One year ago this month, Media 2070 launched with a 100-page essay calling for media reparations and documenting how the media system harms Black lives. Since then, the need for a just media economy has only grown more apparent.
Over the past month, we watched in horror the video of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback whipping reins at Haitian children and adults seeking asylum at the southern border. The violence was unspeakable, but major media were more enthralled with the sensational visuals than the humanity of Black migrants and the historical context of the U.S. occupation of Haiti.
We also recently watched wall-to-wall coverage of Gabby Petito’s disappearance. The late PBS journalist Gwen Ifill famously coined the term “missing white woman syndrome” to describe the phenomenon of media’s obsessive coverage of missing white women and girls — and newsrooms’ relative indifference to people of color who have gone missing. Indeed, outlets initially paid barely any attention to Miya Marcano and Jelani Day, who were missing at the same time as Petito.
But we have also witnessed the courage of journalists of color who were willing to challenge news institutions following the murder of George Floyd. This led to The Columbia Journalism Review, The Kansas City Star, PBS, and other major organizations issuing acknowledgments of their own failings.
Media 2070 began in October 2020 with a vision of a world we’ve never seen: one in which Black people have the power and capital necessary to control our own stories from ideation through creation, production and distribution. Such a future eradicates the myth of Black inferiority.
As part of this journey, we call for our nation to reckon with federal policies that have excluded the Black community from owning or having access to our nation’s media infrastructure.
Our nation’s defacto media-apartheid system goes back to the distribution of the earliest radio and television broadcasting licenses to whites, only starting in the late 1920s. As of 2019, Black people owned just 18 full-power TV stations — just 1 percent of the overall total — and 239 of the country’s 11,000 commercial radio stations as of 2017.
This isn’t by accident but by design.
Much can be done to right this wrong, and it starts with fully accounting for harm. That’s why Reps. Jamaal Bowman, Yvette Clarke and Brenda Lawrence authored a letter to the Federal Communications Commission — joined by 22 of their House colleagues — that called on the agency to conduct a full audit of the history of how the Commission’s policy decisions have harmed the Black community. More than 100 organizations and media advocates signed a companion version of that letter.
In response, FCC Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel commented, “I recognize we can’t build a better, more equitable future without a reckoning of how our past continues to influence our present and how too many communities continue to be overlooked and underserved.”
This year also saw over 40 news and media organizations sign our “Pledge to Care For Black Journalists and Communities.” Our mission is to build on the courage of staffers who spoke out at The Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and other organizations about unjust practices and conditions.
We draw inspiration from journalists like Elizabeth Montgomery, who publicly detailed her decision to resign from The Arizona Republic, owned by the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, Gannett. A 2020 NewsGuild study found that the median salary for women of color in Gannett newsrooms was $15,727 less than the median salary for white men.
Journalists Erin B. Logan of the Los Angeles Times and Alexis Johnson of VICE, who were both publicly lauded for their resistance in 2020, joined our February panel “Black Journalists Uprising” alongside Tauhid Chappell of Media 2070 and Peabody-winning podcaster Chenjerai Kumanyika. This panel was presented as part of a month-long Black Narrative Power series.
In May, we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre by holding a press briefing with local Black journalists from the city and publishing an essay on how the white daily press fueled the massacre and subsequently covered it up.
And throughout the year, we gathered activists, journalists, funders and community members to dream about what we’d leave behind and what we’d take with us on the way to a future ripe with media reparations.
As we close out the first year of Media 2070’s existence, we are committed to continuing the struggle for reckoning and repair to ensure that the words of our founding director Alicia Bell are one day realized:
“May there be no more journalism written with the blood of Black lives.”
To get involved with Media 2070 or read the original media reparations essay, visit mediareparations.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.