This month, fueled in part by protests against the racial injustice that is convulsing the nation, newsrooms across the country have debated this decades-old issue, and with some fanfare, some leading ones have spoken out in favor of Capital B, including NBC News, CNN and The Associated Press.
Today, my perspective has changed. I would argue that the "b" word debate is a false lead and would argue differently. (I find it strange to know that my lowercase "b" will be capitalized here, even in a comment where I suggest maybe they shouldn't be.)
Drawing on long experience in editorial and corporate roles in a variety of media outlets, I affirm that more than a few top editors are relieved, so many news consumers, media watchers and influencers are caught up in this guide. of style. of focusing on the main event: transforming the way the media approaches race and, in the process, leading a genuine transformation in the way the United States confronts racism.
If newsroom leaders don't recognize their own place on the spectrum of institutions that current protests aim to reverse, they are missing the story.
For those editors interested in a serious demonstration of how to respond to this unprecedented moment in America's tragic racial condition, answer this: What percentage of editors in your newsroom are African American, Latino, Asian / Pacific Islander , Native Americans or LGBTQ? The same question about your top level of copywriting management? Apply the question to your offices: from the town hall to the state house and the ends of the world?
When those in your leadership raised the question of whether to capitalize on that "b," did anyone push to confront these questions and be transparent with your employees or audience about the answers?
Unless we can do that, the distraction caused by the "b" word debate runs the risk of trivializing or neglecting backward conversations about race and racism, making them about case sensitivity and unnecessarily alienating potential allies who otherwise they could be understanding.
Before you grapple with the puzzle of the "b" word, answer this as well: How does your editorial strategy address the demographic evolution of your local community or our nation as it becomes increasingly brown and younger than its legacy audience? The same question goes to your audience growth strategy.
Why am I asking these questions? Because they speak of the need for our society to obtain the best possible coverage (intelligent, consistent, accurate and courageous reports) that provide an unbreakable context and a deep meaning for it, one of the most difficult problems of our democracy.
Not only does capitalization of the "b" not improve coverage to that standard, but it can also offer easy aesthetics to news organizations and, indeed, to a wide range of corporations and institutions to mitigate their need for Feeling like they are on the right side of history.
For well-meaning executives, doing or saying something, anything, right now that draws attention, compassion, maybe even respect, is understandable. But the messy, complex, and painful work required won't come from pressing "shift" on a keyboard. Change comes from confronting uncomfortable truths.
Lack of institutional diversity in the media and its role in determining what stories are told and how it has accompanied us for centuries.
I worked as a journalist at The Baltimore Sun, Business Week and was a member of the inaugural USA Today reporting class, where I covered a number of topics, including civil rights. After leaving USA Today, I worked as director of minority affairs for what was once called the American Society of Newspaper Editors (now the Association of News Leaders after merging with another organization), overseen by their annual survey jobs in the newsroom that measured progress toward diversity.
I successfully argued that the results along with the names of the newspapers were made public. The rejection of some publishers brought a compromise, an option of confidentiality.
The balance of my 40 years in the industry was on the commercial side of major newspapers and news sites. In stalls with several important and diverse metro markets, I inherited from the predecessors all-white sales departments, an all-white, all-male marketing team, and all-white digital teams.
Like very few successful black peers before me, I rose to the rank of publisher in part because of my ability to remedy those and other legacies from the industry's spoiled racial past by hiring, developing, and leading business teams with as many differences as possible.
Changing the "b" does not do the hard work of changing an institution from within.
It does not invest in detailed reports on the lives of African Americans or what our distressed communities, through collective memory and trauma, have been claiming for decades, until it finally erupted in the Black Lives Matter movement.
The report cited "white racism" in the form of poor police surveillance, a flawed justice system, and voter suppression, among other institutionalized forms of discrimination that converged to provoke the unrest. The fulminating criticism of the media concluded that it could not adequately cover race issues and reported the news "with the eyes of white men and the white perspective."
I love newspapers and journalists and I don't like to say that certain attacks by the extreme right on liberal prejudice and elitism in the mainstream media are not entirely inaccurate. A former colleague joked that the wording definition of "diversity" meant hiring someone who was attending a public university.
Ask almost any black journalist how often their ability to fairly report a story because of their race was questioned. Ask a white journalist the same question. For those I asked, it never occurred to either them or their editors that it was even a question to ask.
Among the essential survival skills to successfully navigate and overwhelmingly influence white newsrooms with their often blatant and subtle biases, many African-American journalists honed the discipline of attacking poor journalism as an indirect fight to challenge privilege, the arrogance and bias of the whites.
My journalism mentors: Jay T. Harris at Gannett and USA Today; DeWayne Wickham, The Baltimore Sun, Karen Aileen Howze, USA Today; It taught me and the legions more if, as an individual, you attacked racial injustice directly in how you deal with wage inequalities, by rejecting less favorable allocations of stories and beatings, or by challenging the pejorative narrative in black communities: you became the objective . Fight, they taught us, but they always fight for journalism.
So let's do that, improving the way journalism is done and who does it, so it is not about the person defending change, but about the institutions that are committed to making it happen.
For substantial change to occur within newsrooms, most news executives must embrace the history of their organizations to perpetuate inequality and avoid a searing self-examination that would actually lead to dismantling the artifacts of that story. They must do for themselves what the newsrooms have done for hundreds of years: hold the powerful to account.
These are the newsroom discussions that are not only worthwhile, but required for real progress within the industry and for our democracy.