Reporting on Racial Inequality

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Professor of Journalism, Diversity, and Equality, University of Minnesota Twin Cities


Vice President for National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

Danielle Kilgo, the John and Elizabeth Bates Cowles professor of journalism, diversity, and equality at the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, shares best practices for reporting on social justices issues, including the Black Lives Matter movement around the world, the protests following the killing of George Floyd by police, and implicit bias in the media. Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach at CFR, hosts the webinar.


FASKIANOS: Good afternoon, and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations Local Journalists Webinar. Today we will be discussing the Black Lives Matter movement around the world, the protests following the killing of George Floyd, and best practices for reporting on these subjects with our speaker, Danielle Kilgo. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR.

As you know, CFR is an independent and nonpartisan organization and think tank focusing on U.S. foreign policy. This webinar is part of CFR’s Local Journalists Initiative, created to help you connect the local issues you cover in your communities to global dynamics. Our programming puts you in touch with CFR resources and expertise on international issues, and provides a forum for sharing best practices. I want to remind everyone that this webinar is on the record, and the video and transcript will be posted on our website after the fact at CFR.org/localjournalists.

We shared the full bio of Danielle Kilgo with you prior to the call, so I’ll just give you a few highlights of her distinguished background. Danielle Kilgo is the John and Elizabeth Bates Cowles Professor of Journalism, Diversity and Equality in the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Her research interests focus on the interactions between social movements, social media, and journalism. Dr. Kilgo received her doctorate in journalism from the University of Texas Austin and was previously an assistant professor in the Media School at Indiana University.

So, Dani, thank you very much for being with us today. We really appreciate it.

We wanted to begin by having you talk about the Black Lives Matter movement that is—we’ve been seeing in the United States and the support that we’ve seen—the outpouring support around the world. And since our group is a group of local journalists, it would also be great if you could talk about the issue of implicit bias in the media and how to address that.

KILGO: So thank you for having me. And I guess I’ll just start with, thinking about the Black Lives Matter movement today, it’s just an unprecedented moment for the movement, for our society, and it’s in a—within an unprecedented moment: We’re in the middle of a pandemic. And so it’s quite interesting the evolution of the Black Lives Matter movement as we’ve seen it today.

Black Lives Matter really began in 2013, after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer in Florida, and—which happened in 2012. So, in 2013, Black Lives Matter was sort of seen for the first time in the digital space as a hashtag and it kind of picked up since then, after—especially after Ferguson and—Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown. We saw Black Lives Matter sort of take off in conversation because the events were similar. You know, Trayvon Martin was an unarmed teenager. He was stalked and shot because he appeared to be threatening to another individual. And you know, this unjust—or these feelings of injustice in the criminal justice system really fueled protests that were international at that point, too, perhaps not what we had seen in St. Louis before. But the protests around or that followed the acquittal of George Zimmerman were profound and were quite large, nothing like what we saw in Ferguson. We saw the movement explode then or exploded then. We saw much larger crowds, a stronger presence of transnational unity around the world, and people sort of rallying behind the idea that Black lives matter, and that there was an injustice when it came to Black people and police.

Importantly, the Black Lives Matter movement is really beyond just critiquing police and police behavior. It’s really about the eradication of White supremacy. And that’s at the core of its—of its—of the movement’s goals and its agendas and its grievance, that White supremacy and racism are still affecting Black communities today. So in many ways, the Black Lives Matter movement is sort of an evolution of the civil rights movement that we saw before without the explicit historical markers that we had when we think about, for example, the Jim Crow South. The Black Lives Matter movement is pushing against, instead, these implicit and systematic consequences—implicit racism and the systematic consequences that we see racism having on Black communities and communities of color.

So I have looked at the Black Lives Matter movement in the press since 2013. Trayvon Martin was sort of my George Floyd. And so the Black Lives Matter movement today was—and the reaction that people have to it is very familiar to me. It’s quite different than we have seen in the past, right? George Floyd is not the first man to be killed by police, unarmed. He’s not the first man to have a questionable set of—or set of events that led to his death in terms of police behavior and police actions and police motivation behind these deaths and killings. And so—but what is unique about the Black Lives Matter movement today is that we had a pandemic to sit people down in front of their televisions for extensive amounts of time and pay attention. It was easier to pay attention at this point. So now we have a very engaged audience that have been, for the most part, told to stay at home—although, you know, as we see—(laughs)—we’re loosening those restrictions now. But for the most part have been told to stay at home. The have been sort of immersed in these—you know, habitual sharing of the video of George Floyd’s death. And it’s been able to engage people in, really, the foundation of a movement that started back in 2013 with the acquittal of George Zimmerman.

FASKIANOS: And can you talk a little bit about—as you study the implicit bias in media, can you flesh that out for us? What are the things that you’re seeing? And what should journalists be thinking about when they’re reporting on these—on the Black Lives movement and police brutality and whatnot?

KILGO: Sure. So my research has really started—it looked at the coverage of the protests since 2012. And over time—over time, both in the coverage of Trayvon Martin’s protests and the coverage of Michael Brown’s protests, of Freddie Gray’s protests, of Sandra Bland’s protests, of the, you know, run of names that we could name off here, that coverage sort of follows this pattern that has been developed by political scientists and communications scholars called the protest paradigm.

