More than a Stated Value: Exploring Inclusivity in Mainstream Media
By Hannah McClellan
Senior Honors Thesis
Department of Media and Journalism University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
April 15, 2020
______________________________ Dr. Trevy McDonald, Thesis Advisor
Hannah McClellan: More than a Stated Value: Exploring Inclusivity in Mainstream Media (Under the direction of Trevy McDonald)
As America becomes increasingly racially diverse, mainstream newsrooms remain largely white. For news to adequately cover minority communities, newsrooms must prioritize race-related coverage and hire and empower journalists of color. This thesis aims to explore how newspapers currently attempt to do this, through the collection of oral histories from four journalists who’ve worked on race-related reporting project and content analyses of each corresponding newspaper. Drawing upon research regarding inclusivity practices by Nishikawa et al. and Meyers and Gayle, an oral history interview guide was created to learn about each journalist’s perception of inclusivity within their various workplaces. Prior to each interview, three months of coverage were informally analyzed for themes and key terms at each newspaper. The trends identified in content analysis and observations made in the oral histories were condensed into five
recommendations for journalists and newsrooms working to adopt more inclusive writing and reporting practices: “Hire journalists of color and fund diversity initiatives within the newsroom that empower these journalists to speak up about race-related coverage and practices,” “Provide external educational materials and workshops,” “Systemically check blind spots,” “Create opportunities to regularly reflect on positive and negative race-related coverage,” and “Listen to feedback and be willing to be wrong.” With these best practices as a starting point, news
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST OF TABLES...vi
Apparatus and materials...18
Oral History Interviews...33
APPENDIX A: SAMPLE INTERVIEW GUIDE...45
APPENDIX B: INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTIONS...48
LIST OF TABLES
“The media report and write from the standpoint of a white man’s world.” – The Kerner Report, 1968
In 1968, the nation was still reeling from the race riots that broke out the year prior, which eventually spread across one hundred U.S. cities, and killed nearly 200 people, injured thousands and damaged nearly $1 billion of property.1 After seven months of investigation of the
myriad factors that motivated the riots, the 1967 Kerner Report criticized American media for not adequately reporting what was taking place in the cities where the riots occurred.2Released
by the 11-member National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, whose members were appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the report concluded the nation was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.”3 The media were singled out for
contributing to widespread racial unrest by “repeatedly, if unconsciously, reflect(ing) the biases, the paternalism, the indifference of white America.”4
More than 50 years after the publication of the Kerner report, some activists are still critical of the “appalling reporting” done by a non-diverse media;5 while79 percent of people
1 U.S. News Staff, “Race Troubles: 109 U.S. Cities Faced Violence in 1967,” U.S. News & World Report, July
2 BlackPast, “1967 National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (The Kerner Report),” BlackPast.org,
September 14, 2019, www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/national-advisory-commission-civil-disorders-kerner-report-1967/.
3 BlackPast, “Introduction.”
4 BlackPast, “The Media and Race Relations.”
5 Steven Thrasher, “The Media Isn't Diverse – and This Leads to Appalling Reporting,” The Guardian. Guardian
working in the current news industry are white.6 Numerous initiatives have been attempted to
increase diversity in the field, yet many have focused on newsroom headcounts more than systemic change.7 As Thrasher wrote, these attempts can lead to news stories, especially ones
regarding race and politics, that further reveal the “myth of objectivity” in American journalism. Whereas mainstream journalism claims objectivity as one of its core tenants, Thrasher argues the “racially monolithic mainstream press is particularly ill-equipped to cover an increasingly not-white world when it declares itself to be ‘objective,’”8 because it fails to acknowledge the
subjectivity of its own reporters.
The commonly agreed-upon principles of journalism – accuracy, minimizing harm, acting independently and accountability, as the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics manual describes them9 – were put in place by predominantly white male journalists who intentionally
and unintentionally created an environment in which people “unwittingly judge journalism through a white lens.”10 During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, thousands of Black
newspapers11 combatted this mainstream news landscape by offering for the Black community a
forum to express and advocate for their causes. Today, the majority of these Black papers have gone out of business. While some mainstream newspapers have apologized for racist or
neglectful civil rights-era coverage,12 minority voices are still left out of much of the news 6 Cobb, Jelani, “When Newsrooms Are Dominated by White People, They Miss Crucial Facts,” The Guardian.
Guardian News and Media, November 5, 2018,
7 Issac Bailey, “’We Haven’t Fully Grappled with How Much We Unwittingly Judge Journalism through a White
Lens’: Newsrooms Need to Examine Biases and Decisions about Which Journalists Cover Stories about Race,” Nieman Reports 72, no. 1 (Winter, 2018): 32-33.
8 Thrasher, 2017.
9 “SPJ Code of Ethics,” Society of Professional Journalists. Revised September 6, 2014.
10 Bailey, 32.
11 Gayle K. Berardi and Thomas W. Segady, “The Development of African-American Newspapers in the American
West: A Sociohistorical Perspective,” The Journal of African American History 75, no. 3-4 (Summer-Fall 1990): 104.
12 James, Dao, “40 Years Later, Civil Rights Makes Page One,” The New York Times. The New York Times, July
process. Too often, the result is reporting that neglects important historical and cultural context or worse, reporting that disregards entire communities.13 The type of reporting that the Kerner
Commission not only identified as a problem, but suggested increased representation could help improve – a suggestion which “came alongside others that addressed unjust police practices, unemployment, underemployment, and inadequate housing …. The issue of media representation was one point in a broader constellation of institutions necessary to preserve democracy.”14
Affirming the ideal that the nation “cannot allow another 50 years to pass before addressing the inequalities that eat away at our media,”15 this thesis explores news projects that
break the mold of coverage through a white lens.16 It will examine ways in which contemporary
mainstream print media understands and works toward inclusivity in their coverage and in the reporting practices that inform it. By examining race-focused reporting projects implemented by daily newspapers of varying circulation sizes in the United States, this thesis explores the process of conceptualization and production of these projects, and will also analyze their content. The study includes varying meanings of inclusivity, as it is defined by each corresponding newspaper and journalist interviewed. While these definitions will be discussed, the analysis of this thesis will understand inclusivity specifically within the framework of “improving the terms for individuals and groups to take part in society,” and “improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity of those disadvantaged on the basis of their identity to take part in society.”17 Viewing
mainstream journalism as an important information distributor in society – and one that should
13 Cobb, 2018.
14 Darren Walker. “Five Decades after Kerner Report, Representation Remains an Issue in Media.” Columbia
Journalism Review, March 5, 2018.
