For years, newsrooms across America
have had a problem with a lack of diversity and inclusion. People of
color are underrepresented among news organizations, which do not
reflect the makeup of the general population and have made little
progress in the past decade.
non-whites make up about 40%
of the US population, journalists of color comprise only 16.55%
of newsrooms' staff in 2017, according to the American Society of
Newspaper Editors (ASNE) Newsroom Employment Diversity Survey.
newsrooms and digital news organizations are a little better —
23.4% and 24.3%, respectively — but not much. People of color
are only 13.4% of newsroom leaders.
comes at a time when society needs and demands more
It's been 190 years since the creation of the black press, and it's
as relevant as ever.
the absence of an inclusive environment, the quality of journalism
suffers. Certain stories are simply not reported, or are told without
the nuance or perspective the circumstances require. The black press
has filled that void for generations. And with the advent of digital
platforms, a baton has been passed to black millennial writers to
continue presenting narratives, with underrepresented points of
views, that would otherwise go missing - and do not necessarily
reflect the white men who dominate the industry.
beyond using social media for entertainment, shopping or
communication, African-American millennials have elevated Twitter,
Facebook, YouTube and other platforms to raise public consciousness
about the issues impacting black people. The hashtags
#BlackLivesMatter and #OscarsSoWhite are prime examples of this
to Nielsen, 55%
of black consumers between 18 and 34 spend at least an hour on social
media each day, 6% higher than all millennials. In addition, 29% of
black millennials spend three or more hours daily on social media
sites, 9% higher than that of all millennials.
black millennials fall below their counterparts in the percentage of
leisure time spent on social media, they exceed the general
millennial population in their overall presence on Twitter, Tumblr,
Google+ and Whatsapp. That online presence has translated into the
creation of a network of black news outlets specifically creating
content that will meet readers and viewers where they are.
when the mainstream media covers a particular issue, the black press
may cover it with a completely different angle - if not a different
issue altogether. For example, the black press
mainstream media narrative that white "working class"
support for Trump was primarily economic in nature, reporting instead
on the presidential candidate's appeal to white solidarity, raw
racism and the scapegoating of minority groups.
all, white economic angst by itself does
the fact that whites always have fared better than their African- and
Latino-Americans. And while the mainstream news organizations have
the NFL protests through the prism of patriotism and support for the
military, the black press has
on the crisis of police brutality and racial violence that underlie
the athletes' decision to take a knee during the national anthem.
years ago, when unrest rocked cities across the nation as a result of
police brutality and systemic racism, the Kerner
-- an 11-member commission appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson
that highlighted racism for its role in a surge in urban riots --
took the news media to task.
have found a significant imbalance between what actually happened in
our cities and what the newspaper, radio and television coverage of
the riots told us happened," the Kerner report
second and fundamental criticism is that the news media have failed
to analyze and report adequately on racial problems in the United
States and, as a related matter, to meet the Negro's legitimate
expectations in journalism. By and large, news organizations have
failed to communicate to both their black and white audiences a sense
of the problems America faces and the sources of potential
Commission made a number of recommendations, including that news
organizations employ black people beyond mere tokenism and in
positions of real responsibility, and that they publish newspapers
and produce programs that acknowledge black people, who they are and
what they do.
newsrooms have made some progress, it's not where it should or needs
to be. But by empowering themselves and their followers —
without gatekeepers and intermediaries in the traditional media sense
— young, black journalists have reached a broad audience. They
can educate and mobilize others to act on a given issue, and connect
with local, national and global social justice movements.
videographer or documentarian can broadcast a crime in progress -
such as a police beating of an unarmed motorist - live and in real
time, before an audience of thousands if not millions. In that
regard, technology is the great equalizer, a check on the abuse of
official power and a call to reform harmful patterns and
its inception, the black press has been a change agent by shining a
light on the plight of blacks and giving them the power to write and
report on their own narratives. In New York in 1827, Rev. Samuel
Cornish and John B. Russwurm began publication of Freedom's Journal,
the first black-owned newspaper in America. Excluded from white
venues and often insulted in their absence, black voices found the
need to tell their own stories.
wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us. Too
long has the public been deceived by representations, in things which
concern us dearly," wrote the editors in their first
black newspapers were centers for political debate on the war and
emancipation, and advocacy for black soldiers. During Jim Crow and
the reign of Klan terror, the black press fought against segregation,
demanded equal rights for African Americans and helped elect
politicians to office.
which had demanded federal intervention from President Woodrow Wilson
to stop lynchings, played a role in the Great Migration by urging a
mass exodus of black people from the South.
the 1890s, journalist Ida
led a campaign against lynching at considerable personal risk. Born a
slave, she wrote about the injustices of racial segregation in the
South. A mob descended upon her Memphis news office, destroyed her
equipment and threatened her with death.
the years, many black publications disappeared. Others learned to
navigate the new landscape, and a plethora of new black media emerged
with a strictly online presence, impacting the manner that black
people digest and make sense of the news.
days of "reading the paper" are long gone for many, but
what remains the same is that the black press doesn't look like the
theoretical textbook case of objective
journalism - and it was never meant to be -- whatever that means to you.
narratives are told from the perspective of a black lens, perhaps
there are no two sides to a story. Perhaps there is only one side, or
numerous sides with various textures and shades. What is certain is
there is a sense of responsibility to the community, advocating for
that community and telling their stories from their perspective.
digital environment arms African-American millennial writers with
tools that enable them to carve out their own territory in their
unique and innovative way -- exercising free speech and contributing
to a healthy democracy, and staying true to the proud history of the
commentary was originally published by CNN