The protest paradigm pretty much says that protests that push against the political status quo are going to be marginalized or delegitimized by the press because they sort of follow suit with what the government or official stance is on a particular issue. So if the idea is to eradicate White supremacy and a system has built-in White supremacy, a movement against White supremacy would push against the status quo directly, right? So the news coverage that we’ve seen, especially of Black Lives Matter—of the Black Lives Matter movement, has for the most part been what we call delegitimizing. This means it emphasizes the violence or the riots or the nuisance or the confrontations with police. It emphasizes them getting arrested. It emphasizes them being dramatic, maybe wearing funny stuff or acting in a—in a strange way. It emphasizes those things, but it doesn’t emphasize the demands and the grievances and the substance behind a particular protest movement.

And here, for Black Lives Matter, that would there is not a robust discussion about racism and its effects on Black communities. There is not a robust allowance for Black people, Black communities, Black advocates, and Black protesters to have space inside press coverage to voice their truth or to say—you know, to be treated as official sources, like we would treat other government or city officials.

And that pattern—delegitimizing pattern that we see sort of tacked onto the Black Lives Matter movement is quite stable. When we look at other protest movements, not as stable. So when we look at the protest against—or, the anti-Trump protests that followed the inauguration, those had more emphasis on the protester substantive demands, why they didn’t—why they felt like they needed to be outside the White House that day, or why they felt like they needed to be in the streets that day. Same thing with the Women’s March. There was some substance behind why women felt the need to go out and protest year, after year, after year.

And when it comes to—specifically, what my research shows, is when it comes to protests and movements that are related to race specifically—so not just anti-Black racism, but also anti-Indigenous racism, and to some degree anti-immigration—or, I’m sorry—anti-immigration policy protests—these sort of protests aren’t afforded the same legitimacy that other protests are. And so that’s really where my work starts to pick apart these patterns. Why is this happening? Part of the implicit bias that we see that helps create this problem is that we have an underrepresentation of journalists of color in newsrooms.

Another part is that we built the whole institution and foundation of journalism on a base within a system that is built with White supremacy in mind. And so we have a racist system, and we built another, you know, arm of our institutions giving some people credibility over others. We have official sources. We teach journalism in a way that enables a system to continue to work in the way that it does. So we, you know, tell our students to talk to police, get their official reports, listen to our politicians, cite people with prominence. Our news values, the things that make news news and that make us think that they’re engaging, are all set, a lot of times, in us talking with politicians, or talking with people who are famous or, you know, saying that official sources are official sources.

And really not—undercovering—or, sorry—digging into what those sources are. Until an investigative journalist is able to get on that spot. We also, you know, don’t necessarily afford the layman or just a standard citizen the same space or just specialty in general. So when we talk about protesters, and we think about people that are actively engaging in the political realm, that’s what a protest is. They’re actively engaging in a political realm. I often ask my students: Did you treat them like a politician? Because a lot of times I think that journalists should.

So we see this sort of dampening of the protesters’ narratives and then this uplifting of the official narratives. And when there’s officials pushing against, you know, huge protests in their streets, or there’s officials pushing against the idea of—the idea of racism and, you know, that are still sort of engaging with the idea of color blindness and blind equality, then we allow them, just through our norms as journalists, we allow them to have control of that narrative.

So there are implicit ways that, you know, come from also our experience, just not being engaged with particular communities, not regularly being engaged with particular communities unless it’s in specific beats, which is where we have, you know, just canons of scholars. I mean, seriously, on the shoulders of giants when I think about the number of people who have said that the representation of Black and brown communities is off and is negative, and routinely reinforces the negative stereotypes that we have—or, that run, especially in the U.S.—our society. And so we have those implicit biases that we have to fight as well.

And then, you know, lastly, there’s explicit bias that we see in the media that can’t be ignored. In some of my research with my co-author Summer Harlow at the University of Houston, we’ve recently sat down with journalists to find out how they felt about their protest coverage, what they thought they could do better. And a lot of times we have seen journalists defend their work, even when it had, you know, major obvious red flags in it. The idea of objectivity is—it’s a great ideal if we think about tin the correct ways, but a lot of times people think that because—or, journalists think that—we found that journalists find that just because their job has this ownership of some sort of objectivity, they also apply it to themselves. And so, you know, there’s a checks and balances internal conflict that I think that we, as human beings generally, not just as journalists but as human beings generally, have to do to sort of pick apart our own implicit biases and to build our cultural competency.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Could you also just touch upon the Black Lives Matter movement in other parts of the world? We’ve seen, you know, an outpouring of support. Can you talk a little bit about that? And was there that same kind of solidarity back in 2013 when the movement and the hashtag began?

KILGO: Right. The transnational solidarity here is not unprecedented, but it’s amazing help to see the world sort of band together around this idea that Black lives matter. This is—you know, the idea—U.S. racism is unique to the U.S. in terms of its basis in slavery, but anti-Black racism is not—anti-Black and brown racism is not unique around the world. And so there is a sort of international solidarity that we see that is great from a globalization perspective to be able to raise this issue in other countries. You know, if we can fix it here in the United States but we can’t fix it—we can’t fix racism in another country, do we think we can eradicate White supremacy? And the answer is no. White supremacy is everywhere.

And so that transnational solidarity is great. You see this—in the Middle East you see this. And of course, in Europe. And then there is—in all of the countries, in all of the continents. So when I think about 2013 and 2014, yes, there was transnational solidarity there as well. We saw protesters in Palestine really sort of connect with the Black Lives Matter movement, and in other places around the world. But it wasn’t quite like what we see today. Today’s movement has effectively shifted a portion of public opinion that we have not seen shifted before. Again, I think a lot of that is because people are paying attention, they have time to pay attention. There is not a whole lot in the news cycle right now, except for COVID-19—(laughs)—and the protests that were there, especially in the U.S.

