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On 'living and breathing this'

We all have our blind spots. There are a lot of things that we don't even know we don't know. And I would hope that everyone is open to critiquing their own assumptions and biases, and working on them. And I think if we all do that together, and if newsrooms really make good on their DEI initiatives, we're going to be in a much better place in five to 10 years.’

That's Waliya Lari of Raleigh, director of programs and partnerships for the Asian American Journalists Association. She came to North Carolina in 2013 and spent four and a half years as a news executive producer for WRAL after working years in journalism in Texas, her home state, and in Oklahoma. She joined the AAJA staff this year. 

After the tragedy in Atlanta eight days ago, which raised many issues about bias in coverage of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, I got to chat with Lari. She talked about the challenges that face AAPI journalists, and what AAPI communities need from the media. Some of her insights, edited for length:
On the experience of AAPI journalists:

AAJA had a mental health session already scheduled the night after Atlanta, and it was “about personal emotions — the shock, the anger, the sadness, the grief,” Lari said. “And then we had another session on Sunday, and it was more focused on, ‘I'm an Asian American in my newsroom; how do I get our managers to listen and to understand that I have a powerful perspective, that these are important stories,’ and the walls that they keep running into. And sometimes the self-doubt that you have is, ‘Is this story that I'm pitching something that is legitimately or objectively a good story, or is it because I'm in that community?'
"These things aren't going to go away ... so how can we stand up this type of support for journalists — that not only are they OK within themselves, because this work brings trauma ... but make sure they're empowered in their newsrooms, because this is your moment — the reason you're here is to represent your community, to bring stories and sources and details to light that the newsroom may not have without you. 
"But in many newsrooms the DEI aspect happens in the hiring. And once that hiring is done, it's like, ‘OK, here's how we do things in this newsroom. Conform to it, please.’ As opposed to evolving to reflect the changing demographics and the changing cultures of their community in general. I was thinking about the Raleigh-Durham market, and there is such a huge Asian community here, but you would never know it by walking into any of our newsrooms. And I think: What are they missing?"
About the flip side — whether AAPI journalists feel pigeonholed:

I think there's two issues there. One is that you don't want to be just the ethnic reporter. I was on a panel with somebody and they put it a really good way: She was a health reporter, she was also Muslim, and she was like: When I do a story on diabetes, I don't go find the diabetic in the newsroom and ask them, ‘Hey, can you tell me about diabetics, and diabetes?’ So why is it on me to do that for our newsroom?
“And then the other issue — we saw this in the last week — is this idea that you can't cover the story properly because ‘you're from the community, so you're biased. And so we're going to just put you to the side, even though you speak the language that we need.’ ... I have toddlers, and what they talk about in tantrum management is that when you're not in a tantrum, that's when you talk about how you manage feelings, right? I think the same thing has to happen in these discussions in newsrooms — when we're not covering the breaking news, when we're not in the middle of the crisis, what conversations are we having about our communities and how we're covering them?"
On what newsrooms can do this minute:

“Question the official narrative. I think that's been a huge issue in the last week. Yes, officials are saying one thing, but what of the people who are living and breathing this; what do they feel? OK, well it was about a sexual addiction — does that mean it can’t also be racist? … We're kind of trained to just accept the official narrative, but I think that you need to treat the stories of the people who are living the experience as also an official narrative... 
"And I think the other thing is to consciously ask yourself: Am I bringing assumptions to the table, into the writing, into the framing of my story? And one example that I won't forget was a shooting in California a couple of years ago. There was this list of attributes that were given to the suspect — oh, he visited Pakistan in the last few years, he made a pilgrimage to Mecca — and I said, ‘You know what? I've done all of those things. Are you implying that I'm a terrorist?’ 
“And I think another question is, who are we not hearing from? Let's take a step back; there are a lot of loud voices, but who are we not hearing from that's important, and how can we reach out for those perspectives and include them in the story?"
On what newsrooms can do in the longer term:

