An Anti-Racist Future: A Vision and Plan for the Transformation of Public Media

Racism is the idea that one racial group is inferior or superior to another, and has the social power to carry out and benefit from systemic discrimination. This applies to most, if not all, institutions in this country, including public media. Anti-Blackness and white supremacy shape both the institutional policies and practices of society and shape the cultural beliefs and values that support racist policies and practices.

THE WORK AHEAD

This effort is the result of more than 200 people in public media coming together to identify the primary obstacles to anti-racist public media and create a vision for transformation. Our vision for public media is the implementation of anti-racist procedures and policies, radical transparency, equity and not equality, and no more decisions based solely on instinct. It’s time for a new kind of journalism: anti-racist journalism. We hope to tear down public radio in order to build it back up. We don’t critique our industry because we hate it, but because we love it and hope it can live up to a higher standard of inclusivity that serves our diverse communities.

  1. Hiring, Promotions, and Pay Structures
  2. Training
  3. Transforming Coverage
  4. Accountability

Section 1: Amends

Vision and demand: We envision public media in the 21st century as a platform that centers the most marginalized, that serves the parts of the public that have been traditionally underserved by corporate media, and that presents a leading model for community engagement and anti-racist practices in journalism. As a prerequisite and an ongoing practice, public media must own its mistakes and apologize for the harm it has caused to individuals and communities of color. Public media organizations, as well as individuals in leadership and in newsrooms, must make amends for these harms.

  • Public media must apologize for racist coverage and for neglecting communities of color in programming, past, and present.
  • Public media must open its doors to communities of color that have experienced these harms and neglect to play an active role in shaping the future of public media, including shaping public apologies and suggesting specific and creative forms of reparations.
  • If any BIPOC employees have left the organization due to racism, sexism, mental health harms, or abuse on the job, leadership must document what happened, apologize publicly for the harm it caused, and hold individuals accountable for that harm. This includes removing white people who have created a hostile work environment for people of color, and the leaders who have been complicit in that hostile work environment.
  • In addition to apologies to individuals and communities, public media leaders should offer specific, concrete forms of reparations and accountability to the people harmed. These reparations could include offers of financial compensation, support for mental health costs for individuals, or in some cases opportunities to return to positions they have left or lost. The people harmed should be involved, if they choose, to drive this process forward.
  • Former BIPOC employees return to their jobs or positions whenever possible, or get to a place where they would be comfortable recommending that another person of color take their former positions.
  • Communities of color are able to make specific demands for reparations from past harm, and those demands are met.
  • Communities of color are at the center of conversations about transforming newsrooms going forward.

Section 2: Hiring, Promotions, and Pay Structure

Vision and demand: Every station in the U.S. should have a workforce, including leadership, that proportionately reflects the demography of the community in which it operates and serves; and provides leadership around diversity and representation for groups that are underrepresented in non-public media.

  • We suggest hiring an independent auditor to evaluate, adjust, and organize employee categorization and demographics, making the new organization structure accessible to all employees.
  • As part of the restructuring the auditor will perform a regression analysis to account for pay differentials and other variables that are often obfuscated by subjective assessment as opposed to policy procedure. Once they are identified, race and gender-based inequities in pay must be corrected immediately.
  • Organizations should also track numbers of applicants of color, and not proceed with job searches without a) an open search and due diligence and outreach, and b) a proportional percentage of qualified applicants of color. If you are not getting applications from qualified Black, Indigenous and people of color, your outreach isn’t done.
  • New organizational structures should allow for advancement without the requirement of becoming a manager, and prioritize transparent pathways to career advancement.
  • Organizations must not abuse intern and fellowship programs. Overuse of unpaid and temporary positions has contributed to the disempowerment of staff members and unfairly disadvantages people of color who often can’t afford to spend months working without pay. Managers should not be the only employees who enjoy job security at an organization.
  • Routine audits of compensation and employee advancement should show no racial or gender inequities in hiring or pay.
  • All employees should be able to clearly identify organizational structures and the opportunities to advance within these structures.
  • Organizations should set clear, time-stamped targets for BIPOC employee recruitment and retention. Make those targets part of hiring managers’ job responsibilities and evaluations. When those targets are not met, managers in charge of hiring must be held accountable.