And so unlike other times, we’ve not had a lot of competing things that are happening that are—that rise up to the front of the news cycle. And so we have been able to—or, as a researcher, able to see the palpable difference in what public opinion is, and what it was then and what it is now. And we now see sort of not just transnational solidary, but White solidarity. That is a common theme and thread that runs through sort of this reckoning with White supremacy that has to happen in publics. So that’s a new thing that I—that I see today that is very different than the coverage that I’ve seen before.

FASKIANOS: Wonderful. Thank you. And of course, with COVID-19 we’ve seen a disproportionate effects on Blacks and Latinos, of it having a greater co-morbidity rate. So that also has been surfacing the inequality.

So let’s go now to the group for questions, comments.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

So great. So Andre Meunier.

Q: Yes. And well done on the name. Not many people get it right.

FASKIANOS: Oh, thank you. (Laughs.)

Q: Danielle, could you expand a little bit on what you were saying about explicit bias and reporters understanding—I’m sorry. I’m from The Oregonian in Portland, Oregon. I’m a breaking news editor who is part of the coordination of our coverage of our protest that have been going on here.

And I’m curious if you could expand on what you were saying about explicit bias and how reporters perceive their objectivity in relation to their organization’s objectivity. I’d like to understand that a little bit better.

STAFF: So, Irina, this is the operator. We actually just Dr. Kilgo. So if you give me one moment I will get her back on the line. And then I’ll just need Andre to repeat his question.

FASKIANOS: Oh, and she’s back. Connecting to audio, fantastic. And you need to unmute. There you go. Danielle, did you get that whole question, or should we have Andre repeat it?

KILGO: I’m sorry, would you repeat it? I’m sorry, I just—it froze.

Q: Sure. No problem.

I was just wondering if you could expand a little bit on, when you were speaking about explicit bias and reporters’ perceptions of their own objectivity in relation to the institutional objectivity. I just would like to understand what you meant there a little bit better.

KILGO: Sure. So I guess in terms of the idea of objectivity, I just—a lot of—we asked journalists, how do you think your institution does? And the answer is great. I think we did great covering these protests. And we’re thinking about protests—in this particular study we were talking about protests in 2017. And so the question was, you know, do you think you’re objective? How do you feel about the coverage that you’ve created? And great. I feel great. Right? (Laughter.) And a lot of times we would go back and we do content analyses of these news organizations’ protest coverage and see where they have excluded the demands and agendas for several different entities, or they have failed to give protesters voice. Sometimes they have given protesters more voice than government officials, especially when it comes to right-wing protests.

So we are able to actually say, OK, when we talk about objectivity as this idea of, you know, representing people fairly, of representing an idea fairly, of covering, you know, the robustness of an issue, we can sort of quantify and qualify this idea that there’s room for work to be done. And a lot of times when we talk with—in that—sorry, in that particular research study, when we spoke with journalists and got their feedback a lot of times that idea was just a perception of their own objectivity. I feel like I did a great job. There’s nothing I would change. This is something that we heard quite a bit in that particular study.

And so some things—like, when I think about the “Buildings Matter Too” headline that went through several editors and made it through, that’s kind of a, you know, explicit bias in terms of I want to go—I need engagement, and I think this will be an engaging topic. It sort of backfired, right? I mean, it really backfired for some people. But it backfired in terms of the awareness of our society and their ability to be able to critique it and have the language and vocabulary they needed to critique that. And, you know, the paper pulled back.

But these explicit biases are ones that are also—it’s not implicit to say I do everything right, right? (Laughs.) So I think that’s more what I was trying to get the point on is that, you know, we have even biases towards ourselves that say we’re doing—we’re doing a good thing and we’re doing a good job because we’re journalists, or because we’re scholars, or whatever profession we, you know, sit in the line of duty at. And honestly, you know, that creates an explicit bias towards yourself and really challenges the unlearning and learning process that has to happen as we develop more culturally competent frameworks to create and to write with.

FASKIANOS: OK. Let’s go Kala West.

Q: Good afternoon. Again, I’m Kala J from WURD Radio. We’re a Black talk station here in Philly. I had the honor and privilege of producing our Happy Hour show, which is a Millennial-focused show, but we have an intergenerational audience.

And my question is, with all this, the protesting going on and the unrest, a lot of times in media coverage we just focus on the topic at hand but never the little different protests. And being a Millennial-based show, we like to kind of show what the young people—(inaudible, technical difficulties). And my question is, how do we properly cover those? Because we know that there are children, like the young people who used TikTok to buy all the tickets at the Trump rally. So there are many youth protests going on, even though they’re not of voting age. But how do we cover their voice properly to make sure that people understand that the next generation has something to say as well? We here at Happy Hour, we did a town hall where they were able to voice their opinions. But that’s just one—but that was just one piece of coverage. How do we continue things like that?

KILGO: That’s great. That’s an amazing effort. And I’m glad that you’re doing that. Not enough people do that. And so, you know, one of the things that’s difficult for journalists to do is to engage with youth. I mean, that means you usually have to have their parents’ permission first. And that’s a challenge that I expect would continue to happen. But I think one of the other things that journalists can do is engage with youth through their schools. Of course, COVID-19 makes this a really challenging era to imagine what we could do on a regular basis. But you know, news literacy and news engagement are typically lower in terms of these traditional forms of media. We know that younger people, Millennials and Gen Z, like to engage with news and with topics through social media.

