Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Black Lives Do Matter- Especially In The Newsroom

Alex Lumley

The phrase "Black Lives Matter" has been used countless times by scores of people over the past several years, and has been repeated and reinforced every time a black life has been lost to injustice and reported on by the media.

But it's become more than just a phrase, a saying espoused on social media for a week or two and then put to rest, revived only when the next heart-breaking case emerges. It's become a movement.

And a successful movement, one that's changing the national conversation on racial inequality, systemic oppression, and perceptions of injustice. It's certainly forced those running for President in 2016 to more publicly and thoroughly address their plans for changing the status quo in our country. Take progressive hero Bernie Sanders, who was speaking in Seattle in early August when two women identifying with the movement interrupted his event and took him to task on his plan (or lack thereof) for criminal justice reformation.

Senator Bernie Sanders looks away as BLM activists speak at his event in Seattle.
Photo attributed to Alex Garland, taken from this article:
As the conversation goes on, it's important for journalists to consider the incredibly important role they play in it. Oftentimes, the media has by far the loudest voice in national conversation, and the capability to drown out most other voices. This is especially true with huge media organizations like MSNBC, CNN, and FOX, just to name a few.

And, on the surface, perhaps there's nothing wrong with that. Is it not the role of journalists in society to disseminate truthful information to the public? Is it not their job to facilitate conversation, to cover what's going on in America and to comment on it?

Indeed it is. But it becomes a problem when major media coverage starts to inform public consensus in a negative way. When the public starts to buy into stereotypes that the media has helped to create through their coverage (whether intentionally or not) about those in the minority- about black people, about LGBT people, about poor people, about disabled people, etc, etc.

So, how do we change that? Well, there's one simple way that could start having an effect instantly: diversify, diversify, diversify!

Having a more diverse staff in the newsroom means you'll have more unique perspectives on a major story such as Ferguson. When the people reporting on Ferguson are all a part of the privileged majority, the public is missing out on the perspective of those belonging to the minority, of those being oppressed by the injustice of it all.

But perhaps diversifying the newsroom isn't enough. Of course, having a diverse staff is an excellent step in the right direction. Maybe, as Susan Smith Richardson suggests, it would be more helpful to dedicate an entire beat to the subject of black life in America, covering all facets of the black experience: education, economics, employment, achievement, and certainly struggles over race. And while all journalists should be reporting on race, it may be most beneficial to assign that beat to a reporter of color, someone directly involved with and effected by such issues. This would also serve as a way to empower those being oppressed by giving them a voice and letting them speak for themselves on these issues that affect them every day, as opposed to those in the majority speaking on their behalf.

Some would oppose the creation of beats geared exclusively towards race with the argument that coverage of the black experience should be present within all beats and not limited to its own little corner. And those arguments certainly have merit.

But what's most important to remember is that black lives do indeed matter. And we as a society need to show that they matter by empowering people of color to speak for themselves and get their stories and perspectives out there, so that we may continue to change the conversation and narratives around the black experience in America until one day equality for all will really mean for all.

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