RIT Panel Discussion Focuses on Why Media Representation Matters
Covering the news has never been so exhausting. Not just physically, but mentally as well.
That was just some of the discussion from Rochester area journalists, scholars and photographers during the Reporting While Black webinar October 1st. It was presented by the Journalism Program in the College of Liberal Arts and the Division of Diversity and Inclusion at RIT. The panel included: Karen Edwards, Spectrum News Evening Anchor, Sheila Rayam, Democrat and Chronicle, Community Engagement Editor, April Franklin, WXXI News Host and Reporter, Dr. Katrina Overby, Post-Doctoral Researcher/Adjunct Faculty, RIT, Tyler Brown, 13 WHAM News Reporter, and Joshua Rashaad McFadden, Assistant Professor of Photography, RIT. Moderator, Jonathan Ntheketha, Multicultural Center for Academic Success (MCAS) served as moderator.
The idea was the brainchild of Hinda Mandell, director of the Journalism Program in RIT’s School of Communication. Planning began months ago after the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed.
She said, “Having read about the Black Lives Matter marches nationally since May, and having attended BLM marches and events in the Rochester area, I wanted to know - to learn from the experiences of journalists and reporters and photographers who are Black - what has it been like for them to work in their field especially at a time when there is a crescendo for racial justice?”
She reached out to the Division of Diversity and Inclusion and worked with Stephanie Paredes, assistant director of Multicultural Programs in finalizing the event by contacting local journalists and RIT faculty to take part.
During the webinar, Mandell pointed out the importance of having a diverse newsroom. She shared statistics from a 2018 study that showed 7.19% of newsroom staffs are Black and only a fifth of that 7.19% held leadership positions.
What does it mean to report while Black?
McFadden has been covering the movement and protests through his photographic lens since 2013 and the most recent protests and marches nationally since May for national publications.
He said, “Showing up Black anywhere, not just while reporting, is something we think about in every facet of our lives.”
Brown said, “It is empowering to me. Stories like Black Lives Matter, carries a different weight because we live it. We bring a different emotion to our storytelling. It is not just a story, it is our lives.”
All agreed it can be emotionally draining balancing journalistic responsibilities and educating others while covering stories that impact people that look like themselves.
Rayam said, “We are all professionals, taught not to be biased in our reporting. Right now, I’ve never felt the weight before so strongly. Families, the public, some people assume I will write with a Black slant whatever that is. I also find I am also now a teacher to my colleagues. I am wearing a lot of hats I normally don’t wear.”
Overby, whose research interests include Black Twitter talked about its importance in amplifying voices. She said, “Black people are not monolithic. Black Twitter is an online neighborhood, with issues important to the African American community. It a place for people to cope.”
Edwards and Brown shared the importance of how diversity can help shape the kinds of stories that are covered. Edwards added, “Just being in the room makes a huge difference.”
The webinar was open to the public with 119 people joining the discussion.