November 16, 2022

The very first thing outgoing Online News Association CEO Irving Washington remembers buying with his own money was a $400 video camera from anIndianapolis thrift store.

“The big camera with VHS,” he told me, laughing. “The one you put on your shoulder.”

For “hours and hours,” Washington would “create shows” and sketch comics based on mainstream hits like “The Simpsons,” “Tiny Tunes” and even his grandmothers’ soap operas. 

“I was usually taking something else that I saw and then putting a Black lens, characters or a narrative to it,” he said. “It was taking this lack of what I was seeing elsewhere and creating it for myself.”

From his early days at the Radio Television Digital News Association and the National Association of Black Journalists, to his 11-year tenure at the helm of the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists, Washington has been proactively recasting and re-writing previously segregated roles and narratives to be more diverse and inclusive.

This week, in the fourth Media Transformation Challenge-sponsored episode of Friends & Neighbors, MTC Journeys, Washington reflects on how he applied key MTC Tools, like From/To, and The Balcony, Power/Opinion Matrix and Temperaments to accelerate that transformation. 

“Dot coms were not considered journalism,” he recalled of ONA’s founding. “There was so much to be advocated for that (diversity) was not a priority. Part of my From/To was that we can do both, right? We can do a variety of different things, whether that’s expanding international reach, people of color, or the type of career level of folks in the room.”

And as he counted down the days to the end of his ONA ride, he reflected on challenges, successes and a-ha moments. 

What is he most proud of?

“In 2020, when (other) organizations were going through with racial reckoning, we didn’t do a Black Lives Matter statement; we were already doing the work.” he said. “We already had demonstrable receipts. We (didn’t) need to brag about it.” 

“Top down from the staff to our board (we are) majority women and people of color.”

Washington also talked about his decision to move on from the organization despite not knowing his next step at the time.

“I was looking at what’s ahead for me, and what’s the best decision for all things,” he said. “(ONA) is on a wonderful trajectory despite all of the challenges. So it became clear to me that – even though what was next was not clear – it was supposed to end.”

In the weeks after his announcement, Washington landed a role at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“You’re not always gifted with knowing where to go, and it always doesn’t make sense,” he said. “But I have this sort of innate push/pull, and I lean into that.”


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 From helping launch Meta’s Journalism Project globally and his tenure transforming MTV News, to his award-winning PBS documentary, “Mister Rogers & Me,” and podcast, “Friends & Neighbors,” Benjamin Wagner’s focus as a consultant, coach and creative is the essential nature of our shared human experience. 

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Benjamin Wagner is a consultant and coach, author, speaker, filmmaker and musician with 30 years of experience as a technology and media executive, award-winning journalist…
Benjamin Wagner

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