Covering George