And so one of the things is to, you know, find ways to encourage them to engage in traditional media outlets. And I think, you know, this town hall is a great opportunity. Here’s your chance to get on our station, or here’s your chance to get on our front page, or special issue, or whatever it is. I think that—I think that bridging those gaps—you know, also you’re going to—it’s really important that you have journalists that are engaged in their networks, that understand and are competent in TikTok, something I’m still learning. You know, that understand and are competent in all of the emerging media that come up.

Establishing also, you know, in your communities who some of the thought leaders are, just like in high school and middle school that I remember. There are still opinion leaders. There are still people who do go viral more often than others. And you should be able to identify them and follow them on a regular basis, just like we would do on more traditional social media networks, like Twitter and Facebook.

So I think—like I said, I think it’s a great effort to be able to connect, especially with younger people, those under the age of eighteen especially, which I think would include some sort of engagement through the school system to help sort of battle the challenges that would happen with getting parental permission. I think when it comes to people who are over eighteen, I think that engaging with them through the social media channels is imperative and is important. And giving them an opportunity for them to realize that their TikTok video is much more than just a video that they’re submitting to TikTok—(laughs)—if it’s, you know, this cultural critique.

And I think that, you know, finding a way to make sure that this community knows that you value that kind of media, that it’s not seen as, I don’t know, frivolous compared to a long-form essay—I think that finding a way to really engage with that community and showing them that you value their views and you value the content they create in the form that they create it, is an excellent way to engage with not just the youth community but really any community.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Let’s go to Lisa Green Kelsaw.

Q: Thank you. Lisa Green Kelsaw, Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

I’m curious, and I did get on maybe a couple minutes after you just started, but there were references to research and quantifying things that suggest that sometimes our, you know, self-assessment about how well we’ve done with covering protests doesn’t necessarily match up with the printed word. And so I’m wondering if there are some research papers, some summaries, or something that will be provided on email at the end of this. I would be curious to that—about that.

KILGO: Sure. I’m happy to provide any of the journal-published scholarship that I have readily available. Our publication system is so abrasively slow. (Laughs.) But I am happy to produce anything that you’re interested in that I’ve already published and can give you. And for the most part, have gotten permission from editors for journalists that are interested to give you the highlights of things that have not gone officially through the entire peer-review system.

FASKIANOS: Great. And we’ll work with you, Dani, to get that. And we can send it out to the group after this so that people have access to it.

Dani, have you seen any improvement in the coverage of the past month of, you know, this new swell and support for Black Lives Matter versus 2013, in the media? Has there been any improvement? And is there a difference in the—is it print, broadcast? Or is it the same across the different formats?

KILGO: Sure. So improvement, especially when it comes to just digital coverage, anything that comes across a www from traditional media, at first I was quite the pessimist. And I said, oh, it’s just more of the same. It’s a lot of emphasizing violence. There is a lot of talking about buildings and the destruction and the potential need to crack down on protesters. And I was—I was quite pessimistic. But there was—there’s so many things about the protest and the situation that make it different than Black Lives Matter protests that we’ve seen before. One is we—you know, we have the pandemic. And there was some blame for protesters for the potential spreading COVID-19 in the first couple of weeks of coverage. And that was unique, but also negative.

And then journalists—several journalists were injured during protests. And that particular assault on journalists was, you know, unnerving for the profession, and rightfully so. But I think it was also sort of an awakening that protests—you know, the press badge didn’t give them a special protection in terms of their First Amendment right. There were lots of First Amendment rights that were being taken away during these protests. And, you know, gave journalists sort of the critical eye and, you know, not that journalists don’t always have the—don’t already have the critical eye, I think they do. I think it gave them the extra set of proof they needed to get it past the editors, right?

So I think that they had enough proof to say: The police are acting inappropriately, and we really need to cover this now. And it needs to be on the front page. The protesters didn’t just clash with police. Police instigated this particular, you know, event that escalated into something else. Or police went through and slashed tires throughout cars in downtown so that people were stuck. And so that was that attention to police behavior is something that I haven’t seen before enough to be able to count, and quantify, and put into any statistical model. And this time I’m hoping—now, you know, we’re still in the moment. And I work in patterns not just small, you know, moments of time.

But what I’m hoping is, is that this time—I do think we’re seen enough attention to police behavior to be able to sort of unravel a bit more what protests are about, to show that that narrative is unraveling, rather. That the narrative of protest is more than just people, you know, potentially being violent in the streets, or being violent in the streets, or being angry. That this narrative is about people being in the streets for a reason, and that, you know, some of the escalation of the violence is not necessarily—it wasn’t their goal. That wasn’t in their agenda. That wasn’t in their goals. That was something that happened based on a series of things that led to—you know, or a series of things that may have been instigated by other people.

And that, to me, is a great shift. Media coverage likes to focus on the actions a lot. And I think that the idea of focusing on all of the actions and not just what the protesters have done will help sort of develop the narrative and legitimize the protesters in a way that can maybe unravel that paradigm a little bit more. You also have, you know, more positive public opinion towards Black Lives Matter than we had before. And so when we start seeing a change in how people think about a particular social issue, we start seeing a change in how press coverage works. That’s what happened with gender issues. That’s what happened with LGBTQAI issues. That’s what happened with antiwar issues. And would love to see that that’s what’s happening here with antiracism issues. That would be truly revolutionary.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Let’s go to Kathleen McElroy.

