Dear newsroom managers, journalists of color can’t do all the work

We’re ready to do the work. We’ve been doing the work. But we need you to step up your allyship.

June 5, 2020
Category: Ethics & Trust

Dear fellow managers,

It’s way beyond time someone told you directly: Journalists of color are in agony.

Not starting this week because of coast-to-coast protests over police brutality and racial profiling. Not starting last month because Asian Americans were disproportionately mistreated by misinformed people who blame us as the source of the coronavirus. Not starting in 2018 because immigrant families were ripped apart as children languished in shameful conditions at border camps. Not starting generations ago because colonizers seized this land from its original inhabitants.

We have been in agony. We are always in agony.

Because we cannot hide our race.

Because our communities disproportionately suffer.

Less pay. Worse health care. Redlining. Food deserts. Missed educational opportunities.

But still we show up. Are you listening?

This is the time when journalists of color — particularly Black journalists — deserve to be able to tell their truth. For them, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd are not only faces in the news. They are reminders of the risks that their spouses, their children and the journalists themselves face every day, even when they should be safe on their own street or in their own home.

If you are not a journalist of color, this is the time when you need to do the work. You need to listen to your diversity officers, your diversity committees, your employee resource groups. You need to listen, and you need to use your authority to elevate diverse voices.

And you — dear White manager — need to do the work even when the crisis seems to have passed. We are underwhelmed by the sudden flurry of, “Are you OK?” No. We are not OK.

Every day is filled with microaggressions. The co-worker who repeatedly calls us by the name of another Asian American. The colleague who won’t learn to pronounce our six-letter name but who can rattle off Shostakovich without pause. The stranger who touches our hair. The co-opting of our culture. The disrespect of our sacred icons.

We’re in agony. We’re in agony for the same reasons as you. The very act of covering the news means we are retraumatizing ourselves regularly. We are traumatized when we are braving crowds, tear gas and rubber bullets to get the story — and when we are hunched over monitors as the shield between the most disturbing images and our audience.

Yet we do the work. We do the work because we believe in journalism. We do the work because if we don’t, we cannot trust that our White colleagues will treat our communities with the dignity they deserve.

Consider how the civil rights era was covered. The decision-makers in major newsrooms of the 1960s were White men. The people delivering the news for them were White men. Stark images of brutality galvanized calls for policy change. The people whose lives were separate and entirely unequal were not in a position to tell their own stories. Imagine if there had been room for even more Black journalists 60 years ago to report more broadly on the atrocities in their neighborhoods. Reform might have been delivered faster.

For journalists of color, it is harder than ever not to bring our whole selves to our work. Objectivity has long been considered a hallmark of fair and accurate news coverage, but bringing our own humanity to our reporting is necessary. It is how we’ll forge a genuine connection with our audience. This is the time when the news should spur informed action.

To the White managers who have been listening to us and who have been seeing us, thank you. You recognize that every perspective has value, no matter whether that opinion comes with a title. You are the ones uncomfortable with the status quo. You are the ones who model what other managers — journalists of all backgrounds — should do. Thank you.

We journalists of color are here. We’re ready to do the work. We’ve been doing the work. But we need you to step up your allyship.

My fellow managers, really listen. Give us the space to tell our stories in our way. We can be fair and accurate — but we should not abandon part of ourselves along the way. Reexamine what you mean when you ask us to be objective. Build a bigger table so more of us can be involved in decisions. And learn to sit with discomfort.

Together, we can create the newsrooms that our audiences deserve.

Doris Truong is Poynter’s director of training and diversity. She can be reached at dtruong@poynter.org or on Twitter at @doristruong.

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This story was originally published on June 5.