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June 12, 2020

Local Fix: Time for White Newsroom Leaders to Act, Tips for Ethical Reporting and Protests

Welcome to the Local Fix. Each week we look at key debates in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news. But first, we always begin with one good idea…

One Good Idea: No More Mugshot Galleries

As newsrooms reflect on how their coverage centers or misrepresents people of color, one simple decision is to stop sharing mugshot galleries. These collections often shame and harm people who are arrested but not convicted of a crime, providing clicks for the site but not trusted information for the community. Following decisions by individual editors like Manny García at Naples Daily News, Mark Lorando at the Houston Chronicle, and Rana Cash at the Savannah Morning News over the past few years, Gannett has now removed the mugshot galleries from the 26 sites that recently came under its merged umbrella with GateHouse. “The pain they inflicted was not worth it. We had more serious journalism to do,” García, now a senior editor at the Texas Tribune and ProPublica, said on Twitter about his decision.  “Today our role in society is even more important.” (We shared more about why to get rid of mugshot galleries in the Local Fix in January here). 

Acknowledging Years of Work: Time for White Newsroom Leaders to Act

Last week, we pointed to writing by Black journalists, managers, and leaders. One theme we highlighted from Texas Tribune’s Stacy-Marie Ishmael came up even more this week in many articles and conversations online. “One of the things that’s so exhausting for Black journalists is this constant feeling of ‘Yes, and I told you so’,” Ishmael said. Doris Truong, Poynter’s director of training and diversity, shared a similar plea to newsroom managers. “It’s way beyond time someone told you directly: Journalists of color are in agony.” On Twitter, journalists shared many examples of that agony — and how it has been ever present for decades. “What doesn’t get said enough is the pain poc have to go through in order to get diversity,” Justin Ray of the Los Angeles Times shared. “The sad truth about this wave of media reckonings is that it feels way too late — so many talented Black journalists and media creators chose their sanity and moved on, “The New York Times Magazine’s Jenna Wortham tweeted. “I carry all the things I have swallowed, all the things I have not said. The burden is physical and emotional, and some days it boils over. Some days it explodes. I am tired,” P. Kim Bui of The Arizona Republic wrote. As Truong, Dr. Meredith Clark, and many others in the links below share: That history can not be wiped away with an apology and a check-in note. There’s much more deep and systemic work to do.

Ethical and Less Extractive Reporting

Local journalists’ coverage of protests against racial inequity and injustice across our communities is key to our country’s greater understanding of this moment and centuries of structural racism. But local journalists must do so responsibly. Fortunately, there are a number of guides for more ethical reporting that represents the bigger picture of these individual actions, while recognizing the weight that media coverage carries. In a guide from Press On, Lewis Wallace advises: “Focus on the reasons for the protests. They are not senseless, and it is our job to help people understand protest’s goals and underlying conditions. Good journalism will unpack those and provide historical context.” As law enforcement tactics responding to protests have evolved, so has the responsibility of journalists to, as the Society of Professional Journalists states in its code of ethics, not only “seek truth and report it” but also to “minimize harm.” Authority Collective, a organization of womxn/non-binary/trans photographers and filmmakers of color has specific guidelines on how to do so when making photographs. “While photographing in public spaces is a legal right, some argue that by being in those public spaces people take assumed risks, which include being photographed. All of these rationales have validity, but lack a depth of concern for public safety and emphasis on serving the populace — both of which should be central to every journalist’s approach,” the Collective’s authors write in their guide. “Objectivity is never more valuable than anyone’s life and is impossible in questions over humanity. But it is still possible and necessary to tell truthful, honest stories without feigning neutrality.” Read on for their guides and more:

Protecting Yourself in a Protest

As of June 10, there have been over 400 instances of attacks against the press while covering protests and uprisings in the U.S. stemming from George Floyd’s murder, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. Incidents range from arrests to equipment damage to physical attacks, often at the hands of law enforcement. Protests continue across the country, so we’ve pulled together guides and resources that cover everything from what equipment to bring to mental health tips to legal help. (Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press’s legal tip hotline is at 800-336-4243 or rcfp@hotline.org). Thanks to all those who’ve been sharing these tips. Be safe. 

P.S. Want to learn more about nonprofit news and public service journalism? Sign up for next week’s INN at Home here, the virtual summit of the Institute for Nonprofit News, which includes sessions like “Can You Hear Me Now? The Past and Future of Black Media” by WURD Radio’s Sara Lomax-Reese and “How are You Going to Meet the Moment: A Call for Journalistic Action” by Martin Reynolds of the Maynard Institute. We’ll “see” you there!

 In solidarity,
Josh, Teresa, Christine, and Dani
@jcstearns, @gteresa, @newsbyschmidt, @danirosales27

The Local Fix is a project of the Democracy Fund’s Public Square Program, which invests in innovations and institutions that are reinventing local media and expanding the public square. Disclosure: Some projects mentioned in this newsletter may be funded by Democracy Fund, you can find a full list of the organizations we support on our website.