The Front Page: “Racism Exists At St. Louis Public Radio”

Issue 05

It’s Friday, August 14th. 

This time on The Front Page: an exodus at St. Louis Public Radio, a failure to cover Kamala Harris with nuance, and WAMU’s executive editor resigns. 

This edition is by Holly Piepenburg and Janelle Salanga with a Q&A and editing by Gabe Schneider.

As always, if you like what you’re reading, forward this to a friend (or your boss). 


St. Louis Public Radio received part of a $450,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting three years ago to “drive diversity in news coverage, audiences and staff.” Current and former staffers say that money did little to correct the newsroom’s dismissive and racist culture.

When Marissanne Lewis-Thompson joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2017, many of her coworkers told her about that “transition.” Last week, she published an article detailing the racist actions and language she and other colleagues encountered. In addition to reassigning story ideas and denying advancement opportunities, Lewis-Thompson writes that newsroom leaders like general manager Tim Eby and executive editor Shula Neuman dismissed “kind of racist” remarks and discrimination.

This behavior is affirmed in a letter written by St. Louis Public Radio reporters and producers of color, which documents a number of times leaders at the station have played a part in “cultivating a culture that perpetuates racism.”

In his written response, Eby said that an external evaluation of “policies, practices, procedures and structures related to inclusive excellence at the station” began this week, and apologized for not recognizing the issues.

Rather than withdraw donor support, authors of the letter prefer that listeners fill out their Anti-Racist Donor Roll.

Related: An account on Twitter (@freepublicradio) is publishing anonymous direct messages from public radio employees across the country—read them here. And, citing a decline in sponsorship brought on by COVID-19, KQED is laying off 20 staff members.

Harris is the VP Pick

After weeks of speculation, now we know: Sen. Kamala Harris will be Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential pick. 

The coverage of Harris’ identities, overall, is bad and it’s probably going to get worse. Some outlets refuse to reckon with Harris’ agency: that she could be a Black woman who is criticized by (in many cases Black organizers) for her time as a prosecutor; some refuse to reckon with that she could be both Black and South Asian, and not just one or the other; and others went so far as to question whether or not she’s a U.S. citizen.

Additionally, African American, which often refers to American Descendants of Slavery, does not include Harris. Her father is Jamaican, making a more accurate descriptor Black and Jamaican American. (L.A. Times journalist Erin B. Logan has a handy chart here, if you need it)

For The Objective, Marissa Martinez writes: “The Kamala Harris conversations show we still don’t know how to talk about race.” 

On and offline, South Asian communities, Black communities and multiracial people all have wildly different takes on the senator’s candidacy, further stratified by gender, age, class and politics. None of these communities are monoliths, but media coverage seems to show that they are, even four years after the industry wrestled with that issue last election. Our job as journalists is to talk to those communities and see what this representation does or does not mean, not to perpetuate our own flawed understandings of race. There are plenty of articles that delve into Harris’ Indian roots or Black roots separately — I have yet to see a truly nuanced piece that deals with both. Because she is both.

Days of Yore

After six years as WAMU’s general manager, JJ Yore has resigned.

Since last January, five women of color have left the station. Three of those women told Current that senior managing editor Zuri Berry prompted their departures. And, though JJ Yore committed to “focus internally to ensure WAMU is a fully inclusive workplace” in his subsequent financial plan, Berry was not removed from his position or placed on leave.

At the same time, staffers shared other stories of racism that were permitted to continue under Yore’s leadership. 

Then, two dozen people went public with allegations against a different WAMU employee. Staffers say Yore and other station leaders knew of Martin Di Caro’s behavior but kept him on staff until his departure in 2017.

Yore left the station eight days after the Di Caro story dropped. Journalists of color flagged wrongdoing for years—often at their own expense—but Yore remained.

In a release, WAMU pledged to create a task force to review the company culture, require leadership to undergo anti-racism training, and conduct more listening sessions. The statement also included a record of Yore’s accomplishments and a short farewell from the university: “AU thanks JJ for his years of service to WAMU, and we wish him well as he pursues his next endeavor.” 


The Front Page

At The Objective, in “Where is the coverage of caste discrimination in the U.S?,” Siri Chilukuri writes about how caste discrimination in the U.S. is an invisible problem — largely because journalism here has failed to shed a light on it.

