize style guides like the Trans Style Guide, and the ways newsrooms can not only use language to minimize harm, but also do more good.

This conversation is edited for length and clarity.

Below is a portion of that interview, but you can read it in full here.

How do you respond to those who say that these style guides — let’s use the Trans Style Guide as an example — are censoring people?

It’s a common one for people to say: “You can’t tell me how to talk.”

What it comes down to is actually: “I want to be able to say whatever I want without consequences.” People are frustrated because they’re being told that when they use language in a particular way, it has a negative impact.

That’s very convoluted and very twisted — it’s not what free speech means. When you say a trans woman is biologically male or a trans woman is male, that has actual harm. That’s harmful. That causes physical harm in people’s lives. It exacerbates oppression that is making it harder for trans women to survive when you use language in this way. Not someone saying you’re not allowed to use this string of words, we will deport you/execute you/lock you in prison — that’s what censorship looks like, but saying hey keep this in mind and use a little care in how you talk about things you don’t entirely understand, because it has an effect on the people you talk about. 

The Front Page

Ben Smith Doesn’t Want to Pick a Side. Originally published in Discourse Blog, Jack Crosbie writes about the tensions “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.” Starting this week, The Objective is partnering with Discourse Blog, a worker-owned politics and culture newsletter, to republish stories that speak to power imbalances in the media. 

A bit more media

OpenNews DEI Coalitions 

In hopes of creating “anti-racist, equitable, and just newsrooms,” OpenNews is launching two Slack communities: one with managers, and one without. If you’re interested in building these communities, or you’d like to join, fill out their form here.

From Deadspin to Defector 

After leaving Deadspin in protest last fall, 18 former staffers created Defector, a “sports blog and media company.” The website launches in September and is unique in that it functions as a cooperative: all staff members own a portion of the company. 

Larry King, Now

Over the years, Larry King has filmed several infomercials for friend and colleague Jacobi Niv. In March, King filmed an interview for Niv that, in its final form, literally became Chinese government propaganda. King claims he didn’t know what his pre-taped questions would be used for, and viewed it as “a small favor for a guy who [he likes].”

Recommendations for NBC

More than 100 members of the NBC Digital NewsGuild have signed a letter to NBC News management which details 12 solutions to discrimination within the newsroom. Commitments include banning NDAs, addressing pay gaps, and setting a goal to match the diversity of New York City in the next five years. 

Seattle media companies must release images

The Seattle Times and four regional television stations aren’t protected by Washington’s shield law, according to Judge Nelson Lee. All will have to comply with a subpoena and give the Seattle Police Department unpublished photos and videos from a May protest.

The silent complicity of WAMU’s management

DCist spoke to 24 people, who all said they had experienced some form of harassment or inappropriate behavior from former WAMU transportation reporter Martin Di Caro. One former manager, on the condition of anonymity, said Di Caro’s “abrasive and difficult” demeanor is a skill for reporters and that it’s hard to tell where the line is (it’s not hard to tell where the line is).

More commitments from the Post

Last month, the Washington Post announced more than a dozen newsroom positions dedicated to “race and related issues.” This week, Krissah Thompson became the paper’s first managing editor for diversity and inclusion—as well as its first female African American managing editor (a previous version of this newsletter listed her as the first African American managing editor). Also this week, the Post released their first workforce demographic report, which reveals over 70 percent of news and editorial staff are white. 

What’s happening

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

Looking for a few useful style guides? Trans Journalists Association | Diversity Style Guide | NAJA Reporting and Indigenous Terminology Guide | NABJ Style Guide | Disability Language Style Guide

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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