[Update, April 15] While we took our opening comment in the Herald-Leader at face value in the piece below, the editor in question, John Carroll, actually intended it as a rueful preface to a serious examination of his paper’s lapses in civil rights coverage. We apologize for the initial lack of context.
“It has come to the editor’s attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the civil rights movement. We regret the omission.”
Call it the ultimate umbrella apology, issued by the Lexington, KY, paper in 2004 (the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). While it might be tempting to mock the paper for its understatement, it certainly isn’t the only outlet that managed to botch and then apologize for its coverage of race, wealth, and (in)equality. Yes, we in the media can have blind spots—often huge ones—when it comes to social change. To help identify them, we set out to have a national conversation about what we’re missing these days, and how media must adapt to cover an America that constantly reinvents itself.
Race, class, immigration, and social mobility were the issues we used to frame our discussion, conducted in January. Using the online conversation tool Branch, we virtually convened 18 members of the media and asked them to weigh in. (To find out who’s who in this conversation, click here.)
As context, this is both the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington. Many people don’t know the March’s full name: “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” We chose to address both economic issues and race/immigration, highlighting the current fault lines in our country and mediaverse. Among them:
We’re in a period of accelerated change in the media industry. Big institutions are sharing audiences with scrappy upstarts and citizen journalists. How do you hold the media accountable when virtually anyone who chooses can have at least a small audience? And are there different standards for big or long-standing institutions versus new or smaller ones?
How do we make sense of race, immigration, and class when all of the issues intersect, but none is identical? What are key social changes we should be examining right now? What is the historical context in which we embed today’s narratives? And how can we plan future coverage?
The 2012 election provides an additional layer of context for these conversations. Three numbers—the 1 percent, the 99 percent, and the 47 percent—were used in different ways to define how income, wealth, and taxation shape our society. The original Occupy Wall Street protests occurred from September through November 2011, but protests in municipalities such as Oakland ran well through the spring, as presidential candidates accelerated their trot through the Swing States. By the time Mitt Romney’s surreptitiously taped remarks about the 47 percent hit airwaves in September 2012, many Americans had heard a garbled debate about wealth that delivered more soundbites than facts. Governor Romney stated, “[T]here are 47 percent who are with [President Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims. . . . These are people who pay no income tax.” For the record, two-thirds of the 47 percent work, with most of that subgroup paying payroll taxes. Many are retired. And not all, certainly, are Democrats. In fact, the Tea Party Twittersphere went curiously silent after the 47-percent remarks, perhaps indicating that the normally voluble cohort had little good to say.
If you dig deeper into the 1-percent-and-99-percent paradigm, that too has flaws. It’s not until the 1 percent of the 1 percent (i.e., the .01 percent) that the income graph really shoots up. The average American income is about $51,000. The 1-percent’s average income is $717,000. And the 1-percent-of-the-1-percent’s average income is $27 million. The discrepancies only increase if you compare wealth versus income. The issue also plays out in politics, since the 1-percent-of-the-1-percent are disproportionately represented among major donors. Overall, the divide between rich and poor is growing, social mobility is decreasing, and the average length of unemployment today is twice as long as it was during the last recession.
Turning to race and immigration, we can only take snapshots of a country in rapid evolution. Late last year, the US Census Bureau released a prediction that the country would become “majority-minority” in 2043, earlier than previous estimates. In 2012, the nation was 63 percent non-Hispanic white, 17 percent Hispanic (of any race or combination of races), 13 percent non-Hispanic black, about 5 percent Asian-American, and about 1 percent Native American, plus some 2 percent who list themselves as multiracial. By 2060, the census predicts that the US will be 43 percent non-Hispanic white, 31 percent Hispanic (of any race), 15 percent non-Hispanic black, about 8 percent Asian-American, about 5 percent multiracial, and about 1 percent Native American.