Discussing caste in remains a taboo, the type of secret that is alluded to but never discussed openly. In the U.S., the landscape for coverage of South Asians from mainstream publications in the U.S. is already sparse terrain, and for coverage of caste discrimination, even more sporadic. In 2019, WGBH did a four part series on caste in the U.S. and NPR’s Codeswitch published an in-depth story in 2018 focused on a Survey by Equality Labs, a South Asian human rights non-profit, that concluded 90% of Indians in the U.S. are from upper castes.  

In ”The digital divide is a news divide,” Marlee Baldridge writes about the gap between online publications and people that don’t have internet.

If journalists and editors are insistent that Twitter isn’t real life, and the journalists with the largest platforms and the broadest audiences write for the internet, then they should probably ask themselves who they really are writing for.


What is The Objective? 

The Objective is a publication meant to confront the inequities in journalism that are rooted in the notion of “objectivity” since the 1950s and continue today. To that end, we publish reporting, first-person commentary, and reported essays on how journalism has interacted with historically-ignored communities in terms of hiring and retention in newsrooms, as well as coverage.

We are an all-volunteer collective, several of us with full-time jobs outside of this work. But we believe this kind of coverage is not an occasional way to cover journalism, but the focal point. 

If you’re interested in pitching to us, you can read more about our process here. All pitches should be sent to submissions@objectivejournalism.org. 


Azucena Rasilla of The Oaklandside on why Bilingual Reporting is a Necessity 

The Oaklandside didn’t plan to launch during a pandemic or an unprecedented era of nation-wide protest. Yet, here we are. 

The non-profit newsroom, a self-described “small but mighty team of local journalists working for Oakland,” aims to bridge the gap between journalism and community: actually asking community members in Oakland what they want to see covered. 

Azucena Rasilla first came to The Oaklandside as a curious potential reader: she wanted to see what the community listening sessions were all about. Rasilla, a long-time arts and culture journalist based in Oakland, first covered Oakland’s undocumented community for The Oaklandside as a freelancer. Now, as a staff writer, she’s back on her beat full-time for the outlet. 

I talked to Rasilla about what it means to work at The Oaklandside, the coverage gaps being filled by the non-profit outlet, and how critically important it is to reach the community where they are (in Spanish and English): on Instagram, on paper, or on the internet. 

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity. You can read the rest here. 

You talked about an education reporter being able to report and having stories in Spanish. What would it mean to have that void and no reporting? What does that gap look like if you don't exist? 

Before I joined The Oaklandside as a full-time staffer and I was freelancing, I was seeing the lack of information for Spanish speaking residents. Obviously you have TV stations, right? But the way that they cover the pandemic is very quick TV clips, because they're not focused on one city. They have to cover like the entire Bay area. It's not as much information as they would want to report or to make sure that people get the information. 

Even when the pandemic hit, I wasn't reading stories and I wasn't seeing information about where people, specifically for the undocumented community, where could they go get free food if they were out of work? Where could they get tested if they needed to get tested? Before the eviction moratorium was set in place, who can they talk to or where can they go or who can they call to get information about rental assistance when they were not being able to pay the rent? So I was not seeing that coverage. Early on, when I was still freelancing, I knew that I wanted for that to be my focus. 

We also have a housing reporter. She did this really comprehensive Oakland-based list on the eviction moratorium. She did a call out for community members to give her questions that they had about the eviction moratorium and rent fees and all of that. So she put together this comprehensive list of what you need to know about the eviction moratorium. And then I ended up translating that into Spanish, because I knew that Spanish speaking readers and residents would need that information. And then I worked on a comprehensive list of COVID testing sites in Oakland. I gave my experience of what it was like for me to get tested. 

Even that story, on social media, I ended up doing an Instagram Live. To this day, that post is like the most-viewed, shared, saved, posts. So even thinking of other ways that people engage with like their news, you know what I mean? Maybe someone is not going to read a thousand or 1,200-word story on testing sites. The question is: How can we as a newsroom make sure that people have the information readily available? So I immediately thought, ‘Hey, Instagram posts are quick ways for people to get their information. Let's just get the information out there’. And so I just put it together like a [Instagram Live broadcast] with the name of the testing sites, when they were open. I think that, as a newsroom, we’ve just sort of been thinking of ways besides just people reading on the site for people to get their news and information.