"This goes back to building trust between communities and newsrooms, which is being really transparent on how you tell stories and transparent on how community members can contact you, so you're listening. There's this heightened awareness suddenly of Asian American communities, and that shouldn't go away in the next two weeks. How do you continue listening to that part of the community that maybe you've neglected?
"If you don't have someone in your newsroom who is bringing (the daily AAPI experience) up to you, maybe there's someone in the community that you can connect with. Community brownbag lunches would be great. You can hold virtual community town halls. It doesn't take very much — just making sure that you're leaving the walls of your newsroom, just to survey and listen and hear what's going on, when it's not an emergency."
On what AAPI journalists can do now:

"Depending on where you work, many people tend to be the only Asian journalist, either in that newsroom or in that meeting. And it's that idea of having to convince a roomful of people that what you're saying is valid. And that's hard. And it's the small things, right? It's the words. One day out of frustration I wrote this blog post that I think RTDNA posted that was about how the words that we use matter, and I made a list — I had Man A and Man B, and I listed a bunch of characteristics. One of them was my husband, and one of them was a recent suspect in a mass shooting who was labeled an extremist. And I said, 'Please tell me which one is the extremist and which one is my husband.' And it was difficult.
"The point is that there's so many loaded terms, that if you're not from that community you take for granted. And to convince your co-workers to stop using that terminology, even though everyone else is using it, is very difficult… But you just have to fight, little by little, and chip away, and I like to think that every time I've spoken up I've made a dent in someone's thinking that can stick with them, and then they can take that along to their other spheres of influence and have this ripple effect … And I think we're on our way. It’s just, keep chugging forward and not burn out."
Resources, tips, ways to get involved

◼️  How to support the AAPI community in a time of hate and violence: A Resource List. A great information portal, put together by independent journalist Sarah Belle Lin.

◼️  AAJA Encourages Newsrooms to Empower AAPI Journalists and Their Expertise. A call to action from the AAJA Broadcast Advisory Council.

◼️ In case you missed it, here's the AAJA guidance to newsrooms after the Atlanta tragedy.

◼️ The AAJA Studio can help you diversify your sources with AAPI researchers and thought leaders.

◼️  You can join AAJA as a student, professional or ally ... You can donate to (or apply for) the AAPI Journalists Therapy Relief Fund ... AAJA is offering financial help for students doing summer internships; apply by April 22.

◼️  Support other AAPI organizations, such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice and Stop AAPI Hate.

◼️  Nicole Cardoza’s Anti-Racism Daily newsletter [subscribe] is always timely and topical, and she shares her space with diverse voices, many of them AAPI. Her call to support local journalism Monday was, as usual, one we can endorse. … Videos on her Instagram channel are always an enlightening place to spend a half-hour. 
On understanding the issues

Some illuminating reads I've found in the past week:

➡️ “(Dehumanization of Asian American women that reduces them to sexual objects) coupled with the pervasiveness of the ‘model minority myth,’ which seeks to drive a wedge between minority groups and treats the Asian American experience as an exceptional and homogenous one, renders the pain and violence that Asian American women endure invisible.” The Atlanta shootings can’t be divorced from racism and misogyny. Li Zhou, Vox.

➡️ “We’ve seen these Asian Americans work very, very hard, diligently. They’ve trusted American systems and believed in the order set forth for them to succeed. And then, you see their lives cut short.” A quote from To be Asian and Atlantan right now, by Simi Shah, URL Media.

