Since 2007, the U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s Investigative Reporting Program has hosted a “by invitation only” symposium each spring in honor of the Reva and David Logan Foundation, which endowed the program. The only symposium of its kind in the country, it routinely brings together a veritable “who’s who” of top journalists, law enforcement and government officials to address the critical issues confronting this specialized field. NIOT Founder Patrice O’Neill attended this year’s conference and wrote about the “Race & Hate” panel, which featured journalists around the country covering the issue.
|Journalists Ken Schwenke, Tracy Jarrett, Valeria Fernandez and Vann Newkirk at the 2018 Logan Symposium. Lauren Pabst of the MacArthur Foundation moderated the panel.|
The number of hate crimes in the United States — incidents motivated by a bias against Jews, Muslims and LGBT people, among others — rose for a second consecutive year in 2017, according to a November report by the FBI. The Washington Post notes that besides the uptick in bias-fueled incidents, many cities have also “struggled with how to handle white-supremacist groups seeking to hold rallies, and gay rights activists have decried what they describe as the Trump administration’s ‘all out assault on LGBTQ people, women, and other minority communities.’”
In a 90-minute session featuring incisive commentary on racism and an examination of how the coverage of hate has evolved in the past few years, journalists from The Atlantic, ProPublica, Vice News, and a freelance journalist covering the immigrant community discussed their breakthrough efforts to examine race and hate in a year in which these issues have gained wider attention and concern.
Vann Newkirk, a former health policy advisor for the Kaiser Family Foundation who now covers the racism beat for Atlantic Magazine, says he became a journalist in the process of covering events in Ferguson, MO. At the Atlantic, he says he approaches his reporting with a civil rights and justice framework after reexamining the 1968 Kerner Commission report on race, which was released after the civil unrest of the ‘60s. In addition to pointing out the harsh realities of racism, poverty and injustice in our cities, some of the sharpest criticisms in that report were aimed at the media of the time. Report authors wrote that “the press has too long basked in a white world looking out of it, if at all, with white men's eyes and white perspective."
In the 50 years since the Kerner Commission criticized a lack of diversity in newsrooms, not much has changed. Nationwide, minorities make up about 40% of America’s population. But the 2017 ASNE (American Society of News Editors) diversity survey found that minorities comprise only about 17% of newsroom staffs. “Assumptions about people of color are baked into the system,” Newkirk said. “Dehumanization does not occur in one story.” When asked how to address diversity in journalism, Newkirk responded with his own question, “Why do people go into a field they believe to be hostile to them?”
“We are comfortable talking about race as long as nothing changes.”
— Vann Newkirk
Fellow panelist and VICE news producer Tracy Jarrett shared a clip from the 22-minute film she produced that followed a group of white supremacists during the Charlotteville marches and rallies last August. She described meeting her subjects as they started filming, ”I wanted to see how they were going to react when they saw me, a brown woman who would be following them. We shook hands, and it was clear, this is just business.”
The film, Charlottesville: Race and Terror, which recently won a Pulitzer Prize, aired on HBO just days after the killing of Heather Heyer, the torchlight marches, and violent clashes in the streets of a university town grappling with the legacy of slavery and the Confederacy.
In the film, a young reporter is seen getting in the van with a group of white nationalists as they leave Charlottesville after the rally. She says there was an agreement between her, the director of photography and reporter Elle Reeve that if any of them felt unsafe, they would walk away. Before they got in the van, they called their news team to tell them where they were going. Jarrett showed a clip from the hotel room of a white supremacist as he pulled out 5 weapons and threw them on the bed. They hadn’t known he was armed.
Jarrett said other journalists queried how her team was able to get access to the white supremacists in the film. She said it was simple. “We asked.”
Valeria Fernandez, a bilingual independent journalist and recent winner of the American Mosaic Journalism Prize, has covered the immigrant community in the U.S. for 15 years. Fernandez spoke about the threats she often receives as she covers stories in Arizona about immigration. She showed a clip from her profile of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Fernandez, who is from Uruguay, has worked primarily for public radio and Univision, spoke about the vital role that ethnic media plays in highlighting the perspectives of minority community members, whose voices are often overlooked in mainstream media. Fernandez often engages community members in the process, and spoke about the power of getting “young people to ask their own questions,” like the gun control forums after the mass killing in Parkland, Florida.
Ken Schwenke leads the Documenting Hate Project at ProPublica which was launched in the aftermath of the 2016 election as reports of hate and bias incidents were climbing. After realizing that there is no reliable data for hate crimes in the U.S., ProPublica initiated the project. They are collecting and verifying reports and building a database of tips for journalists, researchers and civil-rights organizations. Schwenke spoke about the challenges of getting people to report hate crimes.
This hate crimes reporting gap is a significant barrier for journalists trying to report on the problem of hate crimes. The number of crimes that are reported by local law enforcement to the FBI becomes the “official” count each year. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) gathers hate crime data through the National Crime Victimization Survey. In 2015, the last year with comparative data, the official number of hate crimes reported was 5,900. But the BJS estimates that about half of hate crimes are not reported to authorities each year.
ProPublica took on the massive task of enlisting journalists and local news outlets in an effort to capture stories and information about hate incidents in local communities.
“It matters that you have an outlet that people trust,“ Schwenke said. His experience with the crimes reported to Documenting Hate and journalism outlets provide an example. “Spanish speakers report incidents to Univision and anti-Semitic attacks are reported to ProPublica,” he said.
As the session closed, a Symposium participant asked the panel how journalists are doing at covering race, Newkirk said he thought things were improving. “We were at an F, and now I’d say we’re a C or C-. “
Not In Our Town supporter the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation funds the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, founded by Lowell Bergman. The Reva and David Logan Foundation is the primary sponsor of the annual event.