CBCF Hosts Virtual Panel on Female Black Journalists

The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation held a virtual panel Tuesday on ‘The Power of The Black Woman Voice to Change Black Women’s Lives’ as part of their Annual Legislative Conference. 

Tuesday’s event was moderated by White House correspondent April Ryan and featured a panel of Black women journalists including Kat Stafford, National Race and Ethnicity Writer at The Associated Press, Juanita D. Slappy, Diversity Communications Manager at General Motors, and Karen Attiah, Global Opinions Editor at The Washington Post. The panel was also hosted by Michigan Congresswoman Brenda L. Lawrence.

Panelists say racial inequities in newsrooms are worse in modern-day history than decades prior during the implementation of The Kerner Commission, a national advisory board authorized by President Lyndon B. Johnson to uncover the cause of the country’s riots. 

Attiah noted the drastic changes in diversity numbers across America’s newsrooms saying, “in many ways, The Kerner Commission’s aims and goals have not been fulfilled today.” The Global Opinions Editor described the decline in racial inclusion as “backsliding” before expressing that the concerns of Black people in the media are going unnoticed. 

Attiah isn’t alone in her frustrations. 

One panelist says the lack of Black journalists being hired in various sectors of journalism has more to do with newsroom exclusivity and less to do with the quality of Black media personnel.  

“I’ve heard a lot of newsroom managers say that there’s a pipeline issue, there is no pipeline issue. There are black women, there are black journalists all over this country that they can promote into these positions, but don’t and the question is why,” said Stafford.

“Before I transitioned into this national role, I was an investigative reporter at the Detroit Free Press and I just remember I would go to these conferences and I would be the only Black woman in the room,” she said. “And it’s not just investigative reporting… it’s political reporting, it’s all of these specialized areas where we just don’t see us and it’s to the detriment of readers. Think about the impact that it has in cities like Detroit, cities like New Orleans, or places in California where you have these majority-Black cities where you don’t have a single person of color or, to be more specific, a single Black woman or Black man in these newsrooms telling our stories. What impact does that have?”

Stafford says racial discrimination in media has devastating effects on critical reporting from necessary perspectives.

“I point to this current pandemic,” she said. “Everyone was surprised when they saw who is being hit the hardest by COVID-19, but if you would have asked a Black woman or a Black journalist we would have told them there’s no surprise when you look at the fact that systemic racism is rooted in this country.”

The Detroit-native says it’s Black writers who have highlighted the thoughts and concerns of their community members when others wouldn’t.

“To be blunt, we have been the ones, Black women, Black journalists, we have been the ones to link everything together, to make sense, and provide that level of nuance that I feel was missing when the pandemic first hit,” said Stafford. “Black journalists have been intentional about who we are amplifying in our stories, which voices were using, the sources were using in our stories…”

Slappy says higher corporations must be deliberate about where they are placing their focus as well if they hope to advocate for disadvantaged communities.

 “….From a GM perspective, if that’s masks, ventilators, if that’s financially providing that investment to say, ‘there’s an issue, we can give our resources and our brain trust…what can we do as a partner and an ally in keeping that drumbeat going?”

While there isn’t a definitive answer on how newsrooms can end systemic racism in the media industry, Attiah says Black journalists with power can make a difference in their own way. 

“Within the power that you have, I have to say, ‘let’s find a Black woman to write an op-ed about this.’ Put Black women as quoted in your stories; put black women as experts in your stories to be quoted from,” she said. “It’s not just who’s doing the reporting, it’s also: Who are we looking to as sources of knowledge? Who are we looking to as valuing their opinions?”

Others would like to see newsrooms be more intentional with their hiring and retention levels.  Over three-quarters of newsroom staff are non-Hispanic whites, according to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Lab. Close to half of newsroom personnel are white men, in comparison with nearly a third of the country’s working class.

Atrirah has advice for female Black journalists looking to establish themselves in the media industry.

“You’ve just got to be dogged about it. Keep pitching; same for women writers, keep pitching us,” she said. “Keep writing, keep expressing. Put yourselves on the radar. So much of journalism is about that: who’s on the inside that gets it?”

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