The Front Page: Media criticism is too white

Issue 13: Media reporting and criticism need some fresh faces, Bon Appétit messes up (again), and The Federalist violated federal labor law.

It’s Friday, December 4th.

This issue is by Holly Piepenburg and Gabe Schneider, with editing by Curtis Yee.

The Front Page is The Objective’s bi-weekly newsletter. 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). 


U.S. newsrooms are very white. So are the critics and the journalists that cover them

The Objective was founded, this year, for a specific reason: To provide reporting, first-person commentary, and reported essays on how journalism has misrepresented or excluded specific communities in coverage, as well as how newsrooms have treated staff from those communities. 

But there’s an undercurrent to this mission: Media criticism and reporting, as a field, has failed to hone in on how racism and exclusion in media isn't just a story — it’s the story. American journalism has for generations failed to hold itself accountable. And by and large, media criticism and reporting have failed to center this glaring problem in their reporting. 

As Gabe Schneider writes this week (in a piece co-published with Poynter): 

Media reporting about race or gender or class is still a rarity. Instead, reporting on race or gender or class or disability or sexual orientation is often relegated to a passing mention or a one-off story, not a theme that’s punctuated throughout media stories. And while this failure of American journalism is true across most beats, it’s particularly on the nose when these reporters are supposed to be reporting on journalism’s failures.

You can read more here.

Bon Appétit messes up … again

In June, Bon Appétit issued a public apology following Adam Rapoport’s infamous resignation. The publication vowed to leave complicity in the past and “center … the contributions of marginalized people.” Earlier this week, Bon Appétit unequivocally went back on its promise, allowing Marcus Samuelsson to publish his version of soup joumou.

The controversy doesn’t stop at the appropriation of a culturally significant dish, however: One of the recipe's original authors, Yewande Komolafe, who was cited in the byline of the dish, said she was not involved in the article’s creation.

A post shared by Yewande (@yewande_komolafe)

Now, the piece, “Pumpkin Soup With Spiced Nuts”, has one author—Samuelsson—and an editor’s note. In a statement for Business Insider, Samuelsson apologized to those who were offended but, if the publication’s past disciplinary actions are any indication, this author suspects Samuelsson will be invited to write for Bon Appétit again without much deliberation.

After all, when Rapoport wrote that he was working with staff to “better represent the fabric of this country and its remarkably dynamic food scene” his tolerance for racism and sexism, and the brownface photo, had already surfaced.

Perhaps Bon Appétit should take a cue from one recipe reviewer, Jay, who writes, “If being ignorant was not your intention, do better.”

NLRB rules FDRLST publisher broke labor law

Last week, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Ben Domenech, publisher of The Federalist, violated federal labor law with a tweet that threatened to send unionizing employees “back to the salt mine.”

An NLRB administrative judge made the initial decision in April after a charge was filed by an external attorney. Domenech did not delete the Tweet, which he calls a joke, and plans on challenging the ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals, according to the company’s legal team. Though Domenech has been ordered to delete the original Tweet, he hasn’t missed a chance to promote salt mine merch.

In other union news… Following significant resistance from the Sacramento Bee News Guild and their supporters, McClatchy has dropped a proposal that would force pageview quotas on journalists. Members of the guild still need to vote on the tentative agreement, which could serve as a template for other McClatchy publications subject to similar actions.

And, some more good news: Yesterday, content creators at WAMU voted unanimously to join SAG-AFTRA. American University expects a new collective bargaining agreement to be established in 2022.

Unfortunately, the win comes after the news that managers will not renew the contracts of 13 employees, many of whom were hired as surge staffers. 


What’s happening

*$$$ denotes a paid event

  • 0 days until …  Black Media-Makers and the Fierce Urgency of Now, a symposium presented by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, Media, Inequality, and Change Center, and Center for Media at Risk.

  • 1 day until … Effective Grant Writing for Your Next Big Project with the International Women’s Media Foundation at #ARIJ20.

  • 4 days until … How to Manage and Grow Your Freelance Business. This webinar is hosted by the American Society of Business Publication Editors. 

  • 6 days until … NAJA’s “Covering domestic violence crisis within a crisis” virtual roundtable, co-sponsored by the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center.

  • 10 days until … Reporting on the COVID-19 Vaccines, a free training featuring the presidents of the American Medical Association and National Medical Association.


A bit more media

“Mapping Black Media”

The Center for Community Media has mapped more than 300 outlets across the country that primarily serve Black communities. Newspapers, radio and television stations, magazines, and other media are included in the database, which can also be sorted by location, audience, and ownership.

Los Angeles Times denies equal pay

More than six months afterPatricia Escárcega filed a pay discrimination claim, the L.A. Times says she is paid less than co-critic Bill Addison because he “has significantly more experience” and is a recipient of “one of the most significant awards in food journalism.” While both perform the same role, the Times wrote that Escárcega’s current pay is “well above the scale for her job classification and experience.”

HuffPost closes Brazil and India newsrooms

Less than a week after BuzzFeed purchased HuffPost, Verizon Media announced that the India and Brazil editions would be shut down. In a Slack message, BuzzFeed CEO and founder Jonah Peretti said the company was not “legally allowed” to take on the newsrooms.

Remembering Deb Price

Detroit News Journalist Deb Price, author of the first nationally syndicated gay issues column in mainstream newspapers, died on November 20. “Her 18 years as a groundbreaking gay columnist changed lives, healed families and helped our nation progress toward being a more perfect union," said her wife Joyce Murdoch.

“We just realized, we can’t wait”

Despite a pandemic, Tasneem Raja and Darwin BondGraham launched The Oaklandside, recognizing a need for community-based service journalism. In CJR, Raja explains how the publication, staffed by a team of seven reporters, is working with Cityside to deliver stories that readers not only want, but need.

How Charlamagne tha God became the “voice of Black America”

Rachelle Hampton explains how the white political establishment made the host of The Breakfast Club the spokesman for all Black voters. Plus: A brief history of Black radio personalities and the Democratic political establishment.

Capital B launching in mid-2021

Lauren Williams and Akoto Ofori-Atta are introducing Capital B, “a Black-led, nonprofit local and national news organization reporting for Black communities across the country,” next year. To help fund their newsroom, become a founding member here.

Gabe Schneider on Diversity Hire

The Objective’s co-founder Gabe Schneider talked about “the Substack economy,” the whiteness of media criticism, and our critics on Diversity Hire. (You can learn more about the podcast in this early November Q&A by Siri Chilukuri). 

Ajit Pai stepping down next month

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai says he’ll quit the agency on Inauguration Day. Since his appointment in 2017, the Republican has pushed to eliminate the digital divide while simultaneously deregulating the industry.

Periplus mentorship deadline Tuesday, December 15

BIPOC writers seeking mentorship through Periplus Collective are required to apply by December 15. The group of fifty writers will select the inaugural class by the end of January 2021, then begin one-on-one half-hour training sessions.


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 | 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

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