➡️ “The media can tell us that the women who were murdered were Asian, and that they worked in massage parlors. White supremacy, classism, and patriarchy tell us to interpret those facts to mean that they were sex workers—and that sex work somehow plays a role in their deaths. The assumption speaks to the ways we fail to see women—especially working class women of color—beyond the roles, tropes, and stereotypes to which we've relegated them, whether China Doll or Mammy.” Ending white supremacist violence will take all of us. Cierra Hinton, Scalawag's executive director-publisher.
On best practices for media

➡️ “Are we quoting the police because we think that protects us? Are we getting as many sides of the story as we can even as the story evolves? … Journalists have the power to shape public perception, so it’s our job to dig deeper into the suspect’s motives, to let our audience know more about the victims and their lives, to talk to other people who were affected — including witnesses and victims’ families.” The rush to report on Atlanta-area shootings amplified bias in news coverage. Doris Truong, Poynter.

➡️ “The work of AAPI women journalists — spanning decades and even centuries — has continuously centered AAPI communities’ experiences, perspectives and information needs. They have pushed the entire journalism industry forward by demonstrating how to center and serve those who have been historically excluded by the media.” Why we’re urging funders to support AAPI women’s leadership in journalism now. Lea Trusty, program associate at Democracy Fund, for the Engaged Journalism Lab.

➡️ “If you want meaningful engagement, connections and nuanced storytelling, let journalists with lived experiences lead on all levels in the newsroom.” 5 Things I Learned as an AAPI Engagement Editor Covering Anti-Asian Hate. Kristine Villanueva, Nieman Reports.

A boon for the Border Belt

Look for more deep reporting soon in four southeastern counties, on the big challenges faced by rural communities — education, poverty, physical and mental health, drug addiction and other issues that affect children, race and the economy — and on possible solutions. 

The Border Belt Reporting Center will use a three-year, $495,000 grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust to create the free, online, nonprofit Border Belt Independent, which will launch around the first of May. Les High, editor and publisher of The News Reporter in Whiteville, is the founder and will serve as interim editor of the Independent until a permanent editor is hired. The publication primarily will serve the people of Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties, but its content will be distributed statewide.

Much of its work, High said in a news release, will be published in collaboration with the region’s five newspapers — The News Reporter, Bladen Journal, Tabor-Loris Tribune, The Robesonian and The Laurinburg Exchange — as well as at, in newsletters and on social media. “Reporters at small newspapers typically don’t have time to pursue investigative stories,” he said. “We’ll help provide that capacity.”

The Independent will have full-time and part-time reporters and will also use freelance journalists. It hopes to work with university journalism programs, like the classes at UNC-Pembroke, to provide internships and work-study opportunities. 

High said he hoped the Independent would be a model for rural areas. “It’s critical that communities have access to trusted, fact-checked journalism," he said in the release. "We’ve seen the conspiracy theories and rhetoric that fill the vacuum when a community loses its newspaper. ... We believe this model will provide some of the glue to give people in rural North Carolina the trusted information they deserve.”

The North Carolina Local News Lab Fund, which provides core funding for the NC Local News Workshop, home of this newsletter, provided a $10,000 grant for a feasibility study and operating capital for the center. 

The Reynolds trust’s grant will be supplemented by other contributions when the center gets its 501(c)(3) status, the news release says. The trust, based in Winston-Salem, works to improve the lives of low-wealth North Carolinians. 

Diana Matthews has more on the Border Belt Reporting Center in this excellent report in The News Reporter.

    ➵ (Les High's tips on sustainability and collaboration from the NC Local News Summit are in my Jan. 20 newsletter.)
Also in the news...

🗞️ Ten news outlets based in North Carolina are among the 260 nonprofit newsrooms that raised a record $47 million in individual donations in the 2020 NewsMatch campaign. The five-year-old initiative helps Institute for Nonprofit News members raise money by leveraging matching gifts from funders, philanthropists and businesses. The North Carolina outlets: AVL Watchdog, Carolina Public Press, Enlace Latino NC, Foundation for Financial Journalism, North Carolina Health News, Scalawag, Southerly, The Local Reporter, The War Horse and WFAE.

🗞️ My friend and EdNC colleague Nation Hahn will do another tour as one of six news media leaders selected as coaches in this year’s Major Market cohort of the Table Stakes Local News Transformation Program. He's coaching the Salt Lake Tribune, which became a nonprofit in 2019, and the Bangor Daily News in Maine.

