The Front Page: Human rights shouldn’t be at odds with journalism

Issue 25: Why is condemning violence so hard?

It’s Friday, May 21st

This time in The Front Page: Why is condemning violence so hard? 

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Israel is an apartheid state under which Palestinians have been disenfranchised and dehumanized for decades. B’Tselem, the largest human rights organization in Israel, has called it “apartheid,” as has Human Rights Watch. But most importantly, this is a reality long pointed out by Palestinians themselves.

And that reality only resurfaced in international media due to escalating, continued Israeli airstrikes on Palestine this past month, a result of ethnic cleansing and forced displacement.

That violence is not something that can be “both-sides-ed” unless you’re a major Western outlet, in which case there are apparently “clashes” erupting between Israelis and Palestinians. Suddenly, as #SaveSheikhJarrah and broader understanding of the situation in Palestine gained traction on social media, the New York Times coincidentally created an opening for a reporter to cover Palestinian affairs. 

That selective vision mirrored some journalists’ discovery of the airstrikes once the Associated Press and Al Jazeera offices in Gaza were targeted: Now, the violence was universally condemned as an attack on the free press. Apparently, some reporters can excuse Palestinian children getting murdered, but they draw the line at newsrooms being bombed.

Arbitrary journalistic standards of objectivity have also obscured the reality of the violence in Palestine.

For The Objective, Fatima Bahja writes:

The attempt to present balance in a story that is fundamentally about disproportionate power and rights has become so forced that news outlets have taken to using the passive voice to describe Israeli attacks. Gazans are killed, buildings are destroyed, and Palestinians are injured. But who or what is behind these attacks is never immediately clear. Because to do so would draw attention to the fact that the responsible party has no matching foe, rendering the “objective” narrative as meaningless as it is misleading. 

Media outlets have responded to journalists identifying the violence for what it is with pushback.

In Canadian newsrooms, where an open letter is circulating asking for fair coverage of Gaza, there’s a Google Doc with ways for reporters to push against editors who claim their commitment to nuance is “biased.”

Last week, the editorial staff at gaming website IGN posted a list of resources offering ways that readers could help Palestinian civilians, in line with other articles the site has posted around Black Lives Matter and violence against Asians. That weekend, the post was taken down by its parent company J2 Global without the staff’s consultation or consent, with IGN then tweeting on Monday that it “left the impression that we were politically aligned with one side.” 

“We” did not, apparently, refer to any of the editorial staff of IGN. The GameSpot version of the article, however, remains up.

And yesterday, the Associated Press fired reporter Emily Wilder, a Jewish reporter, just 17 days after she joined the newsroom for social media violations. Wilder said the outlet was unable to specify what they were referencing specifically, despite having said that her background as a member of Students for Justice in Palestine in college was not, in fact, a violation of social media policy during the hiring process. 

Mohammed El-Kurd, a Palestinian writer, called for journalists to be brave. But journalists naming the ethnic cleansing and forced displacement of Palestinians isn’t bravery—it’s just telling the truth. 

The Appeal Union fights against layoffs

Last week, minutes after announcing their union and asking for voluntary recognition, employees at The Appeal were hit with a surge of layoffs that threatened nearly a third of the unit.

The union has since received recognition, but layoffs are paused, not canceled, and the current status of the unit won’t immediately correct the company’s past wrongs, many of which coincided with previous organization efforts, reports Defector. Still, union members hope this step “brings employees increased power” in a workplace one staffer described as a “dumpster fire.” 

In a similar about-face, Washingtonian Media CEO Cathy Merrill issued an apology to staffers after publishing an opinion piece that indicated to many that employees who continue working remotely should be reclassified as contractors. In response, Washingtonian staffers—who are not protected by a union—implemented a publishing strike.

Finally, following a few tumultuous months for Medium employees—the company offered buyouts to its entire editorial staff after the Medium Workers Union lost its election for recognition by a single vote—the website appears to be trying to fill those positions entirely with contract hires. 

In March, when the Medium Workers Union announced they were taking a break, a Medium spokesperson told the Verge that the company would “quickly address concerns, continue to adapt, and together, build a successful company.” 

A common thread: Gannett owes its reporters gas money


The Objective is an all-volunteer network of writers that publishes reporting, first-person commentary, and reported essays on communities journalism in the U.S. has typically ignored. Want to read more? Subscribe to our newsletter, The Front Page.


What’s happening

*$$$ denotes a paid event. What events should we feature? You tell us. Send an email to contact@objectivejournalism.org.

