The Front Page: Journalist-involved racism

Issue 06

It’s Friday, August 28th

This time on The Front Page: officer involved shootings don’t exist, student journalists are doing the work to hold their campuses accountable on COVID-19, and what Patriot Act was like behind the scenes. 

This edition is by Holly Piepenburg and Gabe Schneider with editing by Chelsea Cirruzzo.

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


On Tuesday, the Associated Press’ Stylebook said what journalists of color, primarily Black journalists, have been saying for a long time: 

“Avoid the vague ‘officer-involved’ for shootings and other cases involving police. Be specific about what happened. If police use the term, ask: How was the officer or officers involved? Who did the shooting? If the information is not available or not provided, spell that out.”

Police departments invented the phrase, which journalists have adopted, and the problems with it are at least two-fold. One, journalists are being inaccurate; two, people in communities where residents are disproportionately shot and killed do not trust journalism that fails to portray their treatment accurately. Put differently, they are not being reported for, but on (and poorly).

“Local news reporters love nothing more than adopting cop-speak, because local news is built on manufacturing fear of crime and venerating of police officers, but both of these terms fail the crucial test of actually being coherent explanations of what happened,” Alex Pareene, formerly of Gawker, wrote in 2014. “Of course police would invent an obfuscatory euphemism for when they shoot people – they would be fools not to try to come up with a nice way of saying ‘we killed someone’ – but the press’ job is supposed to be to translate those euphemisms into plain English.”

While journalists of color have decried the problem of the passive voice for ages, little has ultimately changed—in June, Gabe Schneider wrote about the consequences of that for The Objective, in “Who exactly is telling this story?”

While some coverage of Floyd’s death has tried to do justice to the anger and protests that have followed, the patchwork framework and lack of focus from major American media outlets soil those stories. When one of us fails, it is another indictment of the industry that is widely not trusted in communities of color, after failing to report on them impartially for generations.

The passive voice doesn’t stop at “officer-involved.” After police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, one AP headline initially read: “Minneapolis Cop Who Knelt on George Floyd’s Neck Arrested.” And in a recent CNN story on the policing shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, nowhere in the first four paragraphs of the story does it say who shot Jacob Blake. 

Student Journalists Document Outbreaks On Their Own Campuses

Colleges that brought students back to campus for an in-person fall semester are reversing course as coronavirus cases surge. On August 25, the Washington Post wrote that more than 500 cases were reported at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and dozens of cases were reported at the University of Southern California. 

While the Washington Post headline says it was the universities sounding the alarm on these emerging cases, much of the coverage has been led by student newspapers. 

A major example is the Daily Tarheel, the student newspaper at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which garnered widespread attention when its editorial called the surge of new cases shortly after the start of the fall semester a “clusterfuck” in an editorial. In a damning investigation, the Daily Tarheel used a public records request to find that health officials warned the university of potential outbreaks in May. The university abandoned its plan for in-person classes one week after reopening. The student behind the editorial as well as the editor-in-chief of the student paper recently told Gen they want people to focus on the student activists pushing for safety and justice at the school. 

A July 21 Atlantic article anticipated that universities would blame students for outbreaks. Now, students and student newspapers are documenting that prediction in real time. At Syracuse University, for example, students at the Daily Orange posted videos showing large student gatherings. The university released a scalding statement calling the behavior selfish and warning it may lead to the shutdown of in-person classes. 

But, scolding students will do little to curb their behavior, write Julia Marcus, an epidemiologist and professor at Harvard Medical School, and Jessica Gold, a psychiatrist and professor at the Washington University in St. Louis, in the Atlantic article. Instead, they say, responsibility for keeping students safe should lie with the university. 

“Universities have no business reopening if they can’t provide a healthy environment for students, faculty, and staff. Frequent testing and contact tracing are most crucial for safely reopening, but effective public-health messaging needs to support risk reduction for students,” they write.

If you’re covering reopening plans on campus for a college newspaper, The New York Times wants to hear from you. Since the start of the pandemic, they’ve tracked over 26,000 cases at more than 750 colleges. 

Patriot Act 

After six seasons, “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” has come to an end

The Netflix program abandoned weary late night conventions in favor of floor-to-ceiling monitors and energetic interviews (sans leather chairs and coffee mugs). Instead, the “young liberal answer to FOX News” amplified the investigative content at the heart of other programs, including “The Daily Show,” where Minhaj was a correspondent. 