15 Walker, 2018.
16 Katsua A. Nishikawa and Terri L. Towner, Rosalee A. Clawson and Eric N. Waltenburg, “Interviewing the
Interviewers: Journalistic Norms and Racial Diversity in the Newsroom,” Howard Journal of Communication. August, 2009.
therefore be inclusive of all the communities it serves,18 this thesis therefore seeks to explore the
kinds of representative coverage the Kerner Commission recommended in 1968, in order to better understand what inclusive coverage looks like and how it can be achieved.
18 Marian Meyers and Lynne Gayle, “African American Women in the Newsroom: Encoding Resistance,” Howard
Previous scholarship on inclusivity among mainstream media has found that Black people are often underrepresented or negatively misrepresented in newspaper coverage.19 These
misrepresentations are commonly accepted as reason, at least in part, for the perpetuation of negative stereotypes of Black people.20 While overt racist images and stereotypes are not a
fixture in contemporary mainstream news coverage, researchers have noted newsgathering practices that result in biased coverage, such as some basic considerations afforded to white people during interviews that are not equally extended to many minority interviewees. Some of these considerations include explaining the angle of a story, for example, and not exploiting the words or appearance of people unaccustomed to being interviewed by media.21 In addition,
important stories regarding Black communities and the issues of concern to many community members often go uncovered by majority white newsrooms.22 Current scholarship suggests that
the media’s attempts to rectify these misrepresentations by increasing newsroom diversity have resulted in limited positive change, but do not change the underlying journalistic norms, thus leading to the “illusion of inclusion.”23
Dixon’s 2008 study of TV news coverage of crime news and racialized beliefs found that among adults living in Los Angeles county, the “perception of Blacks as violent is most tied to exposure to Black violent criminals” in crime news that overrepresents Black criminals.24
Although this thesis examines print media rather than broadcast, Dixon’s study suggests that the
19 Meyers and Gayle, 2015. 20 Dixon, 2008.
21 Dixon, 2008.
news we consume can influence how we perceive the subjects that the news covers. He cites the theory of cognitive accessibility as the explanation for why images viewed frequently can distort social reality. This means that it is not necessarily the news we’ve seen most recently, but rather the news we consume most frequently that impacts how we perceive people and issues –
suggesting cumulative biased news content from mainstream news organizations does have an impact, even if its coverage is not overtly racist.
Scholars have also examined print news organizations to understand how minority journalists contribute to their newsrooms; that is, how they characterize their responsibility as journalists, how their role is characterized by managers or supervising editors and what the barriers are to asserting their own perspectives. In a series of interviews with African-American women in newspapers covering majority African-American populations, Meyers and Gayle found that most Black women felt providing positive Black images was important, but did not feel similarly regarding gender. Many of the Black women journalists interviewed said the newspapers for which they worked claimed to value diversity, but did not connect diversity to the effects of newsrooms policies. Some women reported incidents of their employers actively resisting and criticizing suggestions they’d made regarding race and inclusivity. Laboring under this double standard – the expectation that Black journalists would contribute to inclusion but not talk too much about race, some Black women claimed to eventually “write and even think in a white voice.”25
Meyers and Gayle claim minority journalists are “forced to back away from their racial identity and lived experiences and conform with the professional norms and values of the organization and individuals who hired them.”26 While many journalists interviewed recounted
positive experiences improving the sourcing or portrayal of Black individuals in stories, they reported that they also encountered many barriers to asserting their perspectives, forcing them to choose which battles were worth fighting. Citing Wilson’s (1991) research on “the Black
journalists’ paradox,”27 Meyers and Gail present four barriers that prevent Black journalists from
including their perspectives in their journalistic roles: “(a) professional isolation as outsiders who lack mentors; (b) an assumption of incompetence on the part of others in the newsroom who see them as less skilled; (c) separate standards which require them to be better than their colleagues to be seen as equal; and (d) limited assignment, which result in less prestigious stories to
In exploring how Black women journalists “resist the hegemonic culture and norms of newswork involving issues of race and gender,”29 Meyers and Gayle found five primary tactics
the journalists used to increase diversity of representation in their TV news coverage. Out of these, four involved the recruitment and advising of news sources: including Black sources as experts or role models; not including African Americans who appear stereotypic as sources; adding white voices to balance Black voices; and encouraging Black news sources to improve their appearance before being filmed. One TV anchor spoke about how the pressure of being on deadline can make fair and informed sourcing difficult. Whereas she, and other journalists, nonetheless made efforts to still find diverse sources who did not appear stereotypical, many women said they’d seen white colleagues fail to do so, often resulting in “inappropriate or exploitative”30 stories.
27 Wilson 1991 qtd. in Meyers and Gayle, 296. 28 Meyers and Gayle, 296.
This observation leads to a final common tactic among journalists interviewed by Meyers and Gayle: educating management and coworkers about race issues. However, the ability to “to speak up when diversity in a story is needed or when a story includes elements that reinforce stereotypes or are otherwise racially insensitive”31 was often dictated by the journalist’s
leadership position within the organization. Though studying tactics to increase diversity within TV news organizations, Meyers and Gayle (2015) suggest minority journalists can successfully improve inclusivity within their newsrooms, but they must be given the leadership opportunities to do so. Even when journalists have that status, the responsibility of educating coworkers and bosses can be constant and exhausting. One TV anchor said of her supervisors, “They don’t understand what we deem as sensitive. You feel like you’re always explaining. Always teaching – from hair weaves to church. You’re always giving these lessons.”32
Scholars have also examined how minority journalists impact coverage and reporting practices in non-majority African American communities. Nishikawa et al. cite recommendations made by the Kerner Commission to increase hiring of African Americans and substantive
coverage of minority issues, and note widespread failure to implement these suggestions. The authors point out that due to the slow progress in employment of minority journalists, not only does the news coverage fails to portray the community broadly, and, moreover, minority journalists could also be “so constrained by the traditional journalistic norms that dominate mainstream newsrooms that they are unable or unwilling to improve the coverage of minorities.”33 Some of these traditional practices include “newsgathering norms”34 such as
31 Meyers and Gayle, 303. 32 Meyers and Gayle, 303.
objectivity, accuracy, balance and fairness, “because these norms limit what journalists deem as news and influences how that news is presented.”35
Additionally, decision-making power is often held by white journalists in full-time positions, contributing to the “illusion of inclusion”36 when minority journalists are hired by
organizations, but not empowered to made editorial decisions. These types of decisions involve which stories journalists write and report, as well as the angle and sources of a given story. When minority journalists are “forced to back away from their racial identity and lived experiences and conform to the professional norms and values of the organizations who hired them,”37 the result
is that a more diverse newsroom does not automatically lead to better coverage of minorities. By including interviews with Black and Latino journalists working for mainstream newspapers, Nishikawa et al. show that journalists widely view accuracy, balance and neutrality as being fundamental to good reporting. Several minority journalists distanced themselves from reporting practices they associate with minority news organizations, such as advocacy work. A Black reporter from a metropolitan newspaper said, “The only way I see myself doing advocacy, is to present issues and ideas in its fullest setting as I possibly can and therefore, as a reporter, I should never be an advocate of the Black community in the news pages of the newspaper.”38 Of
the journalists interviewed by Nishikawa et al., many viewed bringing their personal insights to reporting as negative behavior to be construed as advocacy.