As we put this issue of CJR to bed, the president and Congress were jockeying for position on immigration reform. What seemed even a year ago like an issue to be avoided has new momentum. The GOP, after winning only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in the presidential race (substantially worse than during the G. W. Bush years) is looking for new ways to prove its relevance to immigrants and demographics that care deeply about immigration. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has come out early and strongly for immigration reform, perhaps presaging a 2016 presidential run.
In other news, some African-American civil rights advocates have stepped up second-term criticism of the president. On Meet the Press in January, NAACP chief Benjamin Jealous said, “Right now, when you look at joblessness in this country—the country is pretty much back to where it was when this president started. White people are doing a bit better. Black folks are doing a full point worse.” Books like Pulitzer winner Eugene Robinson’s Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America, dig into whether a post-integration world has proven even less hospitable to a majority of African-Americans than the racially segregated but income-integrated communities that existed before the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968. Asian-American populations continue to grow in aggregate but also gain power within ethnic groups, be they Korean Americans in Los Angeles, Hmong in Wisconsin, or Chinese immigrants in New York. Native Americans continue to wrestle not only with issues like income and health, but also tribal sovereignty, the unique and contested space between tribal governments and federal authority.
As America becomes more diverse and complex, ethnically and economically, those of us who care about the news are still asking: What should we cover and how can we do it better? Perhaps as long as we ask that question, we can hold out hope that, working collectively, we will succeed.
Who gets taken care of when disaster strikes?
Farai Chideya Let’s talk about the distribution of resources when it comes to helping those in need. I remember covering Katrina, walking through the flooded streets, talking to survivors, and traveling by helicopter with Lt. General Honoré, who took military command of New Orleans. The very fact that a US city had to go under military command shocked me. More recently, Sandy struck. [A New York Times] article about forgotten people in the Rockaways launches my first question: How well do we cover crises, or even chronic problems, fairly across regions, taking into account issues like race and income? On the one hand, the Times did an admirable job on this story. On the other, it took reporters, as well as responders, quite a while to focus on these forgotten people.
Many factors affect inequality of coverage. In New York after Sandy, there were gas shortages and transportation problems that made it harder to cover certain areas than others. A lot of the local micro-blogs that normally do good work on community issues were shut down because either they had no power or the people were picking up their own lives.
June Cross There are folks in Long Island, out in Coney Island, who still don’t have power. In part, this is the Manhattan-centric nature of New York media. But also, Katrina devastated an entire city, and these outer areas in New York have historically been ignored. Likewise, Long Branch and areas of New Jersey. The media is capricious; the story moves slowly. Unless there is a paper of journos as impacted as those who worked at The Times-Picayune in NOLA after Katrina, who are dedicated to following the minute developments of the stories unfolding in tedious tandem, it is difficult to hold the public’s attention. If you have no Internet, it is extremely difficult to communicate with the outside world. But Occupy Sandy has been doing an amazing job. The Occupy Sandy [information and volunteer coordination] hub does a better job than MSM.
Richard Prince Journalists should live in different parts of the circulation area, not just in the usual places that attract people of the journalists’ social class.
June Cross This would be where citizen journalists could work with professional journalists.
David Beard It is incumbent on us to find ways that allow us to pursue hard news with characteristic vigor. Those ways could include special digital/print sections, linkage to events, or ngo partnerships to fund some science, conflict, investigative, arts reporting. In covering local news, we can be more creative in partnering with local bloggers, universities, and other media than we have been.
Jeff Yang I feel disgusted to even be saying this, but I think that the way that disasters are covered in the media—and ultimately, how they play out in larger society—often comes down to the colors of the corpses.
I personally heard uttered that Sandy was “white people’s Katrina,” which defined the context of both disasters: Sandy was discussed as an issue of decaying infrastructure and overwhelmed or underestimated civic planning. New York is a place where a lot of powerful white people live, and they were inconvenienced by Sandy. Their interests drove a disproportionate amount of the narrative.
Katrina [coverage], meanwhile, often seemed to focus on the victims as members of a savage underclass, speculating on the corruption or poor leadership of local black officials, the ignorance or willful resistance to authority of black residents, and false reports of violence. There was the infamous incident in which Caucasian flood victims were portrayed in one photo caption as “finding” supplies, while a black person was described in another as “looting” supplies.
