Reporting While Black? Read This.
One of the most challenging aspects of journalism is remaining objective. Let’s face it. We all have opinions and experiences that color our perspective. Even though, as journalists our job is to leave all that at the door—it’s hard and almost impossible. I’ve learned some valuable lessons in this unique space; five quick ones that I’ll share later in this post.
I became a journalist to tell stories. Not black stories, or white stories or female stories. Just stories of people. Human stories.
In a recent story, I found myself in a battle to tell a familiar narrative of minorities, objectively. It wasn’t easy. My editor and I were going back and forth on language, storytelling and ultimately the best way to illustrate the all too often interaction between black males and law enforcement. We didn’t consistently agree on how to tell the story, but in the end, we did.
This brief story captures the daily plight of minority males, specifically black males.
Here are five keys I’ve learned telling this story and others.
One; the vigorous debate ensued between my editor and I opened my eyes to both of our thinking. It also pushed me tell a more compelling and less safe and less linear story.
Two; the truth is sobering. I took a stab in the dark at asking at 16 year old male (the focal point of my story) if he had an encounter with the police, and he said yes. He details the experience in the story, and his perspective was shocking. It confirmed the unfortunate reality that most black males by their teens are profiled without just cause.
Three; a chip on your shoulder serves no one. People know I’m black when I walk through the door. Forced understanding doesn’t build bonds, it builds resentment. In order to build a bridge, meet people where they are and with compassion. Once you’re at the table, the key is to keep people listening.
Four; everything’s not about race, but some things are. There’s a difference between a story involving my race and a story about a racial matter. Most days, I’m glass half full even when it’s insane to have that perspective. I monitor my “angry black woman” meter, especially in mixed company. While I don’t want it to go off, there are plenty of things to be angry about that involve race, but unless it’s channeled into strategy that’s going to bring systemic and institutional change, I anger in vain.
Five; being objective is hard, but it’s required to tell balanced stories that allow the public to make up their own mind and opinion.
I’m eager to hear your, after you watch the video above. Share your thoughts and comments with me.