Section 3: Equity and Accountability in Public Media Training and Professional Development Programs

Vision and demand: We envision the public media workplace to have competent, flexible, and accountable leadership with a commitment to justice and equity. Public media should be a workplace that equitably provides professional and personal growth. It also has leaders who hold the highest journalistic standards while having the tools to know how to treat employees with integrity and respect and lead anti-racist transformation.

  • All staff and management should receive routine and ongoing training around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) that is tied to the organization’s DEI goals. This training must not be a one-time event, but an ongoing and embedded part of the organizational culture that’s grounded in the specific needs of the local community.
  • Management must prioritize training as distinct, goal-oriented occasions for professional development in which staff are presented on-going opportunities to acquire new skills and strengthen or improve existing ones.
  • Employees who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color in particular should be encouraged and supported to pursue outside opportunities for professional development and community-building. For staff members in white-dominated newsrooms, these opportunities can be a very important part of job retention.
  • Professional development training should be conducted by peers, experts, consultants or organizations that demonstrate a commitment to, and take action in, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work.
  • In addition to training, managers should invite staff to regularly participate in manager meetings, hold regular all-staff meetings, and employee-management one-on-one meetings that encourage open and ongoing communication. Managers should also invite staff to join managers’ meetings periodically, and routinely hold listening sessions open to all staff and board members.
  • Managers should clarify and review accountability protocols with staff during on-boarding, and annually, to ensure comprehension of protocols for reporting misconduct, harassment, or abuse within the organization.
  • DEI training can be evaluated both subjectively in terms of how employees respond to it and through assessment of the specific organizational goals and outcomes identified through these trainings. Are the changes being discussed in trainings actually happening after the training is over? Three, six, and twelve-month follow-ups should reveal that the answer is “yes.”
  • Management should conduct quarterly anonymous staff surveys with results discussed with full staff and an annual summary released to the station’s membership. Questions in this survey should address the effectiveness of professional development opportunities, DEI training, and leadership in general.
  • Professional development opportunities should be routine, should appear in the organization’s yearly budget, and should be participated in and assessed by BIPOC employees with particular attention to their needs.

Section 4: Transforming Coverage

Vision and demand: Public radio newsrooms are places where reporters come from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences, this includes racial and ethnic identity, socioeconomic background; gender identity and sexual orientation. What’s more, sources should reflect the communities newsrooms serve in all their complexity; and news is produced to serve the entire community, not just one segment of the audience. The overarching objective of all coverage is to be fair, accurate and representative.

  • Create statements of belief for journalists and the public. (For example: “Climate change is real,” “Black Lives Matter”)
  • Create ongoing, requisite opportunities for staff to interrogate their own biases, surfacing them, examining them and challenging them.
  • Co-create systems to ensure journalists are giving a fair hearing to all peoples, including those they personally disagree with.
  • Rigorously pursue racial diversity in our audiences and in our sources
  • Public media should reach out to communities it has covered unfairly or neglected and ask what better coverage would look like. It’s not enough to say “Black Lives Matter” on air now; public media institutions also need to rebuild the broken trust with the folks who have been asking for that chance for a long time.
  • Newsrooms should track the diversity of sources and make the data and analysis public, with clear goals for better representing the demographics of the communities public media covers.
  • Create an ethics code that embraces anti-racism. Stations need to update diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion statements to be explicitly anti-racist.
  • Create and promote opportunities for people in the coverage area to raise concerns and know they will be taken seriously, about content, public profile and representation within the station.
  • Create and stick to accountability measures for everybody.
  • All employees should be made aware of processes for examining incidents of racism in the workplace and should face no negative repercussions for reporting.
  • Raise awareness of how traditional reporting has damaged and silenced communities of color. Create guidelines for pursuing coverage that is not exploitative or extractive.
  • Feedback from the communities we cover that we are getting it right (and them coming to us with more stories).
  • More community engagement across the spectrum, informing our coverage.
  • Increased membership, especially from people who had not been members before.

