As we grieve the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police officers sworn to protect him; as we witness the disproportionate ravaging of communities of color in the coronavirus pandemic; as we watch the president escalate racial violence, we at Chalkbeat want to say that Black Lives Matter.
We also want to underscore our commitment to that truth by adding antiracism to the list of core values that guide our work and govern our team. As professor Ibram X. Kendi has written, it is not enough to be “not racist.” We must be antiracist. We must, in Chalkbeat’s case, make an implicit element of our mission and values explicit. Only by publicly and explicitly standing against racism can we achieve our mission of informing and engaging the communities least served by public education.
I know that some might view this statement as a departure from our journalistic values and may even trust Chalkbeat’s reporting less as a result. I need to state clearly that our commitment to telling the truth without consideration of ideology or advocacy has not changed.
We take this step because we believe and hope that we can in fact offer stronger, more honest coverage, and build more trust with our readers, by making our values transparent and clear. When we write about the public school system, we know it is founded on and imbued with the legacy of systems of racial oppression, as so many American institutions are. We know that schools must themselves embrace antiracism if they are to serve all children. We know the legacy press is another institution imbued with racism. As we recreate local news, we must dismantle the journalistic practices and traditions that uphold white supremacy, such as overwhelmingly white male ownership structures, disproportionately white newsrooms and newsroom leadership, and a tradition of objectivity that silences the voices and perspectives of the majority of Americans who are members of marginalized groups and eschews writing directly about uncomfortable truths. Only if journalists embrace antiracism can we fulfill our potential to serve Americans of all races and backgrounds with the news and information they need to participate in civic life.
This work starts at home. At Chalkbeat, we now have a newsroom that is more representative of the communities we serve, but not representative enough. (Our newsroom is 16% black, 13% Latinx, 13% Asian, and 58% white.) We will continue inviting more people of color to Chalkbeat. Meanwhile, like many organizations that grow the racial diversity of their teams, we still have work to do to make every person at Chalkbeat feel fully welcome. And while we have made improvements, we do not have racial diversity represented sufficiently in Chalkbeat’s leadership. We are actively working to address this reality. Additionally, we must continue to seek, invite, and respond to honest feedback from our readers. With our team and with our readers, when problems are pointed out, we must be reflective and ready to change, even when change is uncomfortable.
As a journalist, I know the power and limits of words. This letter isn’t what matters; what happens afterward — because we wrote this letter — is what matters. The stories we write, the truths we tell, the lies we highlight, the hope we magnify. Honoring our commitment, now formal, to stand against racism will take work and accountability. We do not have all the answers. We will have to find them step by step.
I am a white leader with a lot to learn, and I am grateful for my teammates on this journey. I am grateful for our board, which is holding us accountable for upholding our values and acting on our commitments. I am grateful for our loyal readers. So many of you work and fight on behalf of children (or are students yourselves). On top of that, you fight for education’s story to be told with honesty and independence by supporting Chalkbeat. I hope we can continue to earn your trust if we have it, and build it if we don’t.
Got questions or feedback about this letter? We’d love to hear from you — send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.