As a consequence, I think there was broad overlooking of suffering during the early coverage of Sandy, as people debated solutions and causes—for example, the massive fires at Breezy Point weren’t covered for hours. Thorough discussion of the antecedents of Katrina, and efforts to prevent future catastrophes, had to wait on days/weeks of disaster/poverty porn.
The only solution to this kind of coverage bias is diversity in establishment media, combined with a very different approach to partnerships between such media and citizen journalists/bloggers. It strikes me that in times of crisis, the news establishment [will] end up serving as a curatorial and factchecking filter for crowdsourced reporting, with its own reporting coming after the fact—in the window usually reserved for “news analysis.”
Raju Narisetti The expectation that a New York Times or a Wall Street Journal or Washington Post can really be comprehensive—and, to borrow from the NYT, provide all the news that is fit to print—is a false expectation in 2013, given the state of our industry, the proliferation of content sources, the growing promiscuity of once-loyal readers. Especially when it comes to covering large-scale events such as Sandy. There is a disconnect between what we think big media should do and what it can. The good news is that platforms and services such as Twitter are bringing news serendipity, immediacy, and breadth back into our lives and as a result, even if former traditional sources don’t provide it, the scale of what we know is actually much better today than it was in the heydays of dominant media brands.
Farai Chideya I agree with what you say overall, Raju, but TV news divisions are not currently in the red. I think things really started to go bad in broadcast when acquiring companies began to expect entertainment-level profits from news.
Raju Narisetti Between YouTube, Now This News, HuffPostLive, and WSJLive, and you name it, technology has enabled a lot more replacements for big-media TV outlets. So I remain sanguine and hopeful, even if television news has to make entertainment-like profits.
Farai Chideya What Sandy news coverage stood out?
Latoya Peterson I scanned my social networks to figure out where people were and what was happening. Hours before I saw news coverage of how bad the flooding was, an acquaintance posted a picture of her abandoned apartment, with her toilet submerged. I watched friends in New York post pics on Instagram. And I waited for people to sign on to see if they were safe. I only read news reports about the aftermath—to get an idea of the broader scope, what happened in the Rockaways, what was going on with the trains. I loved the NYT [tick-tock on bringing the subways back into service]. But what stands out to me the most is that I looked to social networks for breaking news and major outlets for context.
Deanna Zandt I can’t help but bring in how powerless the Internet really was in the wake of Sandy. When I went out canvassing the first weekend after the storm, the number of people that we met who didn’t know there was an Occupy or other community relief center within walking distance of their houses was stunning (due to lack of power in general, let alone connectivity). . . and then I’d come home and find a bunch of my nerdfolk online setting up websites where people could “help” one another. It was incredibly frustrating.
I’d made fun of things like low-power FM for a lot of years, until that weekend. CB radios and more “old” tech could be employed in incredibly powerful ways.
Coverage of class and social mobility
Farai Chideya According to a study published in The Economist, “Parental income is a better predictor of a child’s future in America than in much of Europe, implying that social mobility is less powerful. Different groups of Americans have different levels of opportunity. Those born to the middle class have about an equal chance of moving up or down the income ladder, according to the Economic Mobility Project. But those born to black middle-class families are much more likely than their white counterparts to fall in rank. The children of the rich and poor, meanwhile, are less mobile than the middle class’s. More than 40 percent of those Americans born in the bottom quintile remain stuck there as adults.”
Vivek Wadhwa Sadly, social mobility is an issue in America and most places in the world. But for all of America’s flaws, it is the most open and inclusive society on this planet.
Groups that help each other can rise. It starts with Mom and Dad encouraging and motivating children, and with communities coming together—people who have achieved success helping others behind them.
Farai Chideya There is a collapsing of the American middle class—not across the board, and not unfixable, but hysteresis (long-term unemployment) changes families and communities, [and] has public-health effects, too.