What’s happening

*$$$ denotes a paid event
  • 0 days until … The 19th Represents 2020 Virtual Summit.Today is the last day of the introductory conference to The 19th. The new non-profit newsroom, “founded to shine a light on the unfinished business of the 19th Amendment and empower women,” has spent the last four days talking to prominent women politicians, authors, activists, and journalists. You can join them for the last day of the conference here

  • 4 days until … SPJ’s media trust webinar. This workshop, for college students, is meant to give an overview on how to verify information, deal with anonymous sourcing, and leaked documents. 

  • 18 days until … September Sweeps ($$$). Throughout September, the Radio Television Digital News Association is hosting workshops. 

  • 19 days until … Solution Journalism Network's Solutions Journalism 1010 Webinar. The workshops are held monthly. 

  • 49 days until … The Online News Association’s annual conference ($$$). ONA 2020 is in a bit over a month. This year it will be completely virtual. 


A bit more media

BA Test Kitchen on the chopping block

Six members of the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen, including people of color, have left their contracts with Conde Nast Entertainment. In a tweet announcing her departure, Priya Krishna said that some of her publicly supportive colleagues helped interview BIPOC candidates they knew would be underpaid and called the past few months “disappointing and insulting.” 

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff votes to strike

After bargaining for 3 ½ years with little concrete progress, members of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh representing the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s staff voted 88-31 on Aug. 10 to go on strike. Guild President Michael A. Fuoco, a veteran reporter at the paper, said that should the company refuse to negotiate in good faith, its journalists would be prepared to “effectively remove the newspaper’s heart and soul.”

Dallas Morning News looking to unionize

The Dallas Morning News filed for a union election with the News Guild. If the paper wins, it would have the first newspaper union in Texas. 

Daily Texan D&I Board demands increased equity for BIPOC staffers

The Daily Texan’s Diversity and Inclusion board released a set of demands — “equitable, tangible steps” — to increase inclusivity at the University of Texas student newspaper. Among the demands were the permanent establishment of the board, regular analyses of internal and source demographics, and improved hiring practices. Texan Student Media director Gerald Johnson said in his response that should the board agree to meet, he would dedicate himself to creating a framework for the demands by Oct. 1. Read The Daily Texan managing staff’s response here.

More access, more applications

NPR received over 20 thousand applications for its fall internship program. Last year, under three thousand were submitted. Spokesperson Isabel Lara suggested the increase could be due to the fact that the internships are going remote this year. Will the new intern cohort reflect the applicant pool?

Arizona Republic wants its newsroom to reflect the state

Sixty-three journalists at the Arizona Republic — a majority of the newsroom — have signed onto demands asking newsroom leadership to improve coverage of marginalized communities and increase transparency around newsroom pay and diversity.

Wikipedia no longer allows Fox News citations

Wired does a deep dive on how Wikipedia banned FoxNews as a reliable source. The article argues the change may lend a model to other organizations who are struggling to figure out moderation (or, you know, might be doing it intentionally).

What’s happening at the LA Times?

It would be easy to say tensions at the L.A. Times are boiling over, but it would be more accurate to recognize the pot has been on the burner for several weeks and the house is on fire. LA Times journalists have repeatedly decided they’ve had enough, this time with one long-time reporter telling The Wrap: “This very much feels like a sink-or-swim moment for the paper.”

Tribune Publishing is closing several physical newsrooms

Tribune Publishing, which owns The Baltimore Sun, the Capital Gazette, and Westminster, home of the Carroll County Times, said its smaller newsrooms outside of Baltimore would close their physical locations permanently. 

Wudan Yan’s advice for freelance writers

In an interview with Britany Robinson, journalist and podcaster Wudan Yan shared some of her tips for succeeding in the industry and overcoming imposter syndrome. “Confidence impacts who we want to pitch, what we think our work is worth, whether or not we should negotiate a fee or a pretty exploitative contract, or push back on edits from an editor.”


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

How about a style guide? Trans Journalist Association | Diversity Style Guide | NAJA Reporting and Indigenous Terminology Guide | NABJ Style Guide | Disability Language Style Guide

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