Still, other journalists do not reject the role of advocacy within the newsroom. Some spoke about engaging in forms of “stealth advocacy,”39 to positively effect news coverage. These
behind-the-scenes practices relate to, for example, selection and editing practices. Others were
proud of openly engaging in advocacy, such as one journalist who said, “I report on things, and I cover things based on what I as a Black man see as being significant and relevant and what I would see and report on may be very different in many cases from what my colleagues might see.”40 Still, this tension is one Nishikawa et al. conclude most minority journalists face, and
some decide to address by avoiding advocacy. This avoidance is largely due to journalistic norms, which seem to suggest minority journalists must choose to pursue either their ethnic identity or their professional values. The authors put it this way: “They bring a unique perspective to the table. But we must not forget the table sits in the middle of a mainstream newsroom.”41
A more recent study by Sui et al. similarly found that newsroom diversity alone doesn’t influence coverage of race-related issues, but “in areas with large numbers of minority
audiences, media outlets with diverse newsrooms are significantly more likely to cover race-related issues.”42 This discovery is in line with those found in the previous literature in this study;
Meyers and Gayle found African American journalists in majority African American cities were able to increase diversity in coverage, while Nishikawa et al. found minority journalists in majority-white communities were often constrained by journalistic norms. Sui’s 2018 study specifically analyzed media coverage of campaigns, rather than news coverage generally. The study found “the race of the reporter, the race of the candidate, newsroom diversity, and audience composition are related to the coverage of race-related issues”43 but the study does not
demonstrate that those factors cause media to focus more on racial issues.
40 Nishikawa et al., 252. 41 Nishikawa et al., 255.
42 Mingxiao Sui, Newly Paul, Paru Shah, Brook Spurlock, Brooksie Chasant and Johanna Dunaway. “The Role of
Minority Journalists, Candidates, and Audiences in Shaping Race-Related Campaign News Coverage.” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 2018. p. 1094.
Research regarding how white journalists cover race focuses on how white reporters view their role in covering the issue. Robinson and Culver’s 2016 study found white reporters rely on traditional and passive practices of objectivity, “such as deferring to official sources and
remaining separate from communities,”44 when they cover race-related issues. They argue that
certain journalistic norms, such as deference to officials, should no longer be ethically justified, and that intentional building of community trust “would better fulfill the fundamental mission of the press, especially around issues of race.”45 As noted by other scholars, Robinson and Culver
demonstrate that journalistic norms of objectivity, accountability and evidence have not benefited communities of color. Rather, these norms often leads to reporting that reduces minorities to binaries instead of investigating more complex systematic biases.
Also drawing on media-related recommendations found in the 1968 Kerner Commission report, the authors argue newsrooms embrace an “active objectivity,”46 to better incorporate the
diverse perspectives appealed to in the Kerner report. This type of objectivity views journalism as an “active, interpretive, cultural activity”47 which helps interpret important issues and voices
of entire communities. This approach is very different from the current one; Robinson and Culver found many white reporters acknowledged covering race to be “sensitive and
awkward,”48 especially when it comes to finding minority sources to talk to for a story. Activists
and community leaders state white reporters should build trust prior to soliciting comment within communities of color, and the reporter’s news organization should demonstrate a history of covering news that is relevant to minority communities. Robinson and Culver state the
importance of “an overarching commitment from the news organization itself to embrace active
44 Sue Robinson and Kathleen Bartzen Culver, “When White Reporters cover race: News media, objectivity and
community (dis)trust,” Journalism, (2016): 375.
and interpretive approaches,”49 rather than leaving the efforts to individual reporters strive
towards alone. They ultimately call for journalism that is loyal to its citizens by “recognizing the disparities and concerns that plague some within our communities and carrying them forward to the attention of all within our communities.”50
While scholars agree white journalists should continue to cover race but do so much more comprehensively, Bailey points out in Nieman Reports that some people wish that only minority reporters cover race-related issues. He writes about Erica Garner, the 27-year-old daughter of Eric Garner, who died from a heart attack soon her father was killed by New York police. One of Erica Garner’s friends caused outrage for requesting that only Black journalists reach out for interviews. Though Bailey said as an editor he would have ignored such a request, he said the case illuminated journalistic decision-making: “The decisions we make frequently take into account race and identity, even when they pretend they don’t… Whose voice is most cherished in the newsroom shapes who gets to tell what stories, and which stories float to 1A.”51 Bailey
concludes that without explicitly discussing race, journalists “unwittingly judge journalism through a white lens,”52 which prevents compelling and fully accurate stories from being told. As
the literature presented here makes clear, there is a complex relationship between a diverse news staff and diverse coverage. Further, research and anecdotal evidence indicates the majority of journalists view diversity as being important, and minority journalists themselves are important to a newsroom.53
49 Robinson and Culver, 389. 50 Robinson and Culver, 389.
51 Bailey, “’We Haven’t Fully Grappled with How Much We Unwittingly Judge Journalism through a White Lens’:
Newsrooms Need to Examine Biases and Decisions about Which Journalists Cover Stories about Race,” 32.
52 Bailey, 32.
53 Nishikawa et al., “Interviewing the Interviewers: Journalistic Norms and Racial Diversity in the Newsroom,” p.
This thesis therefore examines the ways in which current mainstream print media
oral history and content analysis methods. As demonstrated by Nishikawa et al., interviews with journalists can provide insight into their experience and work environments that otherwise would remain unknown. Because this thesis interviewed only four journalists as opposed to the 18 in Nishikawa’s study, collecting oral histories made sense in order to gain more context into each journalist’s background and experience. Pairing the oral history method with content analysis allows for more specific examples of the trends identified within the oral histories.
This two-pronged analysis involved the collection of oral histories from four journalists who have contributed to a race-focused reporting project at their newspaper: Nikole Hannah-Jones from The New York Times, Joe Heim from The Washington Post and Charlie McGee and Maeve Sheehey from The Daily Tar Heel. It then included the analysis of issues from those corresponding newspapers thematically and by certain key terms. This qualitative content analysis took place prior to obtaining each oral history, in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of each race-related project prior to interviewing journalists about their work. After analyzing the newspapers, this study collected the oral histories of four journalists – the “narrators” of the history54 – in order to better understand the origin and purpose of each project.