Vivek Wadhwa Wait till you learn what lies ahead—in this decade. We’ve watched the emergence of exponential companies like Facebook and Google. Billions were impacted, but only a few became wealthy. Now multiply this by 1,000 and look beyond social media—in fields such as robotics, artificial intelligence, computing, synthetic biology, 3D printing, medicine, and nanomaterials. We are going to transform entire industries, such as manufacturing. And we have the chance to solve humanity’s grand challenges and eliminate poverty and hunger and create unlimited energy, improve health, and so on. We can figure out how to share this new prosperity, or we can create more Zuckerbergs. It is up to us. I am optimistic we will share.
Farai Chideya Where we put research dollars to solve medical and public-health problems will have a big impact on that. Cancer-research dollars have been flat in the public sector for years, despite some big advances in genomics and treatment. I still believe, with all the private innovators around, that government plays a key role in research.
Vivek Wadhwa Government funding for basic research is important and needed. But in this exponential era, entrepreneurs can do what only governments and big research labs could before—solve big problems.
Farai Chideya I’m a huge fan of public-private partnerships. Part of the reason for the sharp decline in African-American employment was our reliance on public-sector jobs. They need to create alliances with industry.
Until the civil rights movement, black communities were far more income-mixed. Segregation caused clusterings of black families who created some amazing communities, like two my family come from—Westmoreland County, VA (farmers), and Turner Station, MD (urban mixed-income black community, with both wealthy and poor).
Vivek Wadhwa Farai, as long as the black community looks to others to help it—in whatever form—it won’t get ahead. It has to unite and help itself.
Why does every discussion of uplifting the African-American community have to begin with government jobs or industry partnerships? Why not begin with new entrepreneurial ventures and mentorship?
Farai Chideya Black folks, in my experience, are very entrepreneurial. At one point in the past decade, black women had the highest rate of starting new businesses. But many don’t scale easily (say, daycare operator), or fail, in part due to lack of experience and/or undercapitalization.
There are businesses that feed people, and then there are businesses that build wealth for employees and investors. The barriers to access certain private jobs and private capital will require new solutions. But we should not abandon the public sector. I am no fan of the way government works. I have said to several congresspeople, “I can’t imagine going to a job every day where half of people want you to fail.”
June Cross The press has missed the calcification of social mobility. In New York, nannies and home-healthcare services are predominantly West Indian or African immigrants. They work for minimum wage, often without overtime, and until Obamacare kicks in next year, many won’t have access to healthcare themselves. (And in the nine states that refuse to expand Medicaid, there will be even more.) American society is becoming stratified in ways that summon images of India. The lack of access to a decent education has made it more and more difficult for black American children in public schools to rise above their station.
Latoya Peterson Conversations about social mobility fascinate me, because they happen in two separate spheres: the economics section, where the decline of solid middle-class jobs is documented, and the personal-interest (style) section, which illustrates the broader structural workings of poverty. I’d love to see the two converge a bit more. A [December] Washington Post piece [about Pennsylvania teenager Tabitha Rouzzo] frustrated me: The article was a voyeuristic view of poverty, with questionable items presented with no further comment or investigation. The reporter followed Tabitha’s story well, but ignored the rest of the family—and most people aren’t in poverty alone.
When Tabitha’s sister decides to stop going to school, there is no further investigation or understanding. Was she being bullied? Was she depressed? Did she, like so many others, [get] worn down by feeling like a failure each day? I feel like the relative level of privilege in the press corps leads us to miss some key aspects to stories about social mobility—links to mental health, addiction, or collapsing social systems are often under-explored. Does it make sense to have a welfare policy that discourages people from working? Does it make sense to allow a minimum wage that is not a living wage? The framework is vital.
I’ve loved the reporting on the mounting [financial] pressure on Americans, particularly the crowdsourced stories on Tumblr. Yahoo did a project called Down But Not Out, putting faces and stories to the long-term unemployed, then expanding to looking at mortgages and student loans.
