Blog

Centering Equity in Journalism during the 2020 Election — and Beyond

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December 16, 2020

2020 was a marathon for journalists preparing for an election that seemed very likely to go off the rails. They did it while also facing unprecedented issues of safety, security, and stability in a global pandemic, a census year, and becoming increased targets for police violence. Journalists of color, Black journalists in particular, tackled all of the above while continuing to navigate systemic racism and leading a reckoning over racial justice in the industry.

In the lead-up to November and throughout election week, many of us were tuned into cable networks and refreshing news feeds around the clock, but national election coverage — predictably — failed us in many ways. As in past years, it often dealt in generalizations and erased identities. In one notable high-profile failure, CNN labeled Native Americans and presumably other unidentified voters as “something else,” rather than naming their demographics. Communities of color were also overwhelmingly targeted by misinformation.

But reporters and newsrooms around the country rose to the challenge of engaging communities, holding candidates accountable, and centering equity. If you’re a regular EJ Lab reader, it will come as no surprise that the best place to look for examples of equity-first election coverage is from newsrooms by and serving people of color. Here’s a snapshot of what these newsrooms did:

The accomplishments above didn’t just happen by chance. They are the result of long-term commitment and relationship building between journalists of color and their communities, and they were fueled by funders who understood the urgency of 2020 and worked together to coordinate and drive resources to support capacity building, staffing, and targeted projects focused on serving communities. As we turn the corner into 2021, the urgency is still with us, and the need for more coordination, more resources and more commitment to journalists of color continues.

As we turn the corner into 2021, the urgency is still with us, and the need for more coordination, more resources and more commitment to journalists of color continues.

We have seen what we can do when we work together to drive support to these newsrooms — and it’s time to keep building momentum. Here’s what funders can do to support engaged, equitable reporting in 2021:

  • Give more. Join the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund to deliver resources directly to newsrooms led by and serving communities of color. Many of the newsrooms mentioned above are grantees of the Fund.

For our part, the Engaged Journalism team at Democracy Fund will be identifying clear action steps to shift our internal structures and practices to put equity first in our grantmaking. Stay tuned for updates on how this goes in 2021.

Published with research support from Public Square Intern Areeba Shah.