New York Mayor Eric Adams has had an eventful first couple of months on the job–the latest thing being announcing a “crackdown” on homelessness in a new “Subway Safety Plan” while reportedly cutting $615 million from homeless programs in a proposed budget.
When these things happen, journalists report on them, ask questions if they are able, and then send that information out to the people. Adversarial relationships with politicians and the newsroom is not a new concept. Even before our recent former President coined the phrase “fake news,’ others understood that a free press plays an integral part in a democracy.
Mayor Adams may have forgotten that if you do good things to benefit the people, they will be written about. However, in a press conference last week, Adams spoke about press diversity in a way that didn’t sit right with me.
The mayor threatened to stop fielding “off-topic” questions at his press conferences and also declared, “If you want to acknowledge or not, I have been doing a darn good job, and we just can’t live in this alternate reality.”
Fine. Every politician thinks they are doing the most fantastic job ever. But it’s his following comments on press diversity that have a sneaky undercurrent to them.
From New York Post:
“I’m a black man that’s the mayor but my story is being interpreted by people that don’t look like me.”
“How many blacks are on editorial boards? How many blacks determine how these stories are being written?” he said.
“How many Asians? How many East Asians? How many South Asians? Everyone talks about my government being diversified, what’s the diversification in the newsrooms?”
I agree with Mayor Adams that a more diversified press corps is needed–70% of journalists in the United States are white, and he spoke to a junket with no people of color attending. There is something to having a person who is of similar upbringing or experience interpreting your story. But, Adams’s observations are also disingenuous because in his thinking, more diverse press core=more favorable press for me.
It puts a lot of Black journalists who are already fighting for some equity at publications where they are vastly underrepresented in a bad spot. They are already going to workplaces facing the pressure of maybe being the only person of color–being Mayor Adams’s PR firm shouldn’t be another one. Or any Black politician and leader, for that matter.
Black History Month’s beauty shows that Black people’s brilliance comes in many shapes and forms. Black journalists should have the fluidity of elevating leaders when they need it and providing critical thought when they do something wrong. When Mayor Adams promoted the first Black female police commissioner, we wrote about that. And that “swagger” speech, we wrote about that too.
Right now, a Black writer is getting a pitch that pigeonholes them to one experience. Being “sunny and positive” shouldn’t be another hindrance–that’s where the real power in diversity lies.