A clear theme is emerging: Americans bought into the Dream (home ownerships and college educations) without realizing how the reality of those dreams has changed. In combination with a competitive, machine-aided, global workforce, Americans have lost ground and found themselves unable to catch a break—much less a bootstrap. And I think we are only seeing the beginning of the stories.
Carmen Wong Ulrich Social mobility is tied to access to education—affordable, non-crippling-debt college education. Granted, we need even better high-school graduation rates and grades from black/Latino kids, too, but once these kids get into college, the dropout rates are higher for poor minorities, and rates of “bad” student loan debt (read: private loans) are too high. I’d love more education for minority students on how to manage the college system/process, personally and culturally, as well as how to pay for it in a smarter way. While mentoring and working with Latino and black students going into college for the past 15-plus years, the lack of clear, informed strategies to get that degree is frightening. I get the question, “Is this degree worth it?” Hell yes. [But the process] needs to be directed, treated like what it is: an investment, and a business/economic/life strategy.
To Vivek’s point about entrepreneurism, keep in mind that many of us have/had no financial safety net or support, should a business fail, and education is key to economic growth in a less risky way. When there’s no net, you’re more likely to not swing so high.
Farai Chideya How are we supposed to describe class stratification in a country that claims not to have class?
I loved the recent piece by [Salon staff writer] Mary Beth Williams, “On not being middle class in New York City” [which appeared on her personal Tumblr]: “a classically tunnel-visioned New York Times feature about what it means to be middle class in Manhattan. The Times would have you believe that to live in the Apple, you’re going to need about $235K a year. . . . [W]hen the Times runs a feature like that, it treats the millions of New Yorkers who are somehow getting by and raising families and living with basic human dignity like they’re invisible. That pisses me off.”
Carmen Wong Ulrich Silly of us not to realize that “class” exists, but its definition depends greatly on who’s doing the talking, and what about. How someone speaks could have you deem them of a lower “class” even if he/she is a self-made millionaire. Professionally, some deem those with no college degree (or even no grad degree) as of a lesser “class.” However, there is a real discussion about the ability of Americans to maintain a solid middle class and what middle means. Does that mean home ownership? Two cars and cellphones? How much money you make, or what you do with it?
Monica Guzman I’ll echo Mary Beth Williams and say that tone deafness with regard to class—writing about people in a certain place in a certain situation in a way that seems out of touch to those people—is a problem. But it’s a tricky problem. Who else, after all, is talking about class? It’s one of those burdens media must carry, figuring out how to talk about something there’s really no language for, no agreed-upon codes, and little consensus across regions. They’re bound to get hammered when they try. But at least we try. Class is a force in American culture. The denial of class, too, is a particular feature of American self-perception, where it exists.
Maybe it’s one of the many areas in journalism where we have to take risks—where, for the sake of informing the public, we have to pick words and phrases and concepts, do our darnedest to make sure they reflect reality, and put them to the ultimate test—publication. If we’re off, we’re off, and rather than shy away from it, we should own the conversation about why, and how to make future coverage better.
Coverage of race and immigration in America
Farai Chideya If we were to write the mea culpa of race coverage for 2050, what would it be? What are we missing now? And how do we deal with what we missed before?
Raju Narisetti In hindsight, we might be apologizing for treating race through a white/nonwhite prism, long after America became much more multicultural, and race reporting ought to have become as much about covering “white” issues, and not just in relation to nonwhite “minorities.”
Vivek Wadhwa By 2050, we will be color-blind or not exist as a race. Humanity will evolve to the point that we create an abundance of food, water, energy, knowledge—all the things we fight for and that divide society. Along the way, we will have much more time to think—and to evolve. I have little doubt that if we don’t blow ourselves up in the next decade or two, we will achieve our potential as a race.
Raju Narisetti I love Vivek for many reasons—he is at once aspirational and idealistic. And sometimes unrealistic. As in a race-blind 2050.