Section 5: Accountability

Vision and Demand: We envision public media in the 21st century that does not abandon “racial reckoning” in the murky swamps of 2020, but takes racial reckoning to its most transformative outcomes: Organizations led by and accountable to Black and Indigenous people and people of color; organizations engaged in deep and ongoing work to dismantle racism and resist white supremacy; organizations that are part of a media movement for reparations and media justice. As such, we demand ongoing efforts at transparency and accountability that allow the public to hold public media to its promise of serving the whole community.

  • Many stations and companies have outdated diversity statements that don’t honestly name and challenge racism. This needs to change. Stations need to update diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion statements to be explicitly anti-racist. This allows the people we work with and communities we work in to hold us accountable.
  • If leadership and management do not make amends for past harms and publicly transform to an anti-racist approach, accountability will eventually mean escalating complaints up the chain of command and removing individuals who are resistant to change. We don’t care where that accountability comes from — top down, bottom up, or from interested members of the public who want to return their public media outlets to the hands of the public.
  • Organizations must track newsroom coverage, demographic source data, and staff diversity, and publish these numbers with specific targets for improvement. When these targets aren’t met, newsroom leadership should face consequences including demotion or resignation.
  1. Creating content that speaks in diverse voices to diverse audiences
  2. Transparency and accountability.

Goli Sheikholeslami, President and CEO

On behalf of the New York Public Radio Executive Leadership Team

Statement of Support from the Public Media Journalists Association:

Dear Celeste Headlee and those who contributed to An Anti-Racist Future: A Vision and Plan for the Transformation of Public Media:

Statement of support from KUT & KUTX

Dear Celeste and Anti-Racist Future contributors,

Statement of support from WCSU-FM

We at WCSU-FM, the first federally licensed HBCU radio station, support this letter and its proposed vision and plan for an anti-racist future and transformation in public media.

Statement of Support from the Continuing Education Department at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies:

We at in the Continuing Education department at Center for Documentaries Studies at Duke University (www.cdscourses.org) cannot sign on to this letter with more gusto.

Statement of Support from Nashville Public Radio

I would like to add my name on behalf of Nashville Public Radio as a signatory to the document.

Statement of support from the Audio Journalism department at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York:

As an educator working to mentor and train the next generation of audio journalists, many of whom aspire to work in public media, I am grateful for the time and labor that went into this excellent letter and enthusiastically support its vision, recommendations and calls for action. My colleagues and I are committed to the work of anti-racist journalism education and are continually updating and improving our program content, methods and standards to reflect this commitment. This has often involved listening to and incorporating feedback and guidance from our students, especially our Black students, to whom we are accountable.

Statement of support from WNYU

WNYU is the independent student-run radio station at New York University. We broadcast weekdays 4pm-1am on 89.1FM to the tri-state area. Many of our current members will be entering the public media world within the next few years and it is extremely encouraging for us as students to see that there are people in our industry stepping up to have these discussions and hold institutions accountable.

Letter of support from journalism network Hostwriter.org

We at Hostwriter.org, a network that helps journalists easily collaborate across borders, read this manifesto with incredible enthusiasm. Although we are an international network and not an American one, we believe that many of the obstacles to equality and representation laid out here apply equally abroad, in newsrooms and media cultures that are disproportionately composed of the dominant members of society, and often come from an explicitly white, male and Western perspective.

Statement of support from Louisville Public Radio

We believe an anti-racist future is the only future for LPM and for public media. We recently released a public report showing our work, goals, commitments and progress on diversity, equity and inclusion: louisvillepublicmedia.org/equity.

Writer, journalist, anchor, reporter. All views are my own. celesteheadlee.com, https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062669001/we-need-to-talk/

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