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Andrea Wenzel

595. It’s time to reimagine what journalism can be

Journalism in the U.S. was an industry built by and for a predominantly white, male audience. While the world has changed, many of the practices and policies “baked in” to journalism in this country still have a white audience in mind, in terms of their preferences and their perspective on stories and how news is reported. 

This foundation is “manifest in what stories get told, what stories don’t get told, whose stories are included, how things are framed, are there harmful narratives in them,” says Andrea Wenzel, an associate professor at Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication and director of Temple’s Master of Journalism program. She’s also the author of a new book, “Antiracist Journalism: The Challenge of Creating Equitable Local News,” a project that came to light as part of her researching a series of case studies that tries to address the systemic racist practices long instilled in American journalism. 

“If I look back to the reasons I left being a practicing journalist, one of the things that was uncomfortable about working in public radio, so often I was working in mostly white newsrooms where we would be covering communities of color, but for mostly white audiences. That was something that didn’t quite sit right,” she says.

Throughout the process of researching her book, Wenzel says she had to be mindful of her own inclinations, biases and background. “I can’t speak on behalf of journalists of color. I can do my best to represent things they share with me. As somebody who has to deal with these things myself, I try to be reflective about what I can and can’t see. I think racism in journalism is something created by white people. We’ve benefited from it whether we wanted to or not, so we have to be involved in addressing it.”

Among the case studies that serve as the focus of the book, Wenzel looks at the actions of two established newsrooms in Philadelphia, local broadcast network WHYY and the Inquirer, in addition to two newer journalism establishments, Resolve Philly and Kensington Voice. The newer organizations aren’t trying to find ways to fix the problems found in their newsrooms, per se, but instead are “reimagining what journalism could be.” 

Resolve Philly, for example, set out with a specific purpose to be community-centered journalism, including having information hubs established across the city. Kensington Voice “began by asking people what kind of coverage they wanted” in a part of Philadelphia that is “deeply stigmatized and associated with the opioid epidemic.”

In addition to sharing information, Kensington Voice has a community space where residents can meet, use computers, make their own media and find ways to forge connections. They instituted a “community-led board. This is not just an advisory board, this is the board that has governance powers,” Wenzel says. “If they wanted, they could change the leadership. It has huge potential implications That addresses the question of accountability at the top of an organization, which is so often where things fall short.” 

There isn’t a single way to address and fix and resolve the racist undertones that govern journalism practices, Wenzel says, but this is the time to start reimagining what journalism can be and what it can look like, “not necessarily journalism with a capital J in the traditional sense, but civic media in a way that we’re centering the information needs and narratives and what communities need and being advocates for community, or advocates for democracy, finding different ways of making peace with this allergic reaction traditional journalists have had with anything  connected with advocacy. Redefining how our norms and practices can be in a way that’s more directly of service to communities.” 

Andrea Wenzel, associate professor at Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication and the director of Temple’s master of journalism program, discusses her new book “Antiracist Journalism: The Challenge of Creating Equitable Local News.”

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