Columnist says Reporting About Black Lives Matter Is Taking a Toll on Black Reporters

Demonstrators, marking the one-year anniversary of the shooting death of Michael Brown, confront police during a protest along West Florissant Avenue on Aug. 11, 2015, in Ferguson, Mo.   SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES
Demonstrators, marking the one-year anniversary of the shooting death of Michael Brown, confront police during a protest along West Florissant Avenue on Aug. 11, 2015, in Ferguson, Mo.
SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES

“As calls for newsroom diversity get louder and louder — and rightly so — we might do well to consider what it means that there’s an emerging, highly valued professional class of black reporters at boldface publications reporting on the shortchanging of black life in this country,” Gene Demby wrote Wednesday for the NPR “Code Switch” blog. 

“They’re investigating police killings and segregated schools and racist housing policies and ballooning petty fines while their loved ones, or people who look like their loved ones, are out there living those stories. What it means — for the reporting we do, for the brands we represent, and for our own mental health — that we don’t stop being black people when we’re working as black reporters. That we quite literally have skin in the game. . . .”

Under the headline “How Black Reporters Report On Black Death,” Demby quoted Trymaine Lee of MSNBC, Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Yamiche Alcindor of USA Today, who have been in the thick of the unrest in cities roiled by police shootings of unarmed African Americans.

“Over the past month, I’ve talked to a dozen other black reporters who’ve covered race and policing since Michael Brown’s death [in Ferguson, Mo.] — or even further back, since Oscar Grant [in 2009 in Oakland, Calif.] or Ramarley Graham [in 2012 in the Bronx] — and it’s been a relief to learn that I’m not the only one. That sinking feeling when a hashtag of a black person’s name starts trending on Twitter, the guilty avoidance of watching the latest video of a black person losing his life, the flashes of resentment and irritation at well-meaning tweets and emails sent by readers asking me to weigh in on the latest development in the latest case.

“The folks I talked to for this story share many of the same, contradictory impulses I wrestle with when a new case comes to light, torn between wanting to jump on a plane — or start sketching out a long essay, as the case may be — and wanting to log out of Twitter and block out emails from my editors. . . .”

Demby also wrote, “But if ‘diverse’ reporters help newsrooms do better journalism, are newsrooms doing enough to make sure someone like Trymaine has the support and backup he needs to not burn out or even break down in the process? We ask journalists to keep some critical, dispassionate distance from their stories. But what happens when the stories they’re covering are not abstractions, not just things that happen to other people? What happens when echoes of those stories keep sounding off in their own lives? . . .”

He also said, “I’ve written about the problem of being The Only One in the Room — the unwanted burden of representing the concerns of an entire group of people, coupled with the anxious desire to do a good job of it. It does seem there’s one good way of preventing black journalists who cover black death from burning out, or relegating their own well-being to ‘minor importance’ status . . . Hire enough of us that no one black reporter or editor in a newsroom has to feel like it’s entirely ‘fallen upon him’ to tell these stories. . . .”

Meanwhile, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, joined by 38 other news outlets and media organizations, sent a letter to St. Louis County officials protesting the recent filing of criminal charges against Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly over incidents that occurred during the protests in Ferguson, last summer, the committee said Tuesday.

The coalition letter called the charges “particularly egregious, as they were not even involved in a contentious or dangerous atmosphere.”

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Source: The Root | Richard Prince

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