Q: Hi. I’m with the University of Texas at Austin.

And to follow up on what you were just saying, I see journalism shifting, and journalists shifting from the objectivity paradigm to something very different. And I have a lot of students asking me about how can we be antiracist? Which under the old school might have been seen as not being objective. But to me, this is part of what we should be doing. If we’re pursuing truth, then we should be fighting racism. But you know, you were talking earlier about how students sort of struggled with this, and how schools struggled with it. I was just wondering if you had any thoughts about the objectivity paradigm, sort of shifting away from that? Which we’ve tried to do here.

KILGO: Sure. So yeah, I think, you know, objectivity, the idea that we—it’s more than the idea that both sides should be covered, but that’s kind of how it’s sort of evolved over time is that—you know, that he said and she said this. But I think that we have to go back to the idea of what the press can do and what the press was meant to do. You know, speak truth to power. That is way more important than objectivity. (Laughs.) And you know, objectivity is sort of written in the idea of how do you speak truth to power? Well, you consider other perspectives other than those that are given to you.

So I think, you know, to me, I don’t think we’re going to lose the idea of objectivity. I think it’s going to evolve to include the really important parts of the press that sort of get lost when we ball up everything into “the press should be objective.” I think that, you know, the idea of having antiracist policies in a newsroom is not against objectivity. I think that it is for equality for your journalists. I think it’s for equality for your newsroom, for your audiences in terms of how they receive information.

I think antiracist policies in newsrooms will also help bring back the idea of a post-mortem. Maybe we should go back and look extensively at our coverage and how we portray a particular group, and make sure that it is representative of our community. And so, you know, when it comes to adopting and developing those policies, I think we’re a long road—we have a long road to travel to achieve both antiracist policies that don’t necessarily advocate for a specific group or a specific cause, but that fairly represent, and accurately represent, and robustly represent a particular cause, or issue, or grievance, or community. Those shouldn’t be hard to develop. But I think that definitely once we do develop them that issue of are we still being objective will kind of be—the blatant answer will be yes.

FASKIANOS: Dani, just to follow up on your earlier comment about the newsrooms being mostly White and not being representative of Black voices, Black perspectives, do you have any thoughts on how to change that?

KILGO: Hire Black writers. Hire Black photographers. Hire Black editors. I mean, I think that that is the number-one way to do that, especially for the Black community, but all communities. Hire journalists of color. I think part of that also means lifting up journalists of color and mentoring journalists of color, and also allowing them to use their expertise in their writing and trusting that.

I know a lot of times journalists are frustrated with the changes that are made in a newsroom, about tokenism, about having their, you know, particular stories changed or, you know, their ideas about a story sort of treated as laughable, and I think that that has to change. One of the ways to do that is to diversify a newsroom. To have more than one person say, no, that’s really important, is a really important—(laughter)—part of building a community.

And so I think the only—the best way to do that is to—just to hire people. The other thing is that, you know, we have—it’s not just journalists or a newsroom intentionally not hiring journalists of color. I think this is a problem that stems from our—you know, our academic system as well.

You know, we—many of our legacy schools or our large state schools we know we have an underrepresentation of Black students—Black and brown students. And so, you know, universities and journalism programs are responsible to some degree for—to help with this issue, to help think of ways and anti-racist policies in their institutions that will help level this playing field to some degree and unwind the burden that racism has created in their system and in their institution.

So the way to find more Black journalists is to support more Black students and to support the organizations that support the students and their unique issues, so the NABJ, NAHA, NAJA. Like, we need to be able to support these institutions so that—these institutions and organizations so that they can also help lift up our students and journalists of color.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question goes to Karen Ocamb.

Q: Can you hear me now?

FASKIANOS: Yes, we can. Thank you.

Q: Thank you very much. Thank you for doing this. I really appreciate it.

I’m a news editor for an LGBTQ publication so I deal with intersectionality a lot. My concern and my question is that—is about implicit bias. I don’t know if I have implicit bias if I don’t know if I have implicit bias.

I’m concerned about cultural competency when I’m covering, for instance, African Americans, Black protestors, who are also encountering homophobia and transphobia. I cover in terms of LGBTQ, but oftentimes the people I’m interviewing are Black first, if you will, or Latino/Latina first. And yet, the protest that they’re involved in they’re waving, you know, a rainbow flag or the trans flag or whatever.

I’m not sure if I’m covering them properly. And I’m trying to be incredibly sensitive. I’ve brought a lot of people of color into the publication so that their own voices are heard. But I’m concerned that I’m doing a proper job as a professional journalist. Do you have any tips for me? Cultural competency and intersectionality.

KILGO: Sure. First of all, I think it’s fair to say we all have implicit bias and we all mess stuff up. (Laughter.) I’ll be the first to say that. I mean, having these conversations is difficult, even for me, because sometimes I get it wrong. I say even for me, but especially for me, honestly. (Laughter.)

But, you know, I do understand, as a Black woman, that it is very difficult to cover both issues at the same time without thinking that you’re minimizing one over the other. But I do think that, you know, there’s two things that you can do. If you’re at a protest that’s about LGBTQ issues, they’re there trying to challenge the issues that reflect that community or that identity, and I think that focusing on that particular issue is really important.

