It’s Friday, March 26th.
This time on The Front Page: How to support journalists after Atlanta, where Medium is headed, and why we’re leaving Substack.
Last March, as coronavirus cases climbed in the United States, the Asian American Journalists Association issued a joint statement denouncing violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, urging reporters to abandon language that supports racism: “It is more important than ever that the media collectively gets it right so that we don’t give others, including politicians and the general public, an excuse to get it wrong.”
Almost a year later, in the aftermath of the tragedy in Atlanta, it’s clear that a significant portion of mainstream media did not accept that guidance, even after AAJA’s February update that challenged newsrooms to not only prioritize coverage of escalating violence, but “empower their journalists to report on these incidents immediately, accurately and comprehensively.” Instead, much of the coverage from national newsrooms was racist, sexist, and devoid of the context provided by local Asian media.
Supporting democracy is about more than a slogan
Our Democracy Correspondent will look at how some U.S. newsrooms aren’t taking threats to democracy and rising authoritarianism seriously — and what we can do to push back. But we’re a small newsroom with a small budget. Will you help us raise $20,000 so we can expand our pro-democracy coverage?
AAJA issued guidance for covering the shootings with a pronunciation guide for the Asian victims that crashed from initial traffic. Additionally, AAJA and Sonia Weiser launched the AAPI Journalists Therapy Relief Fund to distribute grants to AAPI journalists for mental health resources. If you’d like to apply for funds, use this form.
We’re leaving Substack
The Objective has been publishing our newsletter on Substack since July 2020 (and has been republished by Nieman Lab since September 2020), but we actually started as a casual Medium blog in June 2020.
We shifted to Substack because the platform offered more control over our email list, but the company’s statements and actions, taken over a period of months, demonstrate that Substack just isn’t for us. Here are a few reasons:
Using the paid “Pro” program to recruit writers that have particular editorial stances. Put differently: Substack has actively chosen the kind of writing they want to platform. They are not neutral, but aim to tip the scale.
Other prominent Substack users have made blatantly transphobic statements in the past and present. See Glenn Greenwald’s bizarre rant that tries to arbitrate trans existence or Graham Linehan, who has been warned about harassment and banned from Twitter for repeated rule violations. All three of Substack’s co-founders insisting that none of its writers in the “Pro” program “can be reasonably construed as anti-trans.”
Trivializing and not substantively engaging with the critique they received over the last few weeks.
On Thursday, the company further retreated from its content moderation guidelines, narrowing its approach to hate and harassment.
One of Substack’s most prominent critics is Jude Ellison Sady Doyle, who is currently in the process of leaving the platform. Earlier this month, Doyle wrote a piece summarizing the problem entitled: “Substack Is Not a Neutral Platform.” Here’s the portion we want to emphasize: “There are no two sides, there is no argument; there are trans people, who exist, and the bigots, who think we shouldn’t.”
Substack could have been a great place for experimentation that breaks away from the bigoted speech that’s dominated American newspapers during pivotal moments of social transformation (see how newspapers framed integration, interracial marriage, and gay marriage). Instead, it’s more of the same. Substack isn’t the future of media. It’s just a content management system run by a company that aims to prioritize profit over people’s lives.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve had discussions with other content management system companies and aim to transition off of the platform as fast as possible.
We know there are some folks who rely on Substack to earn an income. If you do want to leave the platform, but are concerned about where you might go next, here are a few options:
Ghost: Ghost worked with former Substack publication The Browser to transition to their CMS.
Lede by Alley: Lede (by Alley) has worked with websites like Discourse Blog to transition away from Substack to a custom stack.
Patreon: A bit barebones, but if you’re trying to generate recurring payments from your audience, it could work.
Less than a month after Medium’s unionization effort was derailed by a single vote, the company’s billionaire CEO Ev Williams announced the company would go in a different direction, transitioning away from the company’s TK internal publications and putting numerous editorial jobs in a state of uncertainty.
A current Medium employee told Motherboard’s Edward Ongweso Jr. that they believe the move was in retaliation to the unionization effort: “Editorial was the department that supported the union most vocally and visibly … this is coming basically a month after a failed union drive preceded by pretty blatant union busting tactics by management.”
Elsewhere, media workers in Digital First newsrooms report that vulture-like hedge fund Alden Capital is trying to undermine another bid to take over Tribune Publishing, a network of newsrooms that includes The Baltimore Sun, The Chicago Tribune, and The Orlando Sentinel.
Q&A: Capital B
A national newsroom with local hubs around the country, specifically built to serve Black communities. That’s the goal of Capital B: a newsroom founded by Lauren Williams, most recently a senior vice president and editor-in-chief of Vox; and Akoto Ofori-Atta, most recently the managing editor of The Trace.
The newsroom aims to launch in fall of 2021, but both Williams and Ofori-Atta talked to The Objective about the newsroom’s next steps. This interview is edited for length and clarity. Read more here.
