In an interview last week, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot explained her controversial decision to only allow colored journalists to interview on the occasion of the second anniversary of her inauguration.
“What I did started this important conversation about the lack of diversity in the mainstream press,” she told me.
“I hope it will turn into something really good and powerful,” continued the mayor. “I know that I’ve mostly spoken to a number of black journalists who … really get it into the mainstream media and really take the baton, if you will, and run with it to say, ‘ You have “You need to diversify your newsrooms.” That is a requirement that must be met. ”
I see things a little differently. Those of us who are the future of the institutional media in Chicago have long given up attempts to break into and transform old news outlets. We don’t want to diversify traditionally white newsrooms like the Sun-Times, the Tribune and Crain’s – we want to build our own newsrooms. We don’t want to be included. We want justice.
While Mayor Lightfoot’s scathing and accurate criticism focused on these traditional white media institutions, it sadly ignored the many nontraditional neighborhood channels where colored journalists tend to occupy positions of seniority and autonomy – and which we are much more likely to own.
I’m the editor of Austin Weekly News and the publisher of my own weekly newspaper in my hometown of Maywood, Village Free Press, and I wouldn’t trade what I do to be a beat reporter at City Hall at one of those institutions that lightfoot too Rightly scourged – not even for higher wages.
There are many other journalists and color publishers who think like me. The Cicero Independiente, the TriiBe, the South Side Weekly, the Crusader, the Citizen, the Defender – all are respected local media institutions either founded or run by colored journalists.
And there are many other non-traditional media entities that are less rooted in the hierarchical, top-down, and for-profit context of corporate news than in the decentralized, people-first, and bottom-up context of community journalism.
These nontraditional players are founded and / or run (well, not all), Races, cultures, sexualities and gender identities – from Injustice Watch, Block Club Chicago, City Bureau and AustinTalks to Oak Parker Charlie Meyerson’s Chicago Public Square and Reader Associate Editor Tracy Baim’s invention of the Chicago Independent Media Alliance (from the Growing Community Media is a proud member).
I’ve worked with virtually all of these entities at some point, and based on my experience, they are largely rooted in an ethos of collaboration and interdependence that seemed eerily absent from Chicago’s bourgeois powers when it came to trying to save the stands.
Through a scholarship with City Bureau, an innovative South Side journalism lab sometimes known as the Street Journalism School, I worked with a team of reporters who reported the 2019 elections from the perspective of the most profitable people the politician.
And Austin Weekly News is currently producing a bi-weekly email newsletter with Block Club Chicago, the emerging digital news site positioned to fill the void that inevitably leaves the local media landscape when the Chicago Tribune’s corpse is licked clean is from hungry, capitalist private equity firm Alden Global Capital.
I consume and donate regularly to Chicago Public Square and have benefited financially from Baim’s CIMA collaboration.
I see my own little suburban publication in the Cicero Independiente and have great respect for its founders.
Between all of these entities I mentioned (along with many I don’t have) there is a small army of people willing and able to cover the town hall – from reporters and freelancers to citizen journalists (like the City Bureau documenters who trained to cover all types of government meetings) and high school and college level students.
All we need is the credentials and funding to make up for our work. I asked Mayor Lightfoot about the former last week.
“What if I said, ‘Look, tomorrow I want to be a beat reporter in town hall and automatically increase the diversity in this room,’ what is the process like?” I asked.
“That’s it,” she said. “You get access data, you are there. Talk to our press office. ”
I would go one step further. What if philanthropists, corporations, and individuals in Chicago and the suburbs pooled money into a single fund to pay for city hall coverage by non-traditional neighborhood media, especially those belonging to people of color?
City Bureau, for example, is already experimenting with wire coverage, similar to that of the Associated Press or Reuters, but CB’s coverage is done by journalists rooted in a justice perspective and more attuned to the needs of marginalized people.
Austin Weekly News regularly publishes reports on the Block Club Chicago in our print media and online, just as a major daily newspaper would publish an AP report.
If Mayor Lightfoot wants more colored journalists in her town hall press conferences, she can do more than pressurize an old media company that is in every way a shadow of its former self.
She and the city council should use their considerable influence in the philanthropic and business community to seek financial support for local journalism. The city (and, frankly, local governments across the state) may also consider the following actions:
- Convening a meeting with representatives from media companies such as the civic and corporate executives just mentioned to explore the concept of establishing and funding an instant money pool dedicated solely to funding city hall coverage from non-traditional neighborhoods -centered and marginalized media entities ( regardless of race or ethnicity). And there should be a framework that provides safeguards to protect this coverage from inappropriate external influences.
- The city council should consider establishing a local journalism task force similar to that created at the state level with the passage of Senator Steve Stadelman’s critical HB 134 in Chicago and the suburbs, as well as developing local solutions that investigated those at the state level Strengthen and improve solutions.
- Mayor Lightfoot should also establish a regular pipeline between her administration and not older media, which is often the focus of colored journalists. Your people can start compiling a comprehensive database of these non-obsolete facilities and do more to get our attention, as we often report things that happen at street level, miles from the fifth floor of City Hall.
I’m sorry, but I wasn’t impressed that I got a 15-minute interview with the mayor on the occasion of her 2nd anniversary in office (and it took me a while to get that at all). And ethnic media roundtables are not enough either. If the mayor wants to see more colored journalists more often, she should first recognize the places where we exist.
She has to be credited for having been quite receptive to some of these ideas, particularly setting up a funding mechanism to integrate marginalized journalists into their press conferences at City Hall.
“I think there would be interest from the philanthropic community now embroiled in a conversation about journalism in the media,” she said. “I could speak to a few people I’ve had these conversations with and really get your idea rolling, which I think is a great idea. And if they are interested, I would put you together. “
With all due respect, however, I am not waiting for this meeting to advance these ideas and encourage people to act. We can start now.
If you want to read this column and see more about City Hall by colored journalists and journalists (regardless of race or ethnicity) from non-legacy media and / or associations like Austin Weekly News, AustinTalks, the TriiBe, Block Club Chicago , City Bureau, South Side Weekly, Injustice Watch, Chicago Public Square, all CIMA affiliates, and countless others that I didn’t mention you can do something about it.
Email me at [email protected] or [email protected] and / or call me at (708) 359-9148 and show your willingness to either donate and / or your time and skills for a fund that would make this kind of journalism possible before the end of the year, because the crisis in local journalism cannot only be solved by a politician, a group of philanthropists or old newsrooms.
We all own this and it will take us all to fix it.