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Saturday, May 30, 2020

Opinion | Black Journalists Are Exhausted - The New York Times

A protest rally on Tuesday in Minneapolis after George Floyd died in police custody.

"But we keep on keeping on.

Ms. Peck is a journalist.

Two weeks ago, when I first pitched this essay about the unique stressors that many black journalists experience while covering the coronavirus pandemic, I pointed to the glaring racial disparities in deaths, the over-policing of black New Yorkers and Chicagoans, and the killings of Breonna Taylor, Douglas C. Lewis and Ahmaud Arbery.

But since then, the list has grown longer with each passing day, sometimes by the hour. It’s hard to keep up.

Kaleemah Rozier, a 22-year-old, was wrestled down by six New York police officers in front of her 5-year-old son in a subway station and arrested for not properly wearing a mask. Two white men told Chris Brown, 51, that he should leave Vermont because they didn’t want “any of [his] kind” there.

Skhylur Davis, 11, was assaulted by a white woman who falsely accused her of stealing her mail. Christian Cooper, 57, was reported to the police by Amy Cooper (no relation), a white woman who falsely claimed that “an African-American man” was threatening her. Gaynor Hall, 37, a television reporter in Chicago, was grabbed and sexually harassed by a white man as she was live on the air. And George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man in Minneapolis, died after a white police officer pushed his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck for eight minutes.

Two weeks.

All the while, the racial disparity among coronavirus cases reportedly deepened in several states, including Maine, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, as an eviction crises looms in black neighborhoods in Baltimore and Philadelphia. And the obstacle course black business owners have to navigate to get federal aid — compounded with climbing unemployment rates — foreshadows an economic depression in black communities.

As we’ve heard again and again, these are extraordinary times. However, it’s an especially peculiar time to be a black journalist. The pandemic has laid bare many of the same racial inequities that generations of black journalists have been covering since 1827 when the Freedom’s Journal birthed the black press. While this pandemic is unique, the waves of trauma crashing down on my community are not.

That’s why earlier last month I launched a newsletter focused on the disease and pandemic as they relate to black people worldwide. I’ve spent countless hours researching, consuming and curating news. Covering these familiar incidents of black suffering during such a time is uncanny.

I feel caught between two separate realities that are simultaneously separating and folding in on themselves. The old normal and the new normal; our society has changed drastically, while also not changing at all. I am pulled taut, straddling a time when the black community could safely gather to celebrate, praise, commiserate, mourn, protest and uplift, or simply even just be, and I am pressed thin, experiencing déjà vu as time repeats itself like a broken record.

Almost a decade has passed since the murder of Trayvon Martin, launching a wave of reporting on police and vigilante killings and never-ending hashtags that I helped to cover first as a graduate student in journalism and later as a reporter.

I photographed and filmed the marches and protests. I called police stations for reports. I read the statements released by families and attorneys and watched news conferences. I considered the photographs of faces that looked like my mother and father and sisters and cousins and uncles and aunts and friends and Brooklyn neighbors. I watched videos of black people screaming about losing their breath, pleading for mercy or sometimes just silence before a stream of “pop, pop, pop.”

An Essential, Not Expendable demonstration during the coronavirus pandemic in April in Washington, D.C.Credit...Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

This is a strange, maddening loop, out of which a new paradox has emerged: The pandemic and its subsequent crises have demonstrated the essential work of black journalists who cover racial inequities, while the crises have further eroded an already fractured media landscape rife with longstanding racial disparities.

The diversity reports that a few historically white publications release each year show that black writers, data journalists, editors, designers, illustrators, photographers, and audience and social media strategists are wildly outnumbered by their white peers. So we often become the go-to person when our colleagues need “sensitivity checks,” an invisible labor that typically goes unpaid, even though outside consultants charge exorbitant fees for it.

We are celebrated for our contributions during heritage months and given leadership positions in employee resource groups. But we are still glaringly underrepresented in management roles. All of this in a workplace where microaggressions, biases and discrimination occur as often in conference rooms, in Slack groups and even during happy hours as on sidewalks patrolled by police officers and in hospitals where black patients exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms are sent home.

These are some of the reasons I left staff writing jobs to freelance. On top of the anxiety and exhaustion of freelancing in a shrinking industry, for those of us who focus on black communities, every pitch is a precarious shooting of one’s shot if the gatekeeper is a white editor unfamiliar with your work. We wonder if rejections are about the story idea or the fact that it focused on a black person or issue specific to black people. Or both?

You may ask, “What about black publications?” So many of the inspiring magazines that I grew up with — Jet, Ebony, Vibe, Emerge — have either drastically downsized, been overhauled by new owners or simply folded. The ones that remain — including Essence, Black Enterprise and the newer outlets like Zora, The Root and Blavity — have produced stellar stories about the coronavirus pandemic that fill gaps their competitors overlook. But even so, I know that nonstop reporting of black suffering can still take a toll on one’s mental and emotional health.

To anchor myself during this pandemic (and while writing this essay), I speak to fellow journalists on similar beats. I also take breaks. Despite wanting to publish my newsletter on a regular basis out of fear of losing subscribers or being considered uncommitted, I recently took a weeklong hiatus: Caring for myself would only strengthen my work and passion for the long term.

The work must continue, but at a humane pace backed by institutional and industry support. Investment in black journalists is critical, not only through equitable compensation for our contributions, but also in addressing burnout, layoffs and mental wellness, particularly among those of us who keep on keeping on."

Opinion | Black Journalists Are Exhausted - The New York Times

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