First, a correction.
Yesterday’s column by Rev. David Hart, “If You’re White, You’re Alright,” stated there is “not one” person of color on the editorial staffs of the two major newspapers in Madison, the daily Wisconsin State Journal and weekly Capital Times.
Alert reader Chris Rickert pointed out there there is, in fact, one. Ogechi Emechebe joined the Cap Times to cover K12 education just this past summer.
We regret the error.
We do not, however, regret pointing out the stunning lack of diversity in our local media.
Nor do we accept Rickert’s contention that everything is just fine, nothing to see here, move along.
That was the thrust of a series of Facebook comments from Rickert, a Wisconsin State Journal columnist. This was surprising, since we’ve had a couple informal email exchanges with some members of the editorial staff at the State Journal, and they’ve seemed both aware of the need for diversity in the newsroom and supportive of our efforts.
Rickert first claimed “there are plenty of voices — of all colors — in the media.” When asked to produce a few names, he instead asked whether it mattered that print media has no diversity because everyone gets their news from TV anyway.
Odd thing to say, for a print journalist.
Eventually, he did produce five names — Emechebe, three TV reporters and one TV morning anchor.
Everything is just fine.
We’ll go ahead and add that we found three more, if we include monthly magazines.
Nothing to see here.
Rickert also asserted that he’s worked in places where many of the staff, or even a majority, are people of color, and that there’s no correlation between skin color and competence.
He’s right about that last point, actually, even though he later said his experience working with minorities was at restaurants and in child welfare and education, not media. Which raises the question: if there’s no correlation between skin color and talent, why are minorities so vastly underrepresented in the press?
If you count “mainstream media” as the daily paper, two mainstream weeklies and three TV newsrooms, roughly four percent of full-time editorial staffs are not white. Add the two monthlies and it jumps to five percent.
No matter how much talent is packed in that four or five percent, that’s not exactly representative of the potential audience, nearly twenty percent of whom are people of color.
And let’s clearly state one other fact: the Wisconsin State Journal, the newspaper that proudly proclaims itself “Madison’s largest reporting team,” the second-largest newspaper in the state and the newspaper of record for our entire region, is an all-white newspaper.
The editorial leadership at the State Journal and Capital Times understand the larger issues, of course, and are working to address them, as Rickert correctly pointed out. But can they truly and honestly work toward racial justice with such a segregated newsroom?
For example, The Evjue Foundation, the charitable arm of The Capital Times, recently donated $150,000 to fund the work of the Justified Anger coalition. This is admirable, but we must ask: has the Foundation, or The Capital Times, actually done any real work to change the complexion of its own newsroom? Or is it content to put some money into an outside group, and then attempt to report objectively about that group’s successes?
Rickert’s Facebook comments represent everything that’s wrong with race relations in Madison. Everything that’s been wrong for years.
“Everything is just fine. Nothing to see here. Move along.”
Guess what, guys? Everything’s not fine. There is something to see here, and to move along would be irresponsible to say the least.
In the media, in the schools, in the criminal justice system. No matter how many arms we break patting ourselves on the back for our “tolerance,” nothing is fine.
And we’re confident most people — and most members of the media — know that.
Madison365 was founded, in part, to chip away at this problem. To bring more young people of color into journalism. To tell the stories that the mainstream, almost-all-white press aren’t telling. And to tell the same stories that they are telling, but from the not-all-white perspective.
Because perspective matters. While all people of all races must work together to solve our racial disparity issues, there’s something wrong about only one race telling all the stories, and addressing all of the issues, moderating all the discussions and solving all the problems, for all races.
So now let’s address the white elephant in the room.
Madison365 was founded by one black guy and two white guys.
We make no excuses.
Henry Sanders, Jr (the black one) has been an entrepreneur, community leader and sometime political candidate for his entire adult life, going on 25 years.
He’s wanted to address this media problem — and many other problems — for many years.
He turned to Dave Dahmer, one of the white guys who has mastered the craft in community journalism, and who has gained the trust of Madison’s communities of color over ten years as editor of The Madison Times, to be the editor and co-publisher of the new venture. He has shown up over and over again in the communities and at the events where most people of his background wouldn’t feel comfortable.
But here’s the reality: no matter how big his heart is, he still looks through a white lens.
The same is true of associate publisher Rob Chappell, a longtime journalist and public relations professional who’s been at Sanders’ side through many endeavors and projects, including two gruelling election campaigns.
Both Dahmer and Chappell carry a passion for racial justice for their own reasons, but also recognize the limitations of their worldview. They’re both committed to Sanders’ vision for Madison365 and for the Greater Madison community.
Together, the three founders recognize that we can get this publication off the ground, but we can’t make it succeed, nor can we truly address the racial divide in our community without a rich diversity of voices. That’s why our entire board of directors is made up of people of color, as is our entire stable of freelance writers (12 and counting, all of them volunteer).
We believe, passionately, that white people can and must confront and grapple with issues of race, racial disparities and equity.
And we believe, with equal passion, that the only honest way to confront and grapple with these issues is with people of other races.
Not on their behalf.
So what do we do about it? What do we want the State Journal to do about it? Fire a bunch of white reporters and replace them with black and brown ones? Of course not.
Point out the one person of color working as a reporter and say that’s good enough? Of course not.
It’s never that easy. But the first step is to acknowledge the issue, and pledge to work together to address it. We invite the State Journal and all over media outlets in the area to join us in that effort.
For starters, we hope to forge partnerships that will allow content from our writers of color to reach mainstream media audiences in order to help fill that gap in mainstream media newsrooms, and to help bring their content to our diverse readership. We’ve had many fruitful meetings, informal conversations and email exchanges with with leaders at several local media outlets, including, as mentioned before, the Wisconsin State Journal, and we are confident that partnerships will be forged in the near future.
We also hope to train up the next generation of journalists of color, and – importantly – hope to keep them in Madison. Sometime later this year, we plan to announce a formal academy program to do just that, and we sincerely hope the local media can assist us in starting bright young people of color on the path to careers in mainstream journalism.
In any case, whatever next steps we all take together, we must become comfortable with being made uncomfortable. We must be ready to have issues, problems and failures pointed out to us, and we must not, ever again, say or imply that everything is just fine. And we must never just move along.