  • 1 day until … Racism in the News: A Year After the Media Reckoning of 2020, Where Are We Now? This conversation hosted by the National Association for Hispanic Journalists Los Angeles Chapter is open to all journalists.

  • 13 days until … Latino Media Summit 2021. This three-day program, hosted by CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, is free and will offer simultaneous interpretation in English and Spanish.

  • 14 days until … Pro Tips: Writing Refresh ($$$), hosted by the National Press Club Journalism Institute. The three-hour workshop includes guidance on how to emphasize inclusivity in your reporting, write better headlines, and “re-energize” your writing.

  • 26 days until … NAHJ 2021: International Training Conference and Career Fair. ($$$) This year’s virtual convening will take place from June 16 to July 17, with more than three weeks of “pre-training.”

  • 27 days until … Covering Health Care — Covid and Beyond. This series installment focuses on “how to inoculate your health coverage from manipulation, misunderstanding or downright misinformation.”


A bit more media

Nikole Hannah-Jones won’t receive tenure at UNC
New York Times Magazine reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Nikole Hannah-Jones will begin teaching at the University of North Carolina this summer. However, instead of a tenured professorship, Hannah-Jones was offered a five-year contract. One board member described the decision as “a very political thing,” likely prompted by criticism of “The 1619 Project,” which Hannah-Jones created and launched in 2019. Dozens of faculty at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media have asked university leadership to reconsider.

WNYC’s Bob Garfield fired for anti-bullying violation
New York Public Radio (NYPR) fired Bob Garfield, the 20-year co-host of On the Media, following two separate investigations. In a statement, NYPR said it is “committed to providing an inclusive and respectful environment” for employees, but did not confirm if the investigations resulted from “yelling in 5 meetings,” as Garfield claims.

“Dear Journalism: You Are Not For Me”
Eight years after realizing the industry wasn’t for her, Jenni Gritters is finally breaking up with journalism: “I want to believe that journalism leaders are out there fighting to make this better, but I’m not sure I can hang onto that fantasy much longer. I worry that we are more useful as pawns, that our lack of complaint and high levels of burnout support the capitalist model of cheaper work, faster work, crappier work.” Read the rest here.

Haskell Indian Nations University president removed
In September, president Ronald Graham issued a “directive” that prevented campus newspaper editor Jared Nally from, well, reporting. Following demands from multiple organizations, the gag order was rescinded in January. A unanimous vote of no confidence from the Faculty Senate preceded Graham’s removal by the Bureau of Indian Education earlier this month.

Washington Post names Sally Buzbee executive editor
For the first time in the newspaper’s history, a woman will lead the Washington Post. However, Buzbee’s appointment calls attention to the Post’s “missing generation of women'' and an industry pattern of relying on primarily white women when balancing gender diversity in hiring practices.

On “casting calls” and exercising power
For Columbia Journalism Review, Ko Bragg writes that journalists need to evaluate how they find sources. According to leaders of several NGOs, some reporters often neglect the individuals at the center of their stories. “They wanted to tell a story of a really immense tragedy, but they didn’t want to tell the story of the policy that could have saved that person, rent and mortgage cancellation.”

AAJA continues setting an example
Where mainstream media fell short during the Atlanta shootings, the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) offered guidance, writes Kristen Hare. In the year of its 40th anniversary, AAJA and its members not only led coverage but helped raise more than $80,000 to provide therapy for AAPI journalists. That fund is still open—you can donate here.

Lawyers for Reporters
The young, nonprofit collective led by the Press Freedom Defense Fund and the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice provides free legal support to local news outlets through a network of 60 lawyers across the country. So far, the collective has helped 30 clients with “copyright infringement claims, trademark registration,” and other needs.


And finally, a few resources

Looking for a job? Here are a few places to look: INN | ONA | JournalismJobs.com | 10 Jobs and a Dog | NABJ | AAJA | NAHJ | NLGJA | @WritersofColor | MEO Jobs | Freelance Journalist Rates | StudyHall XYZ | Opportunities of the Week ($)   

How about a style guide? Trans Journalist Association | Diversity Style Guide | Tribal Nations Media Guide | NABJ Style Guide | Disability Language Style Guide | AAJA Guide to Covering Asian America | NAHJ Cultural Competence Handbook

If you’re a new reader, you can subscribe here. As always, if you like what you’re reading, forward this to a friend (or your boss). This issue is by Holly Piepenburg and Janelle Salanga with editing by Curtis Yee.

Want to get in touch? Email us at contact@objectivejournalism.org.

Thanks for reading. We’ll have more for you soon.