The stories left untold in America’s newsrooms

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“Unfinished.” That’s the title of CJR’s latest print issue, released today, which focuses on race in journalism and “the stories left untold in America’s newsrooms.” The Race Issue features a range of perspectives on the continued under-representation of people of color in the media—situating the problem in its historical context, sizing up its statistical scale, and outlining the holes in coverage that result.

Contributors include Vann R. Newkirk II, a staff writer at The Atlantic; Errin Haines Whack, the Associated Press’s National Writer for Race and Ethnicity; and Rebecca Carroll, special projects editor for WNYC and a critic-at-large for the LA Times. Also in the issue, Gustavo Arellano tackles the uncertain fate of Spanish-language news networks, E. Tammy Kim reflects on lopsided US media coverage of the Koreas, and Eric Deggans interviews David Simon, creator of The Wire, on how journalists could better cover the race beat.

CJR’s website will roll out all the columns and features in the issue over the next two weeks. First up this morning, Guest Editor Jelani Cobb, a New Yorker staff writer and director of Columbia University’s Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights, discusses “the cost of the status quo” when it comes to race in the media. At a launch event at Columbia Journalism School later today, Cobb will sit down with HuffPost Editor-in-Chief Lydia Polgreen (who serves on CJR’s Board of Overseers) following a roundtable discussion featuring Haines Whack, Atlantic staff writer Adam Serwer, CJR Editor and Publisher Kyle Pope, and former CJR Delacorte Fellow Karen K. Ho. You can livestream the whole event, which is being sponsored by the Ford Foundation and The Guardian, here from 2pm Eastern.

In 2017, just 16.6 percent of journalists at daily newspapers in the US were people of color, despite non-white people comprising more than 37 percent of the population at large. “This underrepresentation of minorities is a more polite way of saying that there is an overrepresentation of white people in media,” Cobb writes. “Two years ago, the dearth of people of color at the Oscars generated the satirical #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. A #NewsroomSoWhite hashtag would now be equally fitting.”

ICYMI: Dancing around the word ‘racist’ in coverage of Trump

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For Cobb, this under-representation comes not at the cost of some “vague, frankly condescending idea of ‘inclusion,’” or the appearance of it. It matters, rather, because homogenous newsrooms miss critical stories and perspectives. Cobb cites several micro and macro examples of the trend: from tone-deaf crime coverage in the Bronx, to the Kerner Commission’s 50-year-old finding that the media missed the causes of the 1967 race riots, to euphemistic coverage of the 2016 election campaign “when unblinking assessments of racism and religious bigotry were warranted.”

On the eve of the 2018 midterms—whose narrative has, if anything, hewed even more overtly to race—a spotlight has again shone on the timid language much of the media uses to describe racism (even though this language did not go away in between times). On Friday, a headline in the Times referred to the “racial stumbles” of Ron DeSantis, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Florida; on Saturday, the same paper wrote about the “racially tinged remarks” of hard-right Iowa Congressman Steve King.

The Times subsequently changed the latter article to call King’s remarks “racist”—small proof, perhaps, of the power of raised awareness. But as CJR’s new issue shows, journalism’s race problem is entrenched and multi-faceted. Elections loaded with racist rhetoric might seem like an opportune peg for the issue’s release. In truth, any time is a good time to grapple with the media’s failure of representation and its everyday consequences.


Other notable stories:

  • Friday saw another grim update in the story of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose body, according to a Turkish official, may have been dissolved in acid and dumped down a well. Writing for CJR the same day, Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, called for a United Nations-led inquiry into Khashoggi’s killing. “The changing media focus means that justice in the Khashoggi murder will depend less on global indignation and more on a methodical, systematic investigation into the crime,” Simon wrote.
  • Also on Friday, the front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reproduced the Jewish mourners’ prayer in Aramaic, marking the first Sabbath since a gunman killed 11 worshippers at the city’s Tree of Life Synagogue the previous Saturday.
  • President Trump’s re-election campaign announced that “conservative media legends” Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh will make “special guest appearances” at the president’s election-eve rally in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, tonight. A Fox News spokesperson told CNN that Hannity will be interviewing Trump, not campaigning for him—but given Hannity’s feverish boosterism of the president and recent GOP GOTV efforts, that line will probably, as ever, be vanishingly thin.
  • After The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker tweeted that a Rihanna song was playing at a Trump rally, Rihanna tweeted back “Not for much longer” and thanked Rucker for the heads up.
  • The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has released updated legal advice, in English and Spanish, for reporters covering polling places tomorrow. Journalists with further questions can also call RCFP’s legal defense hotline on the day.
  • The Post’s Paul Farhi and the Times’s Michael M. Grynbaum are both out with profiles of scoopy Axios reporter Jonathan Swan, who drew widespread criticism last week for failing to challenge Trump’s assertion that he can scrap the 14th Amendment by executive fiat. “The triumph-to-fiasco nature of Swan’s story marked a rare bit of turbulence for a reporter who has been on a sustained hot streak since Trump took office,” Farhi writes. “[Swan]’s rise has come with accusations of coziness: that he favors access over accountability; that he irritates the White House, but rarely infuriates it,” Grynbaum adds.
  • A transatlantic clash has come to a head at The Guardian, where three of the paper’s US staffers used the opinion section to push back on a Guardian UK editorial on trans rights. The editorial “promoted transphobic viewpoints, including some of the same assertions about gender that US politicians are citing in their push to eliminate trans rights,” Sam Levin, Mona Chalabi, and Sabrina Siddiqui write. “Guardian journalists in the US had no input in the editorial, which we felt was misplaced and misguided.”
  • And for CJR, Anna Clark has a nice story about Mick McCabe, who has covered high-school sports for the Detroit Free Press for the past 49 years. Although Detroit has four major league teams, McCabe stuck with prep coverage because, “High school kids are… honest—they haven’t learned to lie to the media yet.”

ICYMI: Midterms in the local news void

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Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist. He writes CJR's newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.