🗞️ The Slack workspace for OpenNews' DEI Coalition For Anti-Racist, Equitable, And Just Newsrooms is open. Learn how to apply to join the coalition here.

From the Workshop

The NC Local News Workshop wants to help those covering the release in the coming months, now expected in September, of the 2020 U.S. Census data — including data that will be used for electoral redistricting. If you’re looking for training, resources, specific help, or partners, email interim executive director Melanie Sill.

    ➵ Laura Leslie at WRAL reported on how the delay in Census data could mean local elections are pushed back until next year.
    ➵ Here's a Politico national overview of the delay and how it will affect redistricting.

Well done

👏 "(Six) years and counting after President Barack Obama signed the Death in Custody Reporting Act into law, the federal government has failed to publish any of its findings or the data it has collected from law enforcement agencies in U.S. states and territories. And in North Carolina specifically, the administration of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has refused to release its own state-level data..."

The author of the act itself calls that “absurd.” A deep report produced for Sunshine Week 2021: In NC, transparency on deaths in custody remains elusive, inconsistent. By the NC Watchdog Reporting Network.

👏 “So many people in our community have left their faith altogether because of things like this statement from the Vatican. It sets up this struggle of loving one’s faith community while being told ... that they are unworthy, or unlovable or unholy. That type of tear is at the fabric of one’s soul. I see the devastation it causes.” 

That's one of many powerful quotes in Martha Quillin's report, Vatican statement on same-sex marriage revives faith dilemma for LGBTQ Catholics in NC, for The News & Observer/Herald-Sun.

For your consideration...

➡️ "(For) local news to have a future, it has to be built for people when they truly need information before it is built for people when they are just curious." (In other words, work as if every day is an essential-information emergency.) Build for a crisis: ideas for the future of local news, a white paper by Sarah Alvarez, founder of Outlier Media in Detroit.

➡️ The "vitriol of (D.C. Circuit Court Judge Lawrence) Silberman’s anti-press rhetoric and his use of the forum as an opportunity for an extended rant about media bias unrelated to the case at hand was extraordinary."  Opinion: Trump’s attacks on the press were bad. What this federal judge did was worse. Ruth Marcus, The Washington Post. 

Bulletin board

Job postings
📌 Digital content manager, Blue Ridge Public Radio.
📌 Operations coordinator, Blue Ridge Public Radio.
📌 News director, WCCB-TV, Charlotte.
📌 Reporter, Community Newspapers Inc., Franklin Region.

📌 The schedule is set for the 2021 Collaborative Journalism Summit, to be presented May 19-21 by the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. The NC Local News Lab Fund is sponsoring the second day of the event, and financial support is available for North Carolina people who want to attend; send an email for details. EdNC, where I am a part-time editor, is also a sponsor. 

📌 Press On and Migrant Roots Media are offering a Zoom workshop — Shifting Narratives for Liberation — Friday and Saturday, April 23-24. The mission is to help journalists and others in movement media "shift toxic narratives around white supremacy, racial justice, and (im)migration." Lewis Raven Wallace, Tina Vásquez, Roxana Bendezú and Ko Bragg are facilitators. [Learn more and register.] 

📌 Targeted fellowships are available for IRE21, paying for the conference and IRE membership/renewal. Find out whether you're eligible and apply by April 19.

📌 You may remember my conversation Feb. 10 with Deborah Dwyer, a Ph.D candidate at UNC-Chapel Hill who has been studying the ethics and practicalities of "unpublishing” as a residential fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. She'll moderate a webinar April 9 at 11:30 am ET as news leaders from The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Chattanooga Times Free Press and discuss how their newsrooms handle requests to remove, de-index or alter crime reports. The webinar is hosted by RJI and the News Leaders Association. [Sign up.]
That's all for now. Thanks for being here, and I'll see you next week. Take care. 

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