The first component of the methodology the content analysis of three-months’ worth of issues from each newspaper: the month before, during and after the corresponding journalist’s race-related project was published. This approach is useful because it offers a way in which to examine newspaper content to “arrive at [its] meaning.”55 This analysis will analyze the themes 54 OHA. “Principles for Oral History and Best Practices for Oral History.” Principles and Best Practices. Oral
History Association, October 2009.
of each project, as well as the paper’s “typical” coverage. Each race-related project was studied and analyzed at length, while the months of typical coverage were primarily analyzed through searching for key terms and then skimming coverage to find notable examples of race-related coverage, either positive or negative. This strategy allowed the researcher to cover a much broader period of coverage, as well as reflecting a “typical” reader’s experience. For the purpose of this study, regarding how news coverage impacts views about race, a quick read-through of coverage more accurately resembles the standard reading practices than a formal content analysis would.
A newspaper’s “special project” signals an exception to the norm, but looking at newspaper content over time helps reveal whether or not the project was a dramatic departure from the norm for the paper. Paired with the oral history interviews, this thesis helps illuminate whether the development of these three race-related projects challenged news routines, and if so, in what ways. As noted above, the analysis involved informal coding by themes, such as crime, politics, and use of derogatory language or generalizations, when race is a part of a story. The analysis was limited to the “news” sections of each issue of the paper.
After analyzing coverage thematically, this thesis project conducted oral history
interviews with four journalists who have contributed to a race-focused reporting project featured in their newspaper. Oral history interviews are an appropriate research method for this proposed thesis, not so much to answer specific research questions about inclusivity in mainstream media, but to “construct a narrative that makes sense”56 regarding the meaningful coverage of race.
Additionally, the use of this qualitative methodology allows the thesis project to be open to “observing the informants’ choice of topics”57 rather than strictly adhering to an original
hypothesis and potentially missing emerging ideas.
The purpose of conducting the oral history interviews was to have journalists reflect on their individual practices of inclusivity and their respective organization’s practices of
inclusivity, at least as they understand those practices. It should be noted that this study did not thoroughly fact check the statements of each journalist, in accordance with oral history
methodologies. Proper nouns and basic timelines were checked after the interview by the researcher and narrator. These oral history interviews were conducted with journalists at three newspapers in the Eastern United States: The New York Times, Washington Post and The Daily Tar Heel. These newspapers have varied circulation sizes and amounts of local coverage – each therefore offering a unique window into of news coverage and inclusivity in the United States.
The New York Times
This proposed thesis on race-focused reporting projects includes Nikole Hannah-Jones’ wildly successful and impactful “1619 Project.”58 Originally published in The New York Times
Magazine in August 2019 as a special magazine edition, the project was so well-received it was also published in The New York Times Sunday paper, and subsequently sold out several reprints. Also featured as a podcast, the “1619 Project” has been incorporated into education curriculums across the U.S. and served as inspiration for other media race-related projects, as noted by some of the other narrators interviewed in this thesis.59
57 Yow, 6.
58 Nikole Hannah-Jones. “The 1619 Project.” The New York Times Magazine. The New York Times, August 14,
59 Joseph, Christina. “‘1619 Project’ Poised to Reframe Teaching of Slavery. Here's How Educators Are Using the
An oral history interview with Hannah-Jones was conducted to learn about her experiences conceptualizing and executing the “1619 Project,” and more generally, the
development of her journalism career covering race. Apart from her work on the “1619 Project,” Hannah-Jones is known for her investigative reporting on segregation within public education, particularly in the northern U.S. As a Black woman journalist, her narration of her career and how she’s engaged meaningfully with inclusivity in the context of the newsroom is particularly insightful to this study’s research.
The Washington Post
The second oral history interview was conducted with Joe Heim regarding his work on the “Teaching Slavery”60 project in The Washington Post. Published after the “1619 Project,” in
early September, hearing Heim talk about the vision for the project, how it was organized and how it was subsequently received is relevant to the topic of this thesis. Additionally, as a white male, the way in which he views this work and his role as a journalist is important in the context of who can and should report on race. Heim’s narrations include many insights on covering race in the context of his own racial and gender privilege, and highlight many themes anticipated by the literature.
The Daily Tar Heel
Finally, this project conducted oral history interview with student journalists Charlie McGee and Maeve Sheehey, regarding their contributions to the “Race and Reckoning” edition61
in The Daily Tar Heel.Though The Daily Tar Heel is much smaller than The New York Times or The Washington Post, the “Race and Reckoning” edition is also a special focused newspaper issue. As a student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel represents a completely different type of
outlet, one which is increasingly the only newspaper in many cities across the country. As a well-respected student newspaper that serves as one of the only local news sources in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, The Daily Tar Heel’s coverage of race certainly matters. With the paper’s unique challenge in covering the Silent Sam controversies in recent years, the analysis of the paper is helpful in seeing what kind of race-related coverage the paper normally provides. As white student reporters, McGee and Sheehey’s oral histories also add variety to the ways in which reporters understand and contribute to inclusivity in their specific journalistic contexts.
Apparatus and materials:
This project required the rental of a digital recorder from the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, in order to store large quantities of interviews without being
compromised. For the interview with Joe Heim, conducted over the phone, the phone app “TapeACall” was used. To conduct the content analysis of each newspaper’s three months of relevant coverage, each paper’s online archival tool was used. This thesis benefited from funding from the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media’s “Patricia Miller Moore Fund,” to travel to the New York Times building in New York City, New York, to speak with Hannah-Jones in person.
The main component of this thesis was the collection of oral histories from
this discussion took place prior to the start of each interview. While each oral history contains slightly different questions based on each journalist’s relevant project and time availability, the interview guide [Appendix A] contains the primary questions each narrator was asked.
Prior to each interview, a release form was collected from the narrator, as recommended by the Oral History Association,63 to indicate each interview can be made publicly available in
the undergraduate thesis online repository. It was made clear to each narrator before, during and after the interview that they could change their minds about giving permission at any time, as recommended by the Oral History Association.64 The interviews were then transcribed and
analyzed thematically: by themes regarding how they view their role as journalists, their tactics in achieving inclusivity and the origins of their corresponding race-related reporting projects. After transcribing each interview, the narrator was sent a copy of the transcription to approve. Each of the included transcriptions was approved and/or edited by the corresponding journalist.
By comparing each newspaper’s coverage during the relevant race-related project’s edition and their regular coverage over the course of three months: the month before, during and after the project was published. By doing so, this thesis is able to comment on the frequency of race-related terms in the paper’s coverage. As each of the examined projects were focused on slavery in the United States, the searches and analysis centered on the coverage of Black people
in each newspaper. For the purposes of this study, the list of key terms was limited to nine words: race, Black, people of color/POC, minority, diverse, inclusive, racist, enslaved and slavery. Some words were searched with an asterisk in order to yield variants of the same root word (divers*, inclus*, raci*).
In Table 1, the number of times each word was used in the project and coverage period is indicated, as well as the percentage of how frequently the term was found in the race-related special editions. In the projects, each centered on the history and legacy of slavery, the terms “enslaved” and “slave” appeared at much higher rates than the other terms. This is likely due to the specialized focus of the projects. Additionally, the terms “minority,” “divers*” and “inclus*” appeared infrequently in the projects in comparison to how frequently they appeared in the coverage period overall. The “Percentage” column, which indicates the number of times a word appeared in a project divided by the total number of times it appeared, is meant to serve as a guide for how the terms are used, rather than an offering an exact statistic. As each project and sample vary in word count, the percentage is meant to highlight only the most obvious trends.
Table 1. Newspaper Results for Number of Race-related Key Terms
Source Key Term Number in Project
(# in project/ total #)
The New York Times race 34 1,489 .02
Black 480 2,332 .21
people of color or POC 8 173 .05
minority 12 167 .07
divers* 5 1,389 .00
inclus* 1 170 .01
raci* 83 1,128 .07
enslaved 237 322 .74
slave(ry) 235 571 .42
Black 15 1,591 .01
people of color or POC 0 479 .00
minority 0 463 .00
divers* 0 474 .00
inclus* 1 174 .005
raci* 13 869 .01
enslaved 36 138 .26
slave(ry) 82 428 .19
The Daily Tar Heel race 10 61 .16
Black 34 132 .26
people of color or POC 2 13 .15
minority 1 21 .05
divers* 1 64 .02
inclus* 0 29 .00
raci* 2 39 .05
enslaved 9 23 .39
slave(ry) 59 75 .79
Sources: The Daily Tar Heel print archive,65 The New York Times “Today’s Paper” section,66
The Washington Post ProQuest archives67
In addition to the analysis of each newspaper’s coverage, the oral history interviews of the journalist(s) heading each relevant project were analyzed thematically. These themes focus on how the interview pertained to covering race generally and in relation to the creation of each project, although each interview also covered other topics, such as interest in storytelling and personally impactful stories. There are ten themes identified in Table 2: Shaping journalistic narratives, diversity as a stated value, inclusive coverage, holding power accountable,
representation in the newsroom, journalistic empathy, reframing stories, making mistakes, the importance of resources and including many voices in coverage. Each of these themes contain multiple sub-themes and were discussed by at least two of the four journalists.
Table 2. Themes from Oral History Interviews with Journalists
65 “Print Archive.” The Daily Tar Heel. Accessed February 2020.
Themes Sub-themes Journalist Excerpt of theme Shaping journalistic narratives Objectivity, white privilege Hannah-Jones, Sheehey
“…I think really understood the importance of shaping your own narrative when you come from a marginalized community.” -Nikole Hannah-Jones
Diversity as a stated value Unclear messages, diversity budget Heim, Hannah-Jones
"I feel like at almost every place that I've worked for, that has been at least a stated goal and policy of the organization – to be diverse and to be sort of aggressively diverse in pursuing different voices and experiences." -Joe Heim
Inclusive coverage Reflecting community, covering minorities All
"Inclusive coverage covers the community that is, not the community that reflects the white, upper-middle class who are running newsrooms and who are largely producing the news." -NHJ
Holding power accountable Modern power, historical power All
"It put the whole history in context, not just 'This happened at one point in time,' but also, 'This is connected to what's happening in the world right now.'" -Charlie McGee
Representation in the newsroom Generationa l change, confronting problematic coverage Heim, Hannah-Jones, McGee
“If you look at people who are older in there 60s and work here, it's much more of a male, and certainly white newsroom, and then just sort of gradually as you move your way down through the decades, to the people who are in their 20s, it's a much, much more diverse news organization” -JH
Journalistic empathy Listening, reviewing stories Heim, Hannah-Jones
"When you're writing about people, whose lives are hard and who struggle, you should never lose sight of that." -NHJ
Reframing stories Correcting mis-history, shedding light All
Making mistakes Owning mistakes, backing up reporting, making changes Heim, McGee, Hannah-Jones
"That is a fair point and that’s again, as you write it, I wasn't thinking that at all, so I think if I had a chance to rewrite it I would've phrased that differently." -JH Resources Costs of reporting, freedom to pursue interests Heim and Hannah-Jones
"It's actually a problem that other places don't have the resources to do anything along this line." -JH
Including many voices in coverage Diversity in any story, diversifying experts Sheehey, Hannah-Jones, Heim
"...just because a story might seem small, doesn't mean you don't need to attack it from all angles." -Maeve Sheehey
Sources: Interviews with Nikole Hannah-Jones,68 Joe Heim,69 Charlie McGee and Maeve
In addition to the excerpts highlighted in Table 2, each of the full interview transcriptions are included in Appendix B. These interviews were minorly edited for clarity and grammar, and each interview was approved by the relevant narrator. The interviews provide background on the origins of the three race-related reporting projects included in this study and also give insight into how such projects depend on certain levels of inclusivity within a newsroom to exist in the first place. Each of the journalists interviewed represent different journalistic, racial and gender backgrounds. Hannah-Jones, who works at The New York Times, is the only Black journalist that was interviewed for this project; the other three journalists are white. Maeve Sheehey, a student journalist at The Daily Tar Heel, is a white woman with no previous internship experience.
68 Hannah-Jones, Nikole. Interview by Hannah McClellan. Oral history interview. New York City, New York.
January 13, 2020.
69 Heim, Joe. Interview by Hannah McClellan. Oral history interview. By phone in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
February 24, 2020.
70McGee, Charlie and Maeve Sheehey. Interview by Hannah McClellan. Oral history interview. Chapel Hill, North
Charlie McGee, also a student journalist at The Daily Tar Heel, is a white man who has interned at The Wall Street Journal. Joe Heim, a white man, is a reporter at The Washington Post. Each narrator reflects the variety of their specific journalistic context within their interview: as it relates to systems of privileges, feeling inadequate or being pressured to assimilate.
The newspapers examined in this study are widely perceived as left-leaning sources, according to AllSides Media Bias Ratings of over 600 newspapers71 – interesting context when
comparing the successful race-related projects the outlets produced with the ways in which they still make mistakes when it comes to covering race. Of the three examined projects, the “1619 Project” by The New York Times was by far the most widely read and praised. However, The Washington Post’s “Teaching Slavery” project and The Daily Tar Heel’s “Race and Reckoning” edition were both successful in their own right. Each of the projects consistently held to best practices for reporting and writing about race, as will be discussed below. All four journalists interviewed noted feeling pleased with how the projects turned out, as well as with the overall public response to them.
The content analysis did not reveal any striking differences between each race-related reporting project in comparison with coverage of its paper the month before, during and after. However, it was clear that stylistic decisions – such as using the word “enslaved” in place of “slave,” or capitalizing “Black” instead of lowercasing it – were more consistent in the special projects than everyday coverage. This consistency likely reflects the large amount of time and resources put into the special projects, as pointed out by each journalist in their interview. Most of the editions were planned over a much longer period of time than is the case for a daily paper that must account for a variety of breaking news stories. The Daily Tar Heel’s special edition was planned over the course of three to four weeks, while the “1619 Project” and “Teaching Slavery” projects were each planned over the course of nine months. This level of planning and attention to detail reflects a theme discussed in the literature: that standard journalistic best practices are not always enough for covering stories related to race well.
As described in the Methods section, three months’ worth of coverage was analyzed for each newspaper. This coverage span looked different for each paper. Because the “1619 Project” was published first – August 14, 2019 – coverage of The New York Times spanned from July 1 to September 31. The Washington Post’s “Teaching Slavery” project was published September 4, 2019 and The Daily Tar Heel’s “Race and Reckoning Edition” was published September 23, 2019, so the three months of coverage for these two papers spanned August 1 to October 31. As a smaller paper with less staffers and less print days, The Daily Tar Heel had significantly less coverage to analyze than the other two papers. For this reason, a percentage column was added to Table 1 in the Results section to better reflect the proportions evident in a large range of
was used in each paper, as word-counts between the samples varied widely, but rather to highlight major trends, such as the use of “Black” and “enslaved” or “slavery.”
Overall, the analysis revealed a few things: some stylistic preferences are not always followed consistently, race and issues of racism are much more explicitly written about in columns and editorials than news stories, and the ideas of diversity and inclusion are often used to talk about ideas other than race. While each paper had unique examples of positive and negative race-related coverage, these three themes were most evident across the board.
The Daily Tar Heel
The Daily Tar Heel was the most inconsistent in applying stylistic preferences out of the three newspapers. This is likely explained by the fact that it is a student newspaper with
revolving editorial leadership each year, occasionally even each semester. Even within the “Race and Reckoning Edition,” there was not a clear preference of word choice between “enslaved person” and “slave,” though the former is frequently cited as a means to more accurately reflect the system of slavery. In January 2019, Hannah-Jones tweeted regarding this choice: “I don’t think we should use the word slaves at all. Slaves implies one’s personhood and I find it dehumanizing – just as the institution intended. People were enslaved. Using enslaved African, enslaved black people speaks to a condition, which is more accurate and just.”72 Whereas
Hannah-Jones created a style guide for her project, The Daily Tar Heel relied on the Associated Press Stylebook and individual writer’s preferences.
72 Hannah-Jones, Nikole. Twitter Post. Jan. 2, 2019, 9:08 AM.
In the three months of typical coverage, there were many discrepancies in what kind of actions were labeled as “racially charged” or another euphemism instead of “racist.” These discrepancies were especially evident in Silent Sam coverage, where some articles referred to Confederate groups and sympathizers as being white supremacists while other articles evoked a “both sides” narrative. One such article, from Sept. 16, discussed the actions of “confederate protestors and counter-protestors”73 at a rally protesting the decision to remove a confederate
statue outside of Chatham County Historical Courthouse. The article concludes with the quote, “…racists aren’t welcome in [our] communities,” but also includes two quotes calling for the discussion of differences and spending time with people on both sides. These quotes, likely included in order to maintain a neutral, objective tone, actually present the truth of the story in a non-factual way that is advantageous to the confederate protestors. The inclusion of these types of opinions without the pairing of historical context helps create a narrative in which the reader is left to interpret the truth, rather than read it is. Unfortunately, many articles covering Silent Sam contributed to this type of narrative.
One of The Daily Tar Heel’s most glaring failures when it comes to covering race is its frequency in actually covering it. Apart from coverage of Silent Sam, there were not often many articles that discussed race – even less when it applies specifically to coverage of Black people. There were not many stories about Black student culture or events on campus, though club profiles and event stories appear in nearly every newspaper issue. This likely is due to the newsroom being a largely white one; the predominantly white newsroom pitches and writes about stories on their (white) radar. One story emphasizes this disconnect well, although it falls outside the three-month-coverage range. The story,74 written to document how UNC’s student
73 Saff, David. “Protesters rally after confederate statue removal decision.” The Daily Tar Heel. Sept. 16, 2019. 74Sills, Elizabeth. “’That’s what’s in our core’: How student theater at UNC has evolved over the decade.” The
theater evolved over the decade, excluded the Black Arts Theatre Company – resulting in several Black student journalists tweeting criticism of the “lazy journalism” that reflected a disregard for diversity and inclusion.
Other blunders of this scale were not obvious in the three months of coverage analyzed, but the infrequency of stories about Black students and events included in news coverage at all suggests that important and newsworthy stories may have been missed. When Black issues were discussed, it was most frequently in the guest columns and editorials. In the three-period of analysis, the editorial team covered a slew of race issues: racist anti-abortion demonstrations, UNC’s racist history, race-conscious admissions, blackface and the N-word. News coverage frequently included these topics on the fringe of stories, or through the use of an activist’s quote. Other news stories failed to mention race at all, even when it was a large factor in a story: stories about gerrymandering in North Carolina, the murder of a Black man by a police officer and the history of jazz music, just to name a few.
The last consistent example of poor race coverage was the paper’s use of “diversity” and “inclusivity” as often-unexplained buzz words. These words were often used when calling out systemic University problems or when quoting officials, but their use was rarely specified as to whether they pertained to race, gender, ideology etc. For example, quotes and memos from University leaders promising the promotion of “diversity and inclusion” were included without much further digging. As a student paper, The Daily Tar Heel is likely limited by the
The Daily Tar Heel included positive race-related coverage too. There were stories about Black people that shared their accomplishments without centering their race: Michael Spragley, a SoundCloud rapper and UNC track runner and Angela Bynum, a proud Carolina Dining Services employee. Another article shared survey results of diverse classroom experiences, including the categories, “professor who best supports minority students” and “professor of color that has had a large impact on your UNC experience.” More often than not, coverage capitalized the word “Black,” a stylistic choice the AP Stylebook does not recommend, and most large newspapers do not follow. Though many activists recommend capitalizing the word – The Brookings Institute said the style change from “black” to “Black” was “one critical step in a larger step of actions… to modernize and commit to inclusion and diversity”75 – mainstream journalism has not followed
suit. Though a small choice, it is one that emphasize The Daily Tar Heel’s intention to provide more inclusive coverage.
The Washington Post
Like The Daily Tar Heel, The Washington Post also frequently used buzzwords like diversity and inclusivity without often specifying what these words meant. While the newspaper stuck more rigidly to stylistic choices, the paper also contained many uses of euphemisms of “racist,” also failing at times to confront the fact that something was in fact racist. This
commonly occurred in headlines or leads regarding racist remarks by President Donald Trump or other government officials, as explored below. Per the AP Stylebook, a style guide commonly heralded by journalists, you should “not use racially charged or similar terms as euphemisms for racist or racism when the latter terms are truly applicable.”76
75 Lanham, David and Amy Liu. “Not just a typographical change: Why Brookings is capitalizing Black.” The
Brookings Institute, September 23, 2019.
One August article – headlined, “President strains to shake label of 'racist'” – depicts several times President Trump employed racist rhetoric during his campaign and administration. The article does consistently attribute these examples as “plainly racist.” However, the headline could imply to some readers that Trump has been incorrectly labeled, or that he is actively trying to rectify this perception of himself. In the final paragraphs of the story, White House Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway is quoted blaming “elite wrist-flickers” for insulting and demeaning “those forgotten men and women” who are Trump supporters, suggesting that calling Trump a racist helps Trump politically. The final quote is from a Trump supporter who implies she cannot be racist because she has a first cousin “married to an African American gal.” Though some might explain the inclusion of these quotes as examples of objectivity, they contribute to idea that people who say and do racist things – President Trump in this instance – are victims when they are criticized. The headline potentially adds to that misconception.
In addition to these sorts of headlines, others reflected a more obvious hesitance to label Trump’s remarks as racist: “Trump berates Chicago’s police superintendent during speech to chiefs” (when he said Afghanistan is “safe place by comparison” to Chicago) and “At Ohio rally, Trump escalates attacks on liberal cities” (when he invited members of the crowd to criticize Black-majority cities). In the same time period, the newspaper also included headlines with the phrases “racist violence,” “racist tweets” and “racist emails.” This does follow the AP
Stylebook’s recommendation to “avoid using racist or any other label as a noun for a person [as] it’s far harder to match the complexity of a person to a definition or label than it is a statement or action.”77 This recommendation helps explain why newspapers, including The Washington Post,
are hesitant to label Trump as a racist, even when it appears warranted by a story’s facts.
Apart from the “Teaching Slavery” special project, The Washington Post also published multiple other articles regarding the legacy of slavery in the United States. As reflected in Table 1, the newspaper also used the word “enslaved [person]” instead of “slave” in many places. Of the more than 40 articles, published in the coverage period, which related to gentrification, the majority gave some sort of historical context of African Americans living in a currently very white area. Many cooking articles that spoke about Southern food included prominent African American influences on the food, as well as including Black chefs as sources. This may seem like a miniscule detail, but it does not go unnoticed. Hannah-Jones critiqued another food article featured in The New York Times during her oral history interview: “We did a piece on… the food resurgence in Detroit, featuring six chefs, all of them white. Detroit is the Blackest major city in America. How do you do that? … How do you write about Detroit without Black chefs?”78
The New York Times
Similarly to the other two newspapers, one of the most notable ways The New York Times made mistakes in covering race during the three month period pertained to euphemisms it used for “racist.” As a highly read newspaper, The New York Times is also often widely criticized when it does make mistakes. During the three month period, there were several stories and headlines that were criticized for their portrayal of race issues. As with The Washington Post, many of these related to the characterization of President Trump’s actions. One major example is from an Aug. 5 article about Trump’s statements following twin mass shootings.79 In his
remarks, he cited the threat of “racist hate” but encouraged the nation to address “the link” between violence and violent video games. The original headline for the story – which ran on the front page – was this: “Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism.”
78 Hannah-Jones, Nikole. Interview by Hannah McClellan. Oral history interview. New York City, New York.
January 13, 2020.
79 Crowley, Michael and Maggie Haberman. “Trump Condemns White Supremacy but Stops Short of Major Gun
Following the publication of the story, many on Twitter blasted the paper for the
headline, and some said they cancelled their subscriptions. After the backlash, the headline was updated online and for later editions: “Trump Condemns White Supremacy but Stops Short of Major Gun Controls.” On Twitter, Connie Schultz, a Pulitzer-prize winning columnist and journalism professor at Kent State University, did not think this change was adequate. “The New York Times changes its headline for the second edition, but this is the one that landed on our doorstep & is displayed in storefronts throughout our majority-black zip code,” she wrote. “What a betrayal, pretending this president is not the racist we know him to be.”80
Headlines and articles such as this one can cause distrust for readers – even for the newspaper that published the widely celebrated “1619 Project.” These types of mistakes speak to Dixon’s 2008 findings81 that what we see most frequently impacts our ideas more than what
we’ve last seen. In other words, readers may be more influenced by the paper’s chronic failure to call racism out as racism than by vast projects like “1619.” The consistent types of mistakes The New York Times makes when covering race do matter, even when they seem minor.
Oral History Interviews
As stated in the results section, the ten main themes found across the three oral history interviews are as follows: Shaping journalistic narratives, diversity as a stated value, inclusive coverage, holding power accountable, representation in the newsroom, journalistic empathy, reframing stories, making mistakes, resources and including many voices in coverage. Many of the ideas discussed by the journalists regarding workforce inclusivity practices reflected
sentiments discussed in the literature. Overall, each journalist interviewed noted their workplace as having stated values of diversity, but they questioned how much those values were actually
80 Schultz, Connie. Twitter Post. August 6, 2019, 7:32 AM.
81 Dixon, Travis L. “Crime News and Racialized Beliefs: Understanding the Relationship Between Local News
followed. In some cases, they questioned whether such goals were clear or even articulated in practical ways at all.
Student journalists Sheehey and McGee, both editors at The Daily Tar Heel, emphasized their efforts to diversify expert source pools. Regarding this, McGee said, “I think inclusivity is not going out of your way to never include white guys, because unfortunately a lot of specialty insights only come from a select few professionals – all of whom happen to be white guys – but it's taking that opportunity when you're just like, 'I need an expert on a general thing.'” He went on to say that figuring out how to practically consult more diverse experts can be difficult, especially when working with student journalists who tend to rely on one another for source pools. For Sheehey, who works as the University Editor, this principle applies to every story. “I think a big thing for me since… I work with a lot of writers who are just coming on to the paper who haven't really written before, is emphasizing that no story is too small to make sure you get all the perspectives.”
Both McGee and Sheehey felt The Daily Tar Heel generally produced inclusive
coverage, and felt the paper’s intentions were always to do so. McGee stated, “Of course we've had incidents where we could be more inclusive, but I think everybody wants to do this job as inclusively as possible. I think The Daily Tar Heel does a good job emphasizing that, but I think figuring out how to do that is not the easiest thing.” With regards to the September “Race and Reckoning” edition of the paper, both journalists hinted at the existence of the project being heavily reliant on “luck,” in that editors realized there were multiple stories in the works related to slavery at UNC at the same time and then decided on the special edition.
September 2018 – almost an entire year before the project was published. While he didn’t start conducting interviews or visiting public schools until January 2019, he spent several months researching academic books and old textbooks to get a broad idea of how slavery is taught in public schools. Though he wrote other stories throughout this span of time, he said the project was “pretty all-consuming.” He emphasized that the time he was able to spend on the project and the money spent for traveling were possible due to The Post’s resources. He stated, “What we were able to do is not possible at many, many other places, and we shouldn't be one of the only five places that can do work of this kind.”
A reporter at The Post since 1999, Heim said he’s seen a “stunning” generational shift in the diversity of the newsroom. He found that generally, inclusive coverage was more of an individual editor or writer’s call than a clearly implemented institutional practice. As an overarching ideal, he believes diversity is an “aggressively” stated value. “But as I say, that's a stated policy,” he said. “I don't know that they've always achieved that or met that, or even maybe understood exactly what they wanted by that.” This sentiment matches the “illusion of inclusion”82 studied by Nishikawa et al. – that increasing newsroom diversity does produce
limited positive change but does not change the underlying journalistic norms.
In his own career, Heim spoke to his growing consciousness that his intended meaning in a story or interview isn’t always the way it will be received. As a white man often covering stories about race, he said he strives to listen as much as possible to the people he’s reporting on. He stated, “I just try to listen as much as possible to the people I'm reporting on and try to make sure I'm understanding their perspectives as best I can, as someone who may not have shared any of the same experiences as they have, but to really try to understand and be cognizant of what their experience has been.” One example of this happened a few years ago, when he was
interviewing three African American women about a plaque honoring confederate soldiers on their local courthouse. At one point they began discussing slavery and Heim referred to people as slaves. He said the women explained the significance of instead saying “enslaved person.” It’s a rule he strictly followed when writing his almost 20,000 word “Teaching Slavery” project just a few years later.
As the only Black journalist interviewed, Hannah-Jones spoke directly to the ideas in the literature regarding her ability to create change and speak up about race-related issues within the newsroom. Now at The New York Times, Hannah-Jones said she has the most freedom she’s ever had in a job. She was able to pitch the “1619 Project” only a few days after returning from book leave and maintained complete control of the project’s content. She regularly reaches out to The Time’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, when she is troubled by an article or headline. Regarding her voice she said, “I always had a voice, but I think what's different is the degree to which my voice is heard and listened to now… . I have a much bigger megaphone and that makes it more difficult to ignore. But I've always, for good or for ill – and sometimes it hurt my career – been someone who has spoken up very passionately, both about our coverage, what I thought I should be covering and also our hiring and retention practices.”
prevented from including their perspective in their journalistic roles, due in part to limited assignment and separate standards.83 At The News & Observer and ProPublica, Hannah-Jones
said she had more positive individual relationships. At both places, she felt she had mentors that encouraged her to write about race and listened to her ideas. However, she feels both places generally had a passive “yes, yes, yes” attitude to her face, but often failed to actually follow through regarding inclusive coverage and practices.
Hannah-Jones acknowledged, like Heim, that diversity and inclusion has been a stated value at every place she’s worked. She said the amount to which diversity in the newsroom was pursued seemed to fluctuate on the budget. “I think inclusivity was always much worse,” she said. “Newsrooms were able to recruit talent of color…they could bring people in, but the environment made it hard to maintain. They weren't very good at integrating journalists of color, and particularly journalists of color who did not have a desire to assimilate to white norms.” This type of expected assimilation Hannah-Jones experienced is in line with the double standard of diversity studied by Meyers and Gayle – leading to some Black women in the study claiming to eventually “write and even think in a white voice.”84
Still, in her own career, Hannah-Jones has never stopped reporting and talking about race, as she says it’s the reason she became a journalist in the first place. Over the course of her career, she’s adopted practices to help her better cover she people she writes about. She said, “When you're writing about people, whose lives are hard and who struggle, you should never lose sight of that… I think that comes with a great responsibility to write about them in ways that will not shame them, even if the ultimate portrait you're painting is ugly.” One of the most practical ways she strives to do this is by reading back certain sections to her sources. She adopted this practice
after writing about a funeral and stating in the story that most of the people at the funeral were poor. The mother of the man who died, along with many others in attendance, were angry about this line and questioned how Hannah-Jones knew this. “I realized I didn't know whether they were mostly poor or not, and I'd made an assumption about them,” she said. “She felt that it spoke to a bias that I had, and she was right. I've never forgotten what that felt like.”
As the creator of 40,000-word “1619 Project,” Hannah-Jones came up with most of the essay ideas, convened a panel of historians, picked many of the writers and even did marketing and fundraising for the project. As mentioned above, she also created a style guide on language for the project. She said, “It was a collaborative effort but there was nothing that I wasn't
involved in. I felt such a tremendous responsibility that I couldn't let anything go in that I did not have some say and see.”
something big.” Despite the attempts to discredit the “1619 Project,” Hannah-Jones is hopeful that by using “the currency of The New York Times” to acknowledge the profound legacy of slavery in America, other journalists of color will feel empowered to create large projects of their own.
Based on the themes found in the oral history interviews and the trends in the three months of newspaper analysis, a few recommendations have been made for both journalists and newsrooms working to adopt more inclusive writing and reporting practices. While these recommendations pertain specifically to covering race, their premise could be applied to multiple important other areas of inclusivity.
1. Hire journalists of color and fund diversity initiatives within the newsroom that
empower these journalists to speak up about race-related coverage and practices.
This may seem obvious, but as reflected in the literature and oral history interviews, many of the organizations claiming to care about diversity have little to show for it. Studies by Meyers and Gayle and Nishikawa et al. show that hiring minority journalists alone is not enough: newspapers must connect diversity to the effects of newsroom policies as well. The hiring and funding of journalists of color shows that an organization is invested in increasing diversity.