For years, many outlets in the mainstream media have been in free fall. We’ve seen newsrooms consolidate departments and functions, shed positions and cease operations. This trend has continued through 2022, as CNN recently announced layoffs impacting 400 of its 4,400 workforce.
Gannett, which owns hundreds of local papers in communities across the country, recently announced its third round of layoffs. NPR also reported cuts. And the Washington Post advised that it is ending its Sunday magazine. Those recent announcements follow the closure of the Black News Channel and reductions at BuzzFeed News in 2021, and years of media layoffs.
While the Black News Channel has been revived, in many ways, the media is contracting. And we are all weaker because of it. Newsroom layoffs will certainly impact journalists, but they’ll also impact the broader public, which relies on strong media to ensure awareness, accountability and action on some of the most pressing issues of our times. Persons living in poverty and persons belonging to marginalized groups are especially vulnerable.
At a time of rising authoritarianism, our nation is in desperate need of well-funded, well-staffed and diverse newsrooms. As Race Forward’s Executive Vice President Eric Ward said, “with the contraction of the media and the rise of new technology, social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or TikTok, have increasingly become the place where people get their news. People are no longer finding out what’s happening from the work of trained journalists – who understand the ethics of news – but from their neighbor or cousin or a stranger on the internet. At a time when democracy is under attack, the credibility of information is critically important.”
Media layoffs come at a bad time.
It isn’t lost on me that recent newsroom cuts come at a time of changing dynamics at social media companies. For instance, Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, company layoffs there and changes to the platform have spurred concern. Members of marginalized communities have long relied on the platform to expose injustice and ensure accountability. It becomes harder to elevate injustice with speed with muted social media platforms or platforms with significantly reduced staff.
Moreover, while online abuse, particularly targeting women and women of color, has always been a problem since Musk took over Twitter, the use of the “N” word and other racist language allegedly spiked, according to multiple media sources, including Business Insider. We know who will most feel the pain of online abuse, and it is likely Black women and other women of color.
You may be wondering where we go from here. And it’s simple. Advocating for a strong, robust media must be part and parcel of individual and organizational racial equity work, particularly for entities and persons who favor a multi-racial democracy.
We must also appreciate and address the impact of cuts on Black journalists. When media outlets cut staff, Black staff, and Black communities, can be disproportionately impacted. There are fewer of us in journalism, to begin with, and we are often among the first to be let go. What’s more, when Black people are not behind and in front of the camera, media coverage can reflect bias, lack of nuance and context. When Black staff are let go from newsrooms, advocacy organizations also struggle to find receptive audiences to report on issues impacting our communities. And our communities lose trusted voices to bring accurate information.
For these reasons, we cannot advocate for any racial and social justice issue without simultaneously fighting for a strong media with Black representation. We must bundle media advocacy with our broader racial and social justice work.
Additionally, advocacy organizations must get better about supporting Black, Indigenous, and Latino-owned media outlets. We must also support LGBTQIA, and progressive media outlets, understanding that these outlets tend to be more advocacy-oriented and have fewer resources than some of the larger legacy institutions. Because these entities spring from the community, they may also report on our issues with greater care.
Jennifer R. Farmer is a writer, trainer and activist communicator. She is the author of “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide” and “First and Only: What Black Women Say About Thriving at Work and in Life.” Follow her on IG using @jenniferrfarmer.
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