How 13 local news publishers have responded to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations

As an association, our primary role at LION Publishers is to support our members in building financially sustainable, independently owned news businesses.

June 17, 2020 by Anika Anand

Photo from Unsplash by <a href="> frankie cordoba </a>
Photo from Unsplash by frankie cordoba

As an association, our primary role at LION Publishers is to support our members in building financially sustainable, independently owned news businesses. We believe at the core of a successful news business is listening and serving your community of readers — especially those whose voices are often underrepresented in the mainstream conversation.

At LION, we believe that Black lives matter — here’s how some of our members are taking steps to show they do, too.

This week we’re highlighting 13 LION members who have taken the time to listen and uplift those voices in their communities or who have thought critically about their role in ensuring media is created by more diverse voices. We’ve chosen examples that go beyond reporting on what’s happening, and offer more context and analysis or introspection of a publication’s internal practices. All of these examples are replicable or adaptable for other news organizations, and we hope they inspire the work you’re doing.

Actions you could take right now as a leader of your news organization

1. Share demographics about your newsroom and organization.

CalMatters shared a breakdown of their staff demographics based on gender and race, and also offered an analysis of salary equity across the organization and their hiring practices. CEO Neil Chase, who is a white man, writes, “The most obvious challenge at CalMatters is in my mirror. The organization’s top executives are white.” He adds that the organization’s journalists are forming committees to “look at the diversity of our sources, the ways we use words and phrases and labels, and our hiring process” as well.

2. Add anti-racism to your organizational values.

Chalkbeat CEO Elizabeth Green said the organization added anti-racism to their core values, which “guide our work and govern our team.” She tweeted, “As professor Ibram X. Kendi has written, it is not enough to be ‘not racist.’ We must be anti-racist. The idea that standing against racism by adding a line to a web page might be newsworthy or even brave is a shameful commentary. But I believe (and hope) that we can do our job better by making our values transparent and clear.”

3. Be transparent about your reporting process.

Kelsey Ryan, publisher of The Beacon (and LION’s communications/membership manager), and her team hosted a live chat that answered reader questions to provide “an inside look into decisions our newsroom is making in real time about covering protests around police brutality.” The team also shared with their readers that they were participating in a three-part webinar focused on diversity, equity and inclusion to formalize their “organization’s stated mission around diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Practices to consider incorporating into your reporting and editing process

1. Tell your readers *why* this is happening.

Publisher Mukhtar Ibrahim left his reporting job at the Minneapolis Star Tribune in early 2019 to launch Sahan Journal, a publication covering the state’s immigrant communities. Earlier this month, CNN interviewed Mukhtar, whose publication has been covering angles that national media has missed. “You see young people being really frustrated and you wonder why. Why is everyone frustrated? Why do they hate the police? Why the cursing at the police? What’s causing that? I’m always more curious to learn about that than just covering the latest developments.” An example? This story about why young Minnesota Somalis are protesting.

2. Help your existing audiences who may not understand Black Lives Matter understand how racial justice applies to their lives.

Project Q Atlanta is for “gay men, lesbians, bixsexuals, transgender people and all of those that make up our queer village, according to their about page. Founder Matt Hennie hosted a live virtual conversation about how two pieces of legislation introduced in 2019 could help address police brutality and hate crimes, and “how racial justice is an LGBTQ issue.”

3. Consider protecting the identities of activists, demonstrators.

“Understand how police use news coverage to surveil black communities. Don’t allow police to use you, or your coverage, to do their jobs.” That’s from a guide on covering protests from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Racial Equity in Journalism Fund at Borealis Philanthropy. Wendi C. Thomas of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, said she applied these principles to “our recent coverage of a civil disobedience training that drew more than 350 people. While we know the names of the people we talked to, if participants weren’t comfortable using their whole name or showing their entire face, we protected their identity.” Wendi also shared her own experience of being surveilled by the Memphis Police Department.

Opportunities to talk with and hear from your community

1. Create a community editorial board.

Long Beach Post Publisher David Sommers created a community editorial board in response to what he says is his failure to “build up a leadership team and corps of journalists that fully reflects the diversity of the community we cover.” To accomplish that goal, he’s formed a seven-person editorial board, which will include representation from his organization, though community members will hold a supermajority position. He writes, “Board members will be welcomed and encouraged to write opinion columns during the year on issues and subjects in which they have a personal interest, experience or expertise.” David said he’s received nearly 90 applications so far, and is offering stipends to the editorial board members.

2. Facilitate conversations to build empathy.

Richland Source, when approached by a black-owned barbershop, collaborated with the shop owner and other partners to launch “Shop Talk,” a conversation series focused on race and reconciliation in their Ohio community.” The first meeting was held May 31 at a barbershop with a group of people including “city employees, a sheriff’s deputy, pastors, small business owners, a class of 2020 high school graduate, and a university grad student” who were “black and white, young and old.” Publisher Jay Allred (who is on the LION board of directors) facilitated that first meeting using the “22 Questions that ‘Complicate the Narrative’” framework, a guide created by Amanda Ripley for the Solutions Journalism Network. They hosted the second conversation last week and plan to continue the series.

3. Ask about your readers’ experiences with race.

Last summer, LAist put out a call for reader stories about race and published reader essays in response. They recently re-upped their callout saying, “Our job is not to lose focus on this. We are asking for your help, both in joining the conversation and holding us accountable to keep it going.” They want to continue publishing reader stories about how race and ethnicity shape their lives, “so that we can all keep on talking. Because we have to.”

Stories or resources you can share with your readers right now

1. Publish ways to help your local Black community or participate in the demonstrations.

Berkeleyside has published two useful guides — one focused on “5 things you can do to support the Black community” and another updated list of Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

2. Track how influential companies or people are responding to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and if they’re putting their money where their mouth is.

The team at The Plug, run by founder and publisher Sherrell Dorsey, tracked more than 190 tech companies on whether they “spoke up about racial injustice” in response to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and how that squared with their total percentage of Black employees. The goal? To evaluate the companies’ “internal commitments to supporting Black workers,” Sherrell said. (P.S. If you’re a LION member, don’t forget to RSVP for Sherrell’s LION Lesson on June 25 that will emphasize best practices on diversity, equity and inclusion.)

3. Share anti-racism resources.

The Devil Strip published this page of anti-racism resources, linked and easy to find from its homepage, in response to several readers asking what they can do to “help bring about change and support our Black neighbors.” Their response? “One of the most important actions non-Black folks can take is to educate themselves on systemic racism and privilege.” Also, Scalawag’s managing editor Lovey Cooper published this guide, “Reckoning with white supremacy: Five fundamentals for white folks,” which offers historical context and additional resources.

If any of these examples left you questioning a news organization’s need to commit to journalistic objectivity, we encourage you to check out this June 24 webinar hosted by Lewis Raven Wallace of Press On and The View From Somewhere, which will delve “into the history of ‘objectivity’ in journalism and how it’s been weaponized against marginalized and oppressed people.”

Are there other examples we should add to the list? Email me at [email protected] to let me know.

Sign up for the weekly newsletter

Join the LION mailing list to get our weekly roundup of opportunities and resources for news entrepreneurs. View our most recent issues.