Amidst the hypervisibility of racism, anti-black violence across America and the resultant protests, media outlets across the country have seen a rise in readership and activity as people become increasingly aware of their surroundings.
Media outlets have irresponsibly utilized their unique position to circulate context and personal experiences in addition to providing a basic factual analysis of an event; instead, they are debilitating the movement’s progress.
We do not only want to hear that there was a protest in a given place at a given time or that a given building was looted. We want to understand why all players acted as they did; we want to hear personal stories and experiences; we want to learn about the historical context that precipitated such societal upheaval.
Racism and racial bias infiltrate every aspect of American life — judicial, medical, political and economic systems, among others, are all disportionately unfair to black Americans. Rather than adequately addressing this embedded racism, however, the media is focused exclusively on covering the immediate news — the symptoms — of the movement rather than the disease that is racism.
Media outlets are publishing news on protests in abundance, but few explain their historical significance and efficacy. Even fewer detail the centuries of oppression experienced by people of color, specifically black people, in America. Reporting solely on the immediate news ignores the centuries of racism, injustice and oppression at root of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Perhaps most problematically, the media is wrongly politicizing the movement. Black Lives Matter is about civil rights and equality, not politics. Rather than focusing on covering issues in a politicized manner, which often “sells” or gets the most clicks, media outlets must consciously report on what will best support social justice movements or expose corruption, not pit the right against the left.
In theory, reputable news sources inform the population with whatever information is most important: if the media does not deem systemic racism significant enough to report on, then why would the general population find it significant enough to fight against?
For media outlets to cover the Black Lives Matter movement — and future social justice movements — comprehensively and in a way that exhorts the movement’s ideals, there must be significant changes to their approach.
There must be a shift to emphasize personal experiences, anecdotes and stories. Without them, the movement remains a dehumanized series of facts and actions, barren of motivations and ignorant of the systemic significance of most stories. If media outlets focused additionally on opinions and experiences, the “news cycle” wouldn’t consist of just the occurrence and passage of an “isolated” event, but rather the sentiments behind it, effectively preventing social justice coverage from falling out of style.
For example, just one day after George Floyd’s burial, the Black Lives Matter movement was relegated from the first page of every major media outlet; if media outlets had explained how Floyd’s murder exposed a much larger, racist system, these stories would have remained on front pages for much longer. The greater racist sytem is much larger than just the murder of several people.
While some of these issues are unique to national-level news organizations, the Lion’s Roar recognizes its culpability in falling into similar pitfalls. It is our responsibility to increase representation and accurately reflect the diversity of individuals and experiences in our community. We have not historically covered issues of race and systemic racism with the comprehensiveness they demand.
Though it’s problematic in and of itself that it took the loss of George Floyd, among countless other black lives, for the Roar to reevaluate its role and policies, we are beginning a conversation about how to best report on social justice movements within our school and community that will not end upon the arrival of a new staff or the transition of major media outlets away from covering the movement.
The Lion’s Roar has long had a disconnect between the diversity we advocate for and the diversity within our own staff and interviewees. We will strive to diversify our staff by ensuring that every student knows that the paper is open to them. We will in part accomplish this goal by presenting in freshman classes and/or at middle schools. We will routinely ask non-regular Roar writers to share their thoughts, with the guarantee that we will maintain their voice and arguments in personal articles, editing only for clarity, grammar and Associated Press style.
To best represent the community, we will reach beyond our collective comfort zone to cover all news pertinent to the student body. We currently have guidelines in place requiring gender, grade and racial diversity among interviewees for each article; however, we will more stringently enforce these requirements.
We will consciously address race in articles not directly about race to exhibit the intrinsic role that racism has in all American systems. We will examine the role of race and the experiences of racial minorities in our community. Similarly, we will cover the reasons for why incidents occur, not just the incidents themselves. For example, if we were to report on the armed arrest of Tim Duncan, we would not just focus on the facts of when and where he was arrested, but also the why, examining how systemic discrimination plays a role in the Newton Police Department.
We are developing additional writing opportunities for students who may want to share their experiences without going through the admittedly rigorous Roar process and collaborating with the South Human Rights Committee to create an archive of unedited student reflections.
Starting this issue, we will also tag specific articles under “Black Lives Matter.” These pieces will be unadulterated voices from our own community and will be featured on the home page of our website alongside our usual sections. This tag will not be temporary, but will be followed by the addition of several other tags representing other social justice movements. We will determine how to create a similar “tag” once we return to print.
We share these reflections and changes so that you hold us accountable in implementing these and future efforts that allow us to responsibly represent you. Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with any thoughts or advice on our evolving policies.
Though we are starting a conversation, we acknowledge that these changes will not solve our lack of representation and diversity overnight. This conversation will extend far past this editorial, as we work to fulfill our role as the school newspaper.