In its first season, Minhaj and his team called out Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for lying about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. That episode—only the second in the season lineup—was removed from Netflix in Saudi Arabia. Despite fears for his safety, Minhaj continued to dig into important, often evasive issues during his 40 episode run, including immigration policy, the NRA, and police brutality.

Given late night’s lean toward white men named James or Jimmy, Minhaj’s perspective was a welcome presence in many households, and viewers are calling on Netflix to reverse their decision. However, the cancellation has also made space for past employees to share stories of harmful behind-the-scenes behavior.

Like Nur Ibrahim, other staffers began writing about the inappropriate gap between the show’s stance on social justice and the racism and sexism that was permitted. Prior to Ibrahim’s Tweet, Sheila V Kumar affirmed she was never “more unhappy than when [she] was working at Patriot Act,” and half a dozen other alums seconded her statement with their own encounters. Neither Minhaj nor “Patriot Act” have responded to the claims on Twitter. 


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. 


ICYMI at The Objective


What’s happening

*$$$ denotes a paid event

  • 4 days until … September Sweeps ($$$). The Radio Television Digital News Association will host virtual workshops throughout the entire month.

  • 5 days until … Solution Journalism Network's Solutions Journalism 1010 Webinar. If you miss next month’s training, you can register in October, too.

  • 19 days until … “How to Report on 2020 Political Advertising on Facebook,” a free webinar hosted by Angie Holan (Politifact) and Nancy Watzman (Lynx LLC).

  • 34 days until … The Online News Association’s annual conference ($$$). ONA 2020 begins on October 1st. Scholarship applications are due September 3rd.


A bit more media

Movement journalism can fix more than the industry

Tina Vasquez spent months researching movement journalism and its demonstrated success in newsrooms and “communities directly affected by injustice” in the American South and elsewhere. Though some journalists are uncomfortable with the undertone or definition, movement journalism could be what we need—especially now. Read more in NiemanReports.

“Acknowledging a problem is not solving it”

Natalie Degraffinried is leaving Kotaku, and says leaders at the game journalism website permitted racism and sexism in the workplace for at least a year. Earlier this month, Nathalie Lawhead asked that Kotaku be held accountable for their treatment of sexual assault survivors.

New Yorker stalls proposals

The New Yorker Union reports that company leaders won’t accept tentative agreements on diversity and inclusion or hiring until they read the union’s wage proposal or the guild moves the publication of an internal diversity survey to a separate proposal. You can still sign their letter to editor David Remnick here.

A [graphic] is worth a thousand words

Reveal reporter Aura Bogado has asked a reporter on The New York Times’ visual investigations team to explain why they used graphics to depict Kyle Rittenhouse as a victim in a video where he shoots two people. Now, many Twitter users are using the video to justify Rittenhouse’s actions.

‘Leavers’ creates profile of former journalists

Between February and March of this year, Carla Murphy surveyed 101 former journalists to find out why they left the industry. The results, now published online, find that the title “Leavers” are often African American or Black women.

The cost of free resources

Last week, The New York TimesTim Herrera launched a Patreon to support his resources for freelancers, which are free to access. Still, some journalists are upset that the services aren’t completely free. Nicole Clark, who runs the events with Herrera, explained that the optional fees cover her salary and Zoom fees.

Whitney Museum cancels art exhibition 

Following calls of exploitation from art critics and photographers, the Whitney Museum canceled a show which was set to feature photographs sold as part of a fundraiser. See in Black, a collective of Black photographers, donated 100% of the proceeds to five organizations.

Keep freeing public radio

freepublicradio has started a Medium to provide a place for current and former public radio employees to share their stories of racism, harassment, and/or other workplace misconduct. The freepublicradio Twitter account was created last month and has aired complaints against WAMU, WGBH, and St. Louis Public Radio, among other stations.

#SomosLAT

Last month, the L.A. Times Latino Caucus sent a letter to the paper’s leaders demanding appropriate representation and equal opportunities. This week, the paper’s owner responded with a list of commitments. By 2025, Soon-Shiong expects “to achieve a newsroom where Latinos make up one quarter of [the] staff.”

When does ‘boys will be boys’ end?

The Atlantic’s Megan Garber wrote about the at-times forgiving coverage of Aaron Coleman, a 19-year-old who recently won a primary race for the Kansas state legislature. Multiple girls, now young women, have accused Coleman of revenge porn, harassment, and bullying. Yet, as Garber notes, Coleman’s apology has garnered more media attention than what the young women now have to say about him. (Sarah Jones, at New York Mag, also has an expansive profile of how the story has been told).


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.