This was the second time I'd attended the annual panel and it wasn't exactly any more of an epiphany the second time around, but it's always nonetheless important. The following is my recap for our SPJ blog:
In Town Hall Seattle Tuesday night, people flocked to hear a panel of journalists discuss the issues around diversity, newsroom representation, and reporting.
Panelists at the event were:
Enrique Cerna from KCTS
Reagan Jackson from South Seattle Emerald and The Seattle Globalist
Tyrone Beason from Pacific Northwest Magazine and The Seattle Times
Venice Buhain from The Seattle Globalist and American Asian Journalists Association
Andrew Simon from Grist
Monica Guzman from The Evergrey, Geekwire, The Seattle Times, Society of Professional Journalists, and Columbia Journalism Review.
Poynter has an interactive graphic that lets you plug in identities to determine how many of them actually work in the field of journalism. These are 2015 stats. Women represent only 31.7 percent of the newspaper industry, it shows. For every 100 journalists, there are approximately 5 Black journalists. For every 100, again, there are only approximately 2 black female journalists.
This is happening in a nation where its population is starting to look a whole lot less white. It’s projected by the U.S. Census Bureau that by 2044, people of color will be the majority.
Washington state specifically has also been becoming less white — but not Seattle (surprise).
But how is it that journalism, a field that was created to watchdog the government and give a voice for the people, isn’t changing at the same rate?
This question was discussed at the #JournalismSoWhite event. Panelists contended that it was because of access, because people aren’t seeing themselves reflected, and because the people in power “are still so white.”
Indeed, in a time of unpaid internships, the school-to-prison pipeline, and practically regional racial divides as it relates to income, access is one key issue.
Marcus Green, editor and founder of South Seattle Emerald, had some very thoughtful opening remarks:
“I’ve begun to have a problem with that word ‘diversity,'” Green said. “Especially in our field here because it’s come to denote a level of societal charity.”
Many of the panelists held the same sentiment. They didn’t like the word diversity. Venice Buhain said it can be problematic because it’s like ‘diversity’ is somehow different from the norm.
“I prefer the word ‘experience,'” Tyrone Beason said. People should come from multiple perspectives, multiple experiences, and shouldn’t be tokenized for it.
“Diversity has been overused,” Reagan Jackson said. “We’re at a point where it’s no longer serving us to just speak about diversity.”
This notion of diversity can also pervade coverage. Reporters can go to a location one time because they’re putting on a representational and “newsworthy” event, but never go there again. How does that help the community? How does that one incident translate into representation? It doesn’t.
“We need to see the communities we serve the way they see themselves,” Monica Guzman commented.
An audience member asked where the lines are between speaking to an audience, trying to understand them, or pandering to them.
“I think we in the news media without even acknowledging it or knowing it pander to white guys every day,” Beason said back.
Jackson had noted that the issue is covering what matters to our communities, saying she “doesn’t know what enough looks like.”
It was additionally brought up that only two of the six journalists on the stage even had a journalism degree. The point was that being a journalist doesn’t require that a person first fit through the academia filter about it.
But back to coverage:
“You say we have to bring this to the table,” Beason said, “but as reporters, sometimes we have to set the table and let people come to it.”
I would also like to note that right when the event’s opened questions, a notorious white guy [Alex Zimmerman] cut in front of people to take the helm. Moderator Cerna noted his familiarity — as did I, he shows up at seriously way too many city council meetings — and immediately said “if you have nothing nice to say, we don’t want you here.” Zimmerman proceeded to do the Nazi salute regardless, and talk in German while being interrupted and told to leave. The next three questions came from white males (granted, some who might have been in the LGBTQIA+ community).
It was brought up by an audience member at the end of questions, about an hour later, that the forum was meant for people of color and if there was ever a time, it was then for white people to sit down and let others go before them.
This is the completely depressing reality of what almost always manages to happen when holding forums for marginalized identities. Let that sink in.
Also, consider attending more forums like this, or having these types of discussions.
Here’s a good quality video of the forum if you’d like to watch/listen to all that was said yourself.
Good related reads!
Piece by one of the panelists, Jackson: Calling out (and calling in) white media
Vox: I grew up thinking journalism was just for rich white people. I was mostly right.
Medium on AAJA’s newsroom diversity report: How diverse are our local newsrooms
And check out a panelist’s, Guzman’s, newly created The Evergrey [it’s freakin’ cool].
Kelsey Hamlin is finishing up her last year at the UW. Though her time is typically spent telling others' stories, here's a chance to get a peek at hers.