Maria Ebrahamji Our “In America” section on CNN.com focuses on these issues, through the lens of identity. Sometimes we as journalists think too much about the facts and not enough about providing context to our viewer/reader. I recall that a lot of the news reporting after the last census focused on who we are as Americans (our racial makeup, economic diversity, etc.). I am more fascinated by the idea of how we are living and why we live that way.
Eric Deggans I write a lot about how race and prejudice play out in media. But I was still shocked during an interview with Shirley Sherrod—yes, that “Breitbarted” Shirley Sherrod [who was bullied into resigning from a government job after racial comments she made were taken out of context]—when she told me a high school near her home in Georgia still has segregated proms. Far as the nation has come on racial issues, especially in big cities, there is a still a lot of prejudice and ignorance out there. I have a feeling future news outlets will be apologizing for allowing the level of racial animus toward nonwhite people which still appears on Fox News Channel, the Drudge Report, The Daily Caller, and many areas of conservative media.
Tristan Ahtone When it comes to reporting in Indian Country, one of the biggest issues I see is reporters’ inability or lack of interest in getting to know communities on a level deeper than can be found through statistics. Crime, casinos, and cultural revitalization are all important topics, but reporters could be digging deeper. Spend time with the communities you want to report on. Native communities are traditionally closed off to outsiders, and in gaining a community’s trust, you’ll be able to get to stories that are truly underreported and important to the people you cover.
Jeff Yang I’ve been deeply intrigued by the implications of multiracialism on race. We’re rapidly entering a period in our national history where race and ethnicity no longer fit the boxes we’ve conventionally assigned them to (if they ever really did, as more than clumsy shorthand). Our first black president is also our first multiracial president, and our first Third Culture Kid president [since he grew up outside his parents’ culture]. The president has consciously claimed black identity (and told the story of that process), but he has also at varying times claimed Pacific identity, from his upbringing in Hawaii; Desi identity, from his close friendships with South-Asian Americans and perhaps his years in Indonesia, though that doesn’t entirely factor; and white, lower-middle-class descent. What’s interesting is that none of these are actually contradictory to his personal narrative. And we’re seeing more and more people for whom that is true. Are we finally seeing, not an erasure of race, but a divorcing of racial identity from racial origin/phenotype?
Raquel Cepeda In 2050, we’ll be casting a wide net when apologizing to Latino/Latina-Americans for sticking to archaic black-white paradigms when reporting race. In fact, we won’t have enough rope left on earth to create a net wide enough. We’ll probably still not know who exactly we are talking about, since the largest news networks won’t be able to stop cramming us into checkboxes. Perhaps we’ll apologize for not recognizing the class, biological, and phenotypical diversity that exists within this group.
By 2050, Latinos, born liminal by definition (mixed-race, regardless of phenotype), will have become so used to negotiating being in racial limbo (by American standards/constructs), that we’ll likely take over the media. This person will be a woman and my descendant, and her name will be Arianita Huffinguez. Seriously, though, we need to deconstruct race, in order for it not to “matter” anymore—but that takes time and effort and work and inclusion.
Latoya Peterson I’m with Jeff—the very way we identify race and racial boundaries is changing before our eyes. All the racial constructs are flawed—they are our attempts to make our complicated histories fit somewhere. But reality continually changes—and our understanding of that reality and our identity changes as well. So I would not be surprised to see news outlets in 2050 finally being forced to tackle many of these questions head-on, as the idea of a “neutral” white default erodes. And this will be good—in many ways, increased racial awareness will force people to confront their own internalized biases about what “black” consumers, “Latino” consumers, “Asian” consumers want, and instead remember that each set has dozens of factions.
I think news consumers in 2050 will be amazed at how little voices of color participated in national conversations, and how limited the perspectives truly were. And I would expect strong, passionate conversations on national identity, as all the different Americas have to converge at some point.
Jeff Yang Raquel, the racialization of Hispanics (defying the whole “Hispanics can be of any race” line) is already happening. Multicultural MONITOR’s demo question bank, like the Census, asks about Hispanic ethnicity first and then for a racial identification (white, black, Asian, Native American, other). The percentage of respondents to the survey who declare themselves Hispanic and do not claim any (other) race is significant—over 20 percent—and rising.
Raquel Cepeda Jeff, from my own reporting on the subject and personal background, I have found that the racial line is left blank in many cases (or, alternatively, I’ve known people who have checked every racial box), because Latino immigrants and their children are looking at the question [through] a different lens than we do here in the States.
June Cross [Looking back from 2050,] we will have missed the nuances of race and ethnicity. When I get together with my Latino friends, they talk about how different their individual cultures are: Mexican, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Colombian, and Guatemalan [cultures] not only have different holidays and use the same word to connote different things; they also speak Spanish in different accents. The cities that receive immigrants are creating a melting pot of Latin America that I haven’t seen reported at all in mainstream press. Ditto for the immigrant flow from Africa and the West Indies. Further, in the press’s binary paradigm, undocumented immigrants are rarely Russian, Eastern European, Canadian, Irish—even though their ranks also fill immigration detention centers.
Eric Deggans Race is covered as an event rather than an ongoing concern. We hear regularly about the Dow Jones Average, the activities of City Hall, the latest action by Congress. But we don’t often hear about race, outside of special stories—developed over weeks, months, sometimes years—that drop into the news mix, have a brief impact, and then are gone. Small wonder, then, it is so hard to talk about race in a measured way outside of media. We are so used to talking about race in crisis, any mention of the issue in a news story leads to assumptions that there must be a crisis at hand.
Maria Ebrahamji It’s possible to create new ways of tackling diversity. For me, that began in my friend’s apartment in Chicago in 2006. We wanted to combine our creative energies and our passion for writing into a project through which we could inspire others and illuminate the diversity found in the American Muslim community. The result of that brainstorm was I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim, a collection of 40 essays by 40 American-born Muslim women under 40. The process of collecting contributors (and their essays) for the book was not much of a departure from the work I do at CNN—identify, research, and cultivate guests and talent who have great stories to tell. However, this time it was not me (or my network) telling their stories; we were creating a platform for these women to speak for themselves.
America is already diverse, and a diversity of thought comes with that. No longer does the average citizen need journalists (or anyone, really) to tell their stories. Whether through instantly published videos or in 140 characters, we all have the ability to message and share our thoughts—instantly.
Jeff Yang I [like] how NPR’s Tell Me More covers race and ethnicity, not just because I’m a fan of Michel Martin (and an occasional contributor to the program). TMM neither hides/diminishes its focus on race and cultural difference, nor does it exceptionalize it. They cover these issues as if they’re relevant to everyone and should be accessible to everyone, as opposed to simply inside baseball for POCs [people of color]. Given that this happens to be the truth, it’s sad that this stands out as “refreshing.” Why is it that stories about the economy invariably center on [white people] unless they’re explicitly about the “multicultural economy”? I’ve literally never seen a story about “the middle class” that showcases the story of an African-American, Hispanic, or Asian-American middle-class household. Tell Me More flips that script; it covers these topics from an alternate-world default where people of color make up a majority or plurality of the population—the world we’ll all be living in in about two decades.
Eric Deggans Future news outlets will be amazed at how all the groups of cultures we define as nonwhite Hispanics are marginalized in today’s media. Although their votes were a big reason Obama stayed in the White House, we only saw questions about Hispanics related to immigration, and during one debate here in Florida, NBC only brought out a Latino anchor from Spanish-language Telemundo to ask immigration questions before he left the stage again. Given that this group will soon dominate the youth demographic so many media outlets court, it seems particularly short-sighted, even in a completely economic context.
Raquel Cepeda Eric, totally agree. Although, because of the biological diversity that exists within, say, any one immediate Hispanic/Latino family, the term “nonwhite Hispanics” is mostly misleading. Hoping the census revisits those questions in 2020 and beyond.
Carmen Wong Ulrich Thank you, Raquel. Though we’re fewer in number, Afro-Latinos tend to fall through the Mexican (majority) and African-American cracks and/or we ride both lines, or simply reject one. I land on way too many sides (see: my name), but I’ll leave you with this question I never thought I’d hear, and from my own, half-European (read: blond with blue eyes) daughter (six), after a regular visit to her first cousins (black twin girls) in Prince George’s County, MD: “Mooooom! Why can’t I be BLACK!” Amazing times.
June Cross I run into this too, Carmen. I have Jewish nieces and nephews who are white—and they love to show off their black auntie. Who’da thunk? We in New York often ignore or, worse, disparage the 49 percent of the country that voted GOP. I often use The Dallas Morning News as a touchstone to that quarter. On the morning after Obama’s inauguration, they published a cross section of religious leaders responding to the president’s second inaugural address.
Robert Hernandez We actually may be “post-race” by 2050, but we still will write mea culpas on things like homosexuality coverage. Immigration seems like something we’ll always debate, blaming actual “aliens” for taking our jobs. I think we’ll also write a mea culpa about science—global warming, questioning evolution and such.
Baratunde Thurston The equivalent of magazine covers will ask, “What Happened to All the White People?” and it will be an in-depth multipart report on how whites willingly and involuntarily gave up power over the previous 100 years. Parts of this piece will focus on backlash, resentment, and failure, and it will highlight mass incarceration and persistent segregation as examples of this. But the piece will close on a more hopeful tone, pointing to the efforts of groups like La Raza and NAACP to help counsel White America through this difficult transition. We will ultimately say that young people connected by technology and global culture helped salvage and reinvigorate the American Dream. The piece will get a Pulitzer. My granddaughter will be the author.
June Cross I had a convo with an older white man last night. He was amazed by the “five different colors” in Obama’s family. I thought he meant the shade of magenta, blue, gray—but no: He meant the colors within Obama’s family. “I never thought I would see such a thing in a presidential family,” he marveled. Not that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson didn’t have Technicolor families; but Caucasians still question. I am not as sanguine as the rest of you that all the problems of the world will be solved by 2050.
Baratunde Thurston National Intelligence Council does a report on the world in 2030, and some of the charts go out to 2050. We’re all going to be singing, “Brown & Yellow, Brown & Yellow, Brown & Yellow!”
Farai Chideya Part of the task is to reward reporters or reporting that can bridge cultures. [Vietnamese-American] journalist and fiction writer Andrew Lam does that well. What have you seen that does things well of late?
Raju Narisetti Washington Post’s The Root, despite lack of commercial success or scale, still continues to do a good job of covering major stories through the prism of race.
Raquel Cepeda From a Latino-American perspective, I’ve seen/read sprinkles of great reporting on race/ethnicity in The Christian Science Monitor. WSJ has published some slamming pieces. When CNN aired “Latino In America,” they published interesting online content. . . . I don’t know if there is one site that really investigates the Latino/Latina-American demo well, like, say, Root.com does.
Doug Mitchell I’m giving a talk to an all-white group of alt-newspaper people tomorrow. I want to ask them about the word diversity. I’m wondering if it’s time to redefine it or change it? And I would argue that 2050 is here.
Farai Chideya Here’s the thing: We can and will change terms like diversity, but the issue is not the terminology.
Doug Mitchell You’re right. [And] the NewU Entrepreneur Fellowship through UNITY Journalists and the Ford Foundation has me thinking on how to get more of journalists of color to become the employer, not just the employee.
Tristan Ahtone Ownership is a huge problem. I think some problems can be solved when we have a diverse newsroom, able to push management to say what is important, and why.
Farai Chideya Money, power, ownership, and leadership—all will factor into how the journalism of 2050 covers race, diversity, wealth, and class. Given the tremendous changes our field has gone through in the past 40 years, mid-21st-century media is bound to be very different from today. But we humans being who we are—curious, inquisitive, and sometimes fearful—there’s bound to be an ongoing debate about some of the same issues we’re puzzling through today.Farai Chideya is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute