Let's Talk About #JournalismSoWhite / by Yessenia Funes

This past Tuesday, four journalists of color and I spoke to a group of Seattleites about #JournalismSoWhite. The event was hosted by several local journalism organizations, where moderators, also local journalists, asked panelists a series of questions about the media industry's lack of diversity.

I got to the Rainier Valley Cultural Center, where the event was held, super nervous, but, as I met the other panelists, I felt a sense of relief, a sense of camaraderie. I felt safe.

Joining me on stage were Tyrone Beason, staff reporter at Pacific Northwest Magazine, Venice Buhain, news editor of the Seattle Globalist, Jerry Large, Seattle Times columnist, and Christina Twu, also an editor at the Globalist.

All our different experiences affected our responses in the panel. We all spoke eloquently and, I hope, honestly. I, at least, didn't hold back. (Yes, I even used the word "ratchet" at some point.) When it comes to discussing race, you gotta' keep it real. That's how conversations start.

While I'd love to go on and on about every little thing we said, that would take forever. My girl Ana Sofia Knauf was in the audience though. She's a reporter at Seattle's alt-weekly The Stranger, and she got you. Check out her and Ansel Herz's debrief on the panel itself.

Real talk, though, these were the main points:

  1. Diversity is a problem in media, and that won't change simply by hiring reporters. We need diversity at the top too.
  2. Keep curiosity alive. To learn about the people you're writing about. To tell the story. To keep standards high. I don't know everything about my culture, and I especially don't know everything about yours. And remember: A person isn't his or her culture. Don't go into a story thinking you're interviewing a culture. You're interviewing a human being. Ask questions. Get outside your comfort zone.
  3. The media industry itself needs to evolve beyond "objectivity." Objectivity is bullshit. Journalists simply have to do two things: Be honest and be fair. Journalists beat each other down when they straddle that fence of "objectivity." (Remember Jorge Ramos and Donald Trump?) Fuck that. Ask the hard questions. And tell the damn story the way it deserves to be told—honestly and fearlessly.
  4. Let's keep the dialogue alive. Being open is what creates safe spaces. We need spaces where our superiors and colleagues approach us not only for our "otherly perspective," but for a personal check in too. We also need spaces where our readers feel welcome to criticize us and where we can criticize each other.

Just today, my fellow editors and I sat down to discuss whether we should capitalize the "B" in Black and the "W" in white. AP style lowercases. Most news outlets do. But a few publications that represent the Black community do capitalize the "B." Colorlines. Ebony. Essence. So we decided, "Fuck it. Why not?" We've recently had some Black writers request that in their writing, and we want to honor that. After all, we capitalize the "N" in Native already, so let's give all groups the proper political-noun respect. This New York Times column even makes a solid case for it.

I've had a full day now to let everything sink in, and I know one thing is true: The media won't diversify overnight. With that being said, changes like YES!'s can happen overnight. Not every publication needs to make a radical, grammatical, anti-AP change, but, we do need to talk about what our writers of color prefer and what the communities we're writing about prefer.

A conversation is a start. Last night, we had the chance to start one in Seattle. As for my media homies elsewhere, I dare you to do the same.

Corrections: This post originally said three other panelists joined me when it was four. I listed them all, but I didn't count correctly. Apparently, Yessenia cannot count. Also, after some thought, I changed the wording of a sentence that originally said publications that "cater to the Black community" to "represent the Black community." That feels more appropriate. I also added a little more context on why YES! made its decision to capitalize "B."

Photo courtesy of Daniel R. Blue // Flickr