Gabe Schneider: What was the impetus to start Capital B? How did you get to this point where you decided, “Okay, we’re going to leave, we’re going to do our own thing. We’re going to leave the infrastructure that already existed, where you were both at.”
Lauren Williams: We met about 10 and a half years ago at the, at The Root, where we worked together for about three years. And then we’ve been friends since. And we’ve often talked about a Black news organization—like a Black news utopian organization—what that could be. And it’s evolved over the years as our careers have evolved and the things that we know and understand about the industry have evolved. But last June, when everything was happening at once—Black Lives Matters Matter protests, COVID, the election, racial reckonings in our newsrooms across the industry, […] plus Akoto and I had both reached points in our career where we were experienced newsroom leaders who really understood how to run a news organization—we realized it was just the right moment to do it.
*$$$ denotes a paid event
10 days until … NXT GEN NOW, a week-long journalism event designed by and for students. NAHJ members at California State University Fullerton and Long Beach will present panels on a variety of topics, including social media, covering the border, and longform journalism.
11 days until … Cultivating Fear: Anti-Muslim Bias in the Media and Society. The School of Communication’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee at American University is hosting this webinar, with panelists Rowaida Abdelaziz, Malika Bilal, Edward Ahmed Mitchell, and Saif Shahin.
A bit more media
DEI Coalition Slack
OpenNews, the organization behind SRCCON, has opened the request form for membership in its DEI Coalition Slack workspace. In addition to the Coalition-wide public channels, interested individuals can also apply to join private staff-only and manager-only channels. The space is “dedicated to sharing knowledge and taking concrete action to make newsrooms more anti-racist, equitable, and just.”
‘Social media policies are not the real issue’
On Tuesday, The Objective’s Gabe Schneider joined Karen K. Ho, Kendra Pierre-Louis, and Sisi Wei for a conversation on newsroom social media policies and, more specifically, how selective enforcement of said policies stand in the way of anti-racism commitments. You can watch a recording of the conversation, hosted by the Reynolds Journalism Institute, here.
The Emancipator pays homage to abolitionist newspapers
Ibram X. Kendi and Bina Venkataraman—of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research and the Boston Globe Opinion Team, respectively—have teamed up with their institutions to “resurrect and reimagine” The Emancipator, the United States’ first abolitionist newspaper. The Emancipator seeks two editors-in-chief, one with an academic lens and the other editorial.
A future for local news
A report from Michigan’s Outlier Media proposes that the future of local news is dependent on news organizations creating essential information ecosystems. Since 2016, Outlier Media has used SMS messaging to fill information gaps in Detroit. In the white paper, founder and editor Sarah Alvarez writes that “efforts to shore up or rebuild local news often continue to ignore or marginalize people and communities who were also never truly contemplated by the institutions we are now losing.”
Editorial boards should reflect their communities
While newsrooms attempt to address their racist coverage and internal staffing processes, they should also examine the homogeneity of their editorial boards, writes Gabe Schneider for RJI. “If papers want to demonstrate a commitment to the communities they serve, and they insist on having an editorial board, then there is a necessity to ensure they actually represent those communities.”
The Uproot Project
Climate change disproportionately impacts non-white communities, yet the top reporters on the environment beat are rarely non-white. The Uproot Project, launched on March 20, plans to address that disparity by being “a network for and by environmental journalists of color.” Yessenia Funes, of the project’s steering committee, told Nieman Lab that the group will focus on “providing guidance, tools, trainings, workshops, and any other materials that would be helpful to journalists of color who are covering climate change.”
Here We Are makes space for students of color
“Family. Identity. Loss. Joy.” On March 15, Kori Suzuki, a senior at Minnesota’s Macalester College, launched Here We Are, a daily podcast meant to allow the predominantly white institution’s students of color to “share a part of them that’s important, something they want to be seen.” In each episode, a different student shares a personal story, from leaving a children’s choir to seeing Kung Fu Panda 2 at the movie theater.
And finally, a few resources
Looking for a job? Here are a few places to look: INN | ONA | JournalismJobs.com | 10 Jobs and a Dog | NABJ | AAJA | NAHJ | NLGJA | @WritersofColor | MEO Jobs | Freelance Journalist Rates | StudyHall XYZ | Opportunities of the Week ($)
How about a style guide? Trans Journalist Association | Diversity Style Guide | Tribal Nations Media Guide | NABJ Style Guide | Disability Language Style Guide | AAJA Guide to Covering Asian America | NAHJ Cultural Competence Handbook
If you’re a new reader, you can subscribe here. As always, if you like what you’re reading, forward this to a friend (or your boss). This issue is by Holly Piepenburg and Gabe Schneider with a Q&A from Gabe Schneider and editing by Curtis Yee.
Thanks for reading. We’ll have more for you soon.
Correction: Glenn Greenwald and Graham Linehan were previously listed as a part of Substack’s “Pro-Program.” This is incorrect as far as we know. Substack has not made their list of Pro-Program recipients public as of 4/9/2021.
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