Startup journalism thrives but it’s a very white world
Charles D. Ellison | 4/4/2014, 6 a.m.
And even as the online space is infinite, black-owned commercial-news ventures are either too afraid or too vision-less to jump into creating similar Wonk-driven projects despite the abundance of talent. Others play it safe by spitting out routine rotations of trendy junk headlines and assume that black readers don’t have the appetite for or don’t understand a steady dose of polls, charts and infographics on major policy issues. No one wants to be the smart kid in class out of fear they’ll get jumped after school.
Everyone mentioned here, of course, is rightfully getting called on it. The National Association of Black Journalists pitched an open letter to the startups above. BuzzFeed deputy editor-in-chief Shani Hilton (a sister in a sea of journalism whiteness) eloquently blames the issue on networks and cultural signals failing to connect. Columbia University’s Emily Bell slams the startups on diversity, but focuses primarily on the lack of women in the newsroom — which, for better or for worse, begins to read more like a diatribe from an HBO “Girls” script than a manifesto for diversity fixes.
But, the accusations and predictable mea culpas from The White Guys present a few complex issues that will (predictably) leave the problem unaddressed.
First, when the larger conversation on diversity typically commences, it becomes code for “how do we fill slots for our nagging white female peers?” rather than how we truly make a newsroom more alive with varying degrees of thought. And that doesn’t just mean race or gender; it also means a concerted effort to seek perspectives outside social, academic, economic and neighborhood circles. It’s like the Supreme Court: Must all the judges be trained at Ivy League schools?
Second, the current debate assumes these cats were simply tripping around in their own ignorance and didn’t know any better. Yet, in all seriousness, one can make the argument that as diverse as the present world is (and will continue to be), they should all know better. Maybe you could convincingly make that argument in 1954 or while happily chewing on Cracker Jacks with the fam while geeked out on “The Roy Rogers Show.” But, if they’re truly great collectors and purveyors of streaming data, they should have the tenacity and level of curiosity to have their fingers tapped into the obvious world around them.
Understood: It’s like the high school lunch room, where folks can’t help but gravitate to tables with familiar faces. But, that’s not an excuse. Black journalists, commentators and thought leaders — as active and pronounced as that community is — just don’t seem welcome when they should be. Yet, they’re out there, whether they are Andra Gillespie, Jason Johnson, Cornel Belcher or countless others who toil away on these topics as well as (and sometimes even better than) the white guys do. Time to cut it out.