Journalists of Color Sought to Cover Criminal-Justice System

A new wave of media groups have told the National Association of Black Journalists that they are committed to diversity in their coverage and in their staffs.

Generic image
Generic image Thinkstock

The new Internet startup on criminal justice issues to be edited by Bill Keller, former executive editor of the New York Times, will have a diverse staff because the subject matter demands it, Keller told Journal-isms in a message Monday. He spoke as journalism Internet startups are under fire for lack of diversity.

Keller was responding to an inquiry from Journal-isms. The Marshall Project, formed late last year by Neil Barsky, a journalist turned Wall Street money manager, was among four startups named by the National Association of Black Journalists in an open letter Friday in which NABJ said it “would like to meet with your organizations, both individually and perhaps at a summit, to discuss how we can help each other.”

Keller messaged Monday, “Neil Barsky and I agreed from our first conversation that The Marshall Product would recruit a diverse staff. The criminal justice system, which will be the focus of our reporting, touches people of color disproportionately, as is distressingly evident from the population of our overstuffed prisons, the profiles of the victims, and the impact on families and communities.

“There is clear journalistic advantage in building a staff that understands, and can get, that story. It’s early days (we’re still raising money and just beginning the hunt for talent) but NABJ is right to serve notice early on, to us and other startups, that diversity is a valuable asset. We have begun our own outreach, but I invite NABJ — and your readers — to suggest candidates for The Marshall Project, particularly journalists who have proven investigative and writing skills. It’s”

This columnist received the message while waiting in NPR’s Washington headquarters to appear on “Tell Me More,” the Michel Martin-hosted magazine program that was about to discuss the startup diversity issue with additional guests Laura Martinez, senior editor of CNET en Español, and Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism [audio].

Reading part of Keller’s message, this columnist said of the editor, “He’s one of the old school people, and he’s much more forceful on this issue than the new people.” The columnist said earlier in the conversation, “One thing that is a little troubling is that these are young people starting these startups without very much diversity. And we’ve been at this for quite a while. And for this to be 2014 and still having . . . this problem with the younger people is, as I said, is kind of troubling.”

The other sites named by NABJ were Vox Media, First Look Media and FiveThirtyEight, which have all declared their commitment to diversity.

Keller is 65, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight is 36, Ezra Klein of Vox Media is 29 and Pierre Omidyar, the eBay founder behind First Look Media, is 46.

Later in the conversation, Martin said, “Shani Hilton, who is African American, she’s the deputy editor-in-chief at BuzzFeed, wrote a very kind of complete picture piece about this, and she said that part of the issue is that people of color are not networking with the right men who are tapped to run these companies because they’re focused [on] working hard rather than rubbing elbows. . . .”

This columnist replied, “There’s another piece of this and that is that you don’t have to work hard so much to be integrated with the established, quote-unquote, white dudes. There’s a strong strain of thought among particularly journalists of color that we should be starting our own and doing this data-driven journalism, this investigative journalism on our own African American sites. But the African American sites we have are basically committed to celebrity gossip, opinion and not really investigative reporting . . . .”