It’s the same thing with the Black Lives Matter movement. I think that, you know, when we go to a George Floyd protest that is, particularly, about race and Black men and, you know, and police brutality, which happens against people of all, you know, genders. So we have that, and ages. You know, this happens to children, too, and George Floyd is a lot about Black children being killed by police as well or, you know, Black young men or Black young women and Black—you know, the Black trans movement is also something that’s included in that conversation.

I think it’s important to acknowledge always that there are other issues and there’s an intersectional system of oppression that is working against people. It’s not just about being Black, being—my sexual identity and—or my sexual orientation and my gender and, you know, there are many things. My class even are working in this system as well.

And so, you know, acknowledging that, I think, is important and knowing that at some point, you know, you might need to double back and go and say, what if I took this particular issue and I thought about it from a Black person’s perspective and I included that in coverage. Like, it’s not—this isn’t just about, you know, one issue. This is about the other issue, and you’re able to sort of weave both of them into these master narratives. I think that that is—that is what we can do and that’s how we evolved. I don’t know the perfect answer to what coverage could look like in that particular situation.

But I know that we definitely can’t ignore that this issue is intersectional, that some communities face racism or sexism or patriarchy in different ways than other communities, and that when we don’t speak that truth and we don’t bring awareness to those issues we’re doing them a disservice.

I also like to think about the—about news not as in a single report but in a package. I study, like I said, overall representations, which is way better than just looking at one article. I could critique what article I wanted to but that doesn’t say what a news organization does on a regular basis. And so I think it’s really important to look at the entire package of information that you’ve put out in a particular—about a particular issue or event or cause over the course of a couple of weeks and say, hey, you know, this is a(n) issue about race.

Like, Black Lives—this Black Lives Matter protest is about race but did I cover all of the angles of that? Because racism is a really big issue. It touches—you know, not just a(n) intersectional issue. It is a huge issue. I can’t just talk about media coverage and not talk about—and journalists and, you know, critique them without talking about the fact that the institution I work in is not supporting Black students.

And so I think we have to have a—you know, a robust look at everything that we’ve laid out and everything that we’ve put out and say what narratives are missing. And that’s why I hope those postmortems will come back into play and become more important.

You know, as we push against this idea that everything—not everything has to be breaking anymore because everybody has their phones, right. If we push back against that idea of news as you have to get it out first, and you have a little bit more time to say let’s look at how we’ve represented this community and this time, I think that we can really develop a—you can develop within your organization some kind of competency and as well develop a, you know, a community that is willing to be engaged in critique. Nobody likes to be critiqued. I’m one of them. That’s why I never watch my videos when I go back and have—(laughter)—conversations like these.

But, you know, what I do like is when I have a community of scholars that I trust that can say, you didn’t say that right and you need to think about that again, and that’s fair. And I think that, you know, we can’t see what we don’t know and we have to have other eyes looking out for us.

And so I think really part of, you know, learning cultural competency, besides saying read a book, is developing a community that is committed to change, is committed to critique, and is committed to continuing to develop their craft.

FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Let’s go to Phoebe Petrovic.

Q: Hi. Thank you so much for this. This has been really great.

I work at an investigative newsroom in Wisconsin, and I have not been covering the protests but I have been watching the coverage unfold. And so a couple days ago, a local journalist pulled quotes from a public Facebook page that had been used to organize for the Black Lives Matter protest, and he did so without asking and, in some cases, over the express objections of the people involved and then used them in an article. And the journalist responded to that criticism with, essentially, well, you posted in a public forum, so suck it up, and that, obviously, created a lot of furor.

And so when I was talking about that with a senior journalist, she said, well, we’ve done stuff like that before, and cited an article that surfaced, public posts of someone supporting White supremacy and Nazism. So I felt like that was a really problematic comparison because one is a public service. You’re exposing a furtive Nazi.

The other one maybe not so because you’re cherry picking quotes from a Facebook group where Black activists are convening in a public space to organize against state violence, especially when they’ve asked the journalist not to quote them because they’re concerned, specifically, for their safety.

And when I brought that up I was accused of applying our standards unevenly for causes that I’m sympathetic to, and this is just one of the microcosms of the conversations that I’ve been having about this coverage over the last few weeks. And so my question is—I’m sorry for that background information. But, like, the question that I have is how should our standards evolve.

So as we’re reporting on the Black Lives Matter movement and as we’re moving forward, my newsroom specifically is trying to commit to anti-racist coverage. How should our standards evolve so that we are dismantling oppression, we’re holding power to account, while also minimizing harm for those who choose to speak with us?

KILGO: Yeah. That situation is not surprising that you went through but, definitely, leads to a good question.

As we saw in Charlottesville—the idea that there were good people on both sides—I think that we have to think of our policies as, traditionally, doing that. We say there’s good people on both sides. Same standards for everyone.

A commitment to anti-racism does not say that. A commitment to anti-racism says the standards have intentionally oppressed certain groups. They have pushed them down, and if we’re going to build anti-racist policies we’re going to bring policies that are going to pull them up to where we are.

That might mean that we have to, you know, take—we have to suppress the other side that’s to power or we give, you know, extra time or space for a particular community that is oppressed. But anti-racist policies, the idea is to try to reach equality by lifting the, you know, the marginalized groups up to the same level that we have in the past lifted White groups.

