McClatchy journalists absolutely can show support for Black lives

Kristin Roberts, McClatchy’s vice president of news, said ‘expressing that Black lives matter is not a political statement.’

July 29, 2020
Category: Ethics & Trust

Were McClatchy journalists in danger of losing their jobs if they showed public support for Black lives?

To be clear: no. Some, however, were afraid they would be fired. That’s why Kristin Roberts, McClatchy’s vice president of news, sent out this tweet on Wednesday:

“It has come to my attention that some @mcclatchy journalists believe they will be fired if they publicly state support for Black lives. So, I’ll start: Black lives matter. Now, if anyone is going to be fired, I can be first.”

She followed that up with another tweet:

“Expressing that Black lives matter is not a political statement. It is a fundamental truth. It is not a violation of social media policy to tell the world that Black lives matter.”

I reached out to Roberts via email after she posted the tweets just to clear up any misconceptions. She told me that McClatchy employees were not told they would be punished for supporting Black lives.

Roberts told me, “No, they were not. Some people expressed worry/fear that a personal expression around BLM would be seen by managers as political opinion and run afoul of our social media guidelines. When I learned this yesterday, I was deeply saddened and decided we needed to be crystal clear. Therefore, the tweet.”

Roberts also sent an internal memo to staff Wednesday, making it clear that supporting Black lives did not violate McClatchy’s social media guidelines.

“That is not a political statement,” she wrote. “It is an expression of the fundamental truth that Black lives are as important as every other life.”

However, Roberts added, “That does not mean it is acceptable to tweet your support for or opposition to issues that are contentious and debatable and are indeed political, including defunding the police. Those issues are different from expressing the basic human truth that Black lives matter and sharing your personal experiences.”

Another big topic in newsrooms across the country is whether it’s OK for journalists to participate in protests or demonstrations. Roberts told staff that McClatchy will have discussions over the next few weeks on that matter — discussions that will include anyone at McClatchy who wishes to participate.

Roberts wrote, “The aim is to discuss a way forward that hears, processes and honors a diversity of perspectives and preserves our journalistic independence.”

Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer. For the latest media news and analysis, delivered free to your inbox each and every weekday morning, sign up for his Poynter Report newsletter.