The Front Page: Diversity on the back burner

Issue 07

It’s Friday, September 11th. 

This time on The Front Page: Diversity pledges are put on the back burner, The Atlantic maximizes harm, and writers reveal problems at Chicago magazine.

This edition is by Holly Piepenburg and Marlee Baldridge with editing by Curtis Yee.

As always, if you like what you’re reading, forward this to a friend (or your boss). 


Two months ago, following nationwide protests and increased calls for anti-racist policies, a number of media companies released diversity and inclusion pledges.

Now, journalists say their employers have done little to live up to those promises. Tim Peterson writes that, by many accounts, plans to hire Black employees have been stalled by hiring freezes and communication surrounding action steps has slowed. 

At their worst, these failures again lead to the all-too-familiar practice where lower-ranking employees are left to create and maintain diversity and inclusion strategies, rarely with added financial support. At some organizations, employees are “compiling lists of Black writers, designers and programmers that companies can hire, uploading the lists to their companies’ Google Drive folders and then pinning links to the lists on Slack.” Elsewhere, employee resource groups organize times for staffers to call state and local representatives to push for social change.

The failure to fulfill diversity commitments is especially evident at NPR: Employees at the national desk and member stations have fought for years to increase diversity at every level of the company, but little progress has been made. 

This week, NPR’s SAG-AFTRA union responded to that need with a list of demands for management and promises for reform within the guild itself, stating “it has not been sufficiently vocal or public in its support of Black, brown, Indigenous and Asian employees.”

Employee demands include: A requirement that 50 percent of all finalist pools come from underrepresented groups, “credible and meaningful” professional development opportunities, and an analysis of pay and promotions.

Given recent Twitter testimonials, committing to the listed demands (and similar calls to action) won’t be an easy lift for any public radio station. Luckily, NPR has access to in-house instruction manuals of their own making, like these segments in Life Kit and Code Switch. We’ll see whether or not managers mind their own advice.

Related: To Build an Anti-Racist Media, Look to BIPOC Communities

The Atlantic makes no amends for transphobia 

The July/August 2018 cover of The Atlantic read, “Your Child Says She’s Trans. She Wants Hormones and Surgery. She’s 13.” The cover model, however, used they/them pronouns at that time (but goes by he/him now) and had no idea he would be on the front of the issue. 

In an interview with Sydney Bauer for Poynter, Mina Brewer described how disoriented he felt after The Atlantic misgendered him: “It pretty much outed me and it was such a weird time. I was really trying to understand my identity for myself and wasn’t really comfortable talking about my gender to all these people who weren’t that close to me.” In fact, because his grandfather subscribed to the magazine, Brewer was pushed to explain his identity to his family earlier than intended.

The Atlantic held that, “in retrospect, [they] would have made a different decision about the cover line,” and referenced their choice to change the headline in the web version of the article.

This non-apology does not, however, acknowledge the blatant transphobia and inaccuracies present in the rest of the cover story. When the issue came out, author Jesse Singal and his story were heavily criticized by journalists, medical professionals, and activists for being reductive and deceptive. Samantha Riedel wrote that Singal “focused solely on the one narrative that validated his worldview” and played a part in “the gatekeeping and silencing of trans voices by cisnormative media.”

Though The Atlantic was legally permitted to use the image, the fact that Brewer was unaware his photo would be on the cover raises ethical questions, writes Bauer. An art director could have certainly minimized harm by consulting Brewer during the process.

The Trans Journalists Association is working to correct disrespectful coverage with the creation of its own style guide. In it, journalists are told to never out their sources and to always explain the implications of being featured in a story. In a Q&A with The Objective, co-founder Oliver-Ash Kleine stressed the power journalists have over public discourse and the importance of newsroom education.

“The way that the media is telling stories about trans people has a big impact on public discourse and how people think about and talk about trans people. That's a really big responsibility. One that the media really needs to take more seriously, because right now they're really failing trans people and their audiences.”

We are [The Loop]

On August 31, freelancer and staff writer for NextAdvisor Taylor Moore called out Chicago magazine for its hiring and treatment of journalists of color. After a week of silence, she tweeted at Chicago magazine again.

“Nothing will materially change at @ChicagoMag as long as Susanna Homan, Terrance Noland, and Tal Rosenberg continue to work there,” Moore wrote, naming the editor in chief and publisher, executive editor, and culture editor, respectively. Moore said that she was invited to join the Prairie Museum Project, a collaborative journalism project associated with the mag, after being told plainly there “weren’t enough POC on the team.” 

Other contributors to the magazine added their own stories. Claire Voon, a freelancer, was paid $25 for a one-day-turnaround. Resita Cox, another freelancer, had to chase down $100 for a story that the magazine pitched to her. And, a former Chicago magazine editor shared how the intern pool was pushed to be diverse, while full-time positions were not.

This underlines an ongoing conversation about how interns and freelancer pools are cultivated to make a newsroom appear “diverse” without investing in people from marginalized backgrounds in a meaningful way.

In a city that is less than 35% non-Hispanic or Latinx white, the magazine styles itself as, “We are Chicago.”

Related: How to charge a late-fee for publishers & a step-by-step guide to diversify your newsroom.


What is The Objective? 

The Objective is a publication meant to confront the inequities in journalism that are rooted in the notion of “objectivity” since the 1950s and continue today. To that end, we publish reporting, first-person commentary, and reported essays on how journalism has interacted with historically-ignored communities in terms of hiring and retention in newsrooms, as well as coverage.

We are an all-volunteer collective, several of us with full-time jobs outside of this work. But we believe this kind of coverage is not an occasional way to cover journalism, but the focal point. 

If you’re interested in pitching to us, you can read more about our process here. All pitches should be sent to submissions@objectivejournalism.org. 


What’s happening

*$$$ denotes a paid event


A bit more media

“When they refused to change it, I quit”

After working at The Kenosha Times for three years, editor Daniel Thompson resigned after the paper published an article with a misleading headline. The headline, which once read “Kenosha speaker: ‘If you kill one of us, it’s time for us to kill one of yours,’” has since been changed. Thompson said he was the paper’s only full-time Black staffer and is now looking to start a new local journalism project in Kenosha.

Self-care strategies for Black journalists

Opening up their “toolbox of coping strategies,” Black journalists share their tips for addressing trauma and managing stress. According to clinical psychologist Monnica Williams, “all Black Americans have some degree of PTSD.” The Black Journalists Therapy Relief Fund offers financial support to those with limited access to mental health resources.

#TransformTheInquirer

Journalists of color at The Philadelphia Inquirer have created a website to demand and document change at the newspaper. Data compiled by the authors shows that no journalists of color work on the investigations team and that no Black and/or Latinx journalists cover science or politics full-time.

Mapping out credit

Following a tweet from Folded Map Project creator Tonika Johnson and numerous requests from her supporters, the New York Times credited Johnson’s work on segregation in Chicago in their suspiciously similar reporting. Johnson created the project over two years ago to address misconceptions about Chicago neighborhoods.

“Bullshit phrases”

It’s not just “officer-involved shooting” and “racially charged”—there are dozens of phrases used by journalists that benefit people in power. Davide Mastraccibreaks down some of the worst offenders, including “had sex with,” “concerned citizens,” and “protestors clashed.” Hundreds more can be found in Mastracci’s original Twitter thread.

Racism and sexism at TMZ

At least two dozen current and former employees of TMZ say the news site’s workplace culture is rife with racism, sexism, and abuse. Founder Harvey Levin, who is at the root of many complaints, did not immediately respond to requests for comment from BuzzFeed News, nor did Warner Bros. 

Woodward holds story, explains decision

In an interview with Margaret Sullivan, Bob Woodward explains why he withheld President Trump’s statements concerning the coronavirus. Some say this information could have saved lives had it been released six months ago, while Woodward said he needed time to verify Trump’s statement and that his “purpose” is not daily journalism.

What makes local news less newsworthy?

In a study published last month, Hans J.G. Hassell found that journalists viewed stories published by a local newspaper as less newsworthy. What’s worse, journalists themselves view a story published in a local paper “less newsworthy than one that hadn’t been published at all,” write Mark Coddington and Seth Lewis in Nieman Lab. Over 1,500 newspaper journalists were surveyed in Hassell’s study. 


And finally, a few resources

Looking for a job? Here are a few places to look: INN | ONA | JournalismJobs.com | 10 Jobs and a Dog | NABJ | AAJA | NAHJ | NLGJA | @WritersofColor | MEO Jobs | StudyHall XYZ | Opportunities of the Week ($)   

How about a style guide? Trans Journalist Association | Diversity Style Guide | NAJA Reporting and Indigenous Terminology Guide | NABJ Style Guide | Disability Language Style Guide

Thanks for reading. We’ll have more for you soon.