And so that is hard a lot of times because it means that you have to remember that for decades, centuries, there is a legacy of mainstream media pushing a particular group down, and it’s asking you to rewrite the idea of, for example, Black people as criminals or, you know, immigrants as criminals or whatever it is. Rewrite how you imagine in your crimes beats and how you imagine your representation patterns and in way that does not support these stereotypes and implicit (primes ?) that audiences have that will reinforce racism in our society.

There is no perfect answer to how we can achieve that goal. I think we’re going to have to do it in a space by space basis. We don’t have a book on anti-racism policies in journalism. But I do think that—you know, in your particular situation I do think it’s a comparison of apples to oranges, to some degree.

We do try to—you know, it’s important to uncover White supremacies or neo-Nazism because it’s a threat to a particular community, and I think that resolving that White supremacy and the violence that’s associated with explicit White supremacy is—can negatively affect and terrorize communities around the United States is really important.

Black activists organizing in a Facebook—a public Facebook group that say something are not terrorizing a particular entity or group of individuals, and I don’t think that it can be treated in the same way.

We, you know, now have a broader conversation about photographing protestors. Should we—because, you know, there are people out there that are pushing against the government and they’re pushing against the status quo, to some degree, should we blatantly put their faces out there. And, I mean, we can take it from our traditional stance. Well, they’re in a public place. They’re in a public street. We have the right to take their picture.

But I think, you know, anti-racist policies in our newsroom would say, let’s rethink that. Let’s think about the human condition and let’s think about this human’s condition and let’s think about this community’s condition, and by putting that in the forefront we can better develop policies that will—and just defenses that will help journalists advocate for themselves and to fairly represent their communities.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Let’s go to Jacqui Germain next.

Q: Hi. Thank you so much also especially for that last answer. That was really empowering to hear.

I’m a freelance journalist based in St. Louis, Missouri, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about or if you had any recommendations from your research about new standards or new ways to kind of build up that relationship between journalists and protestors.

I know—I was really involved in the protests in St. Louis and a lot of us are really frustrated not just with the coverage but with some of our interactions or lack of interactions with journalists, be they from St. Louis or folks who sort of came into the city to cover the protests. And so I was wondering if you’ve seen that relationship change over the course of your research, if you can talk about just kind of from your perspective what you see the future of that relationship looking like.

KILGO: And you’re talking about between protestors and the press?

Q: And journalists.

KILGO: Mmm hmm. OK. So when we have these massive protests it’s really hard to get a handle on what’s going on. (Laughter.) No doubt about it. You know, since 2010, we’ve seen this uptick in protest activity around the world, and knowing who is doing what at what time when there is, you know, hundreds of thousands of people in the street is not easy.

So one of the—and knowing when people will be called, honestly, to stop what they’re doing, go out in the street, and spend their day maybe almost getting arrested, by pushing against—for pushing against, you know, an idea or trying to air a grievance, it’s kind of an unpredictable thing.

But what’s not unpredictable is the social movements behind the protests that were there before. And so I would really encourage journalists to actively engage in knowing the nonprofits around your community, to actively engage in knowing the people at your NAACP, to know, you know, your Black Lives Matter chapter, to know that there is a ton of, you know, of smaller chapters of—and organizations, sometimes just grassroots, just a collective idea. Sometimes they are more bureaucratized. But, you know, and especially in a local community. And St. Louis is big and Minneapolis is big. But in smaller networks, too, there are almost always an organization around that is advocating for the equal human rights and those people do that on a day to day basis. They don’t quit doing that.

So it would be, I think, beneficial to get to know those organizations. You know, one of the ones that stands out in my mind right now—I was just trying to pull them up—is the Color of Change. It’s a large national organization that’s well known. But there are, you know, lots of smaller chapters that help organize people. They also are constantly putting out communication that is there to engage audiences, to engage people in their issue, to make people aware of their issue.

So not only will that help you, like, have a handle on sort of the official spokespeople of protests—you know, they don’t always have all of the information about what a protest is about but they definitely have a core agenda, a great idea. They even have, like, a PR-ed voice, so to speak, of being able to articulate hard things like what a particular social justice is. They can tell you what racism is in their own words. And sometimes that’s hard to do. It’s hard to explain. And so they have this sort of official voice behind a protest.

The other thing that I would encourage journalists to do is to let those particular organizations lead you to other people and places. You know, we have—you know, by fostering those connections you learn about the internal and digital networks that perhaps you wouldn’t know before. It helps you become more familiar with their community.

I think that, you know, just like we do with some health organizations, as journalists we can do this with these social issues—(inaudible, technical difficulties)—keep the distance that’s necessary to, you know, achieve the idea of objectivity for our newsrooms or just like separation between our public and what we write. And so I think that establishing that relationship is going to be core.

The only other thing I can say is that, you know, when you are at a protest, if you don’t have that relationship already established that, you know, one protestor will say something but you should probably talk to twenty before deciding on which quote or which person to put on air or which part of the substance you’re going to exploit in your particular coverage.

I think that’s really important because, again, protestors are not professionals. A lot of times they’re treated like they are, or not all protestors are professionals and a lot of times they’re treated like they are. And I think to fairly sort of categorize an entire movement you have to be able to immerse yourself in that protest community and to know who is capable of getting past the grief and emotions that are behind protests and able to articulate their causes and—(inaudible).

FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the last question from Leoneda Inge-Barry, who actually attended our inaugural Local Journalists workshop.

Q: Hello. How are you? I’m Leoneda Inge and I’m the race and southern culture reporter at WUNC public radio out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the one thing that has definitely happened since these last protests I’m reminded almost daily, like, Leoneda, you’re the race reporter. You’re a senior reporter here. We want to hear from you. I’m, like, really? (Laughter.)

So now, in a way, you know, I’m definitely put in a position where, wow, you know, I have to speak for a whole group of people, a whole race of people, also speaking for myself and also, I guess, trying not to totally overstep my bounds because I do have a big mouth. You know, I don’t mind speaking. But I do know that there’s a line there. It’s not just a line of professionalism but it’s also a line of even respect for myself and other journalists like me. Because earlier in your comments you hit the nail on the head. You know, so many newsrooms have so few journalists of color. It’s one reason why some coverage may not have—I mean, some events may not have been covered the way that they should have.

But I just—I wonder, do you—can you recommend? I mean, because there’s a new wave going across newsrooms, too. You know, we’re one of the newsrooms that finally decided, you know, we will capitalize the letter B when we talk about Black people and their—you know, so this—things are coming fast and furious and so I’m just trying to make sure, you know, it’s going in the right direction and that it’s going to be meaningful not just today but tomorrow.

KILGO: Yeah. I mean, I guess—I’m glad that management of newsroom(s) is beginning to seize the moment. The AP Style shift to capitalize the B in Black was a huge thing, especially for me. I had recently just written in a journal article a defense of capitalizing the B in Black. I have trouble publishing all the time with the capital B in Black. So, I mean, that was a huge shift for me and it’s great to see that kind of progress.

But I also think that you’re talking about the pressure that it puts on—you know, on Black journalists or Black people and just that aren’t fairly or accurately represented within an organization in this moment, and that’s a lot and I think that newsrooms need to hear from our voices but I also think—don’t think they need to exploit our voices.

And so, you know, I would just make sure that if they—you know, as a Black journalist in a newsroom that if they’re going to give you the opportunity to speak in this moment that they continue to give you the opportunity to speak beyond this moment. If you are willing to speak then make sure that you have, you know, the opportunity to continue to voice your truth.

This is not—the road to correcting racism in our society is not solved today and it was not solved with the capital B in Black, and I think that the way that we continue to see progress and continue to work towards an anti-racist society is to continue to acknowledge and request that they acknowledge that. Like, that’s not enough. It’s great. We’re very glad for this issue and I’m glad that you gave me this opportunity to speak, of course, if you wanted to.

But I would just make sure that you advocate for yourself in terms of if you have this opportunity to speak and you want to continue to have this opportunity to speak that you get it. I think that also—you know, the more that you’re able to advocate—if you’re the only Black person in your newsroom or if you’re the only person of color in your newsroom the more that you’re able to say, I want to see this hiring board change so that it doesn’t just have to be you in the future. Like, you want to have diversity in your newsroom so, you know, advocating for that at this moment, I think, is a great way to say maybe it won’t always be me that has to talk. Maybe somebody else could have to—could do the talking at some point, too.

So, you know, now—so there’s one thing. You could just jump on the bandwagon and continue to try to push for policy changes that you know would help diversify your newsroom and continue to bring race and racism—issues of race and racism to the forefront. But I also think that, you know, there’s also an idea of protecting yourself.

And I can say this, I think, just kind of candidly that it sometimes is uncomfortable to have to speak on behalf of all Black people or all journalists or all news coverage because there’s always an exception and not everybody’s the same. And so I think that making sure that they acknowledge that is core. That your news organization can acknowledge that, too, is a core sort of foundation of that’s why we need to hire more people and that’s why we need to include more—you know, have a more diverse editorial board or group of editors or group of columnists.

I think that there’s got to be some way—there has to be some sort of self-protection measure in there, too, and I think that this is the time where you can advocate for that as we sort of navigate, and, to me, this is a sort of unprecedented world where people are engaged and listening.

FASKIANOS: I know we’re out of time but I just—I can’t help but ask this question—the closing question, Dani. So there are a lot of editors on this call, writers, producers, reporters. What is the one story that an editor should allow to be published that they might, in the past, not? Said, oh, we can’t cover that?

KILGO: I think that if there is a—if there is someone who says that something happened to them because of the color of their skin, they should believe them.

FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you.

This has been a really wonderful hour. Thank you very much for being with us and to all of you for your questions. I am sorry we could not get to everybody. But I’ve already gone over so I can’t go over much more.

So thank you, again, to Danielle Kilgo for your insights. As we discussed earlier on, we will get from Dani some resources and research and send it out to all of you so that you can look at those reports and what not. I encourage you to follow her on Twitter at @DaniKathleen. So please follow her research there as well.

And, again, please do come to CFR.org for information on COVID-19. We have a lot of resources now on Black Lives Matter and other issues. Please don’t hesitate to share your suggestions for future CFR Local Journalists Webinars by sending an email to [email protected].

Stay safe and well, and we look forward to reconvening again. So, again, thank you, Danielle Kilgo.

KILGO: Thanks for having me.

Top Stories on CFR

South Korea

In seventy years, the U.S.-South Korea alliance has evolved from a patron-client relationship to a global comprehensive strategic alliance.


Far-right candidate Geert Wilders emerged as the biggest political force in Dutch politics in November’s general elections. What does his win mean for the Netherlands and Europe?


Myanmar's military has recently suffered a string of defeats—but the U.S. government seems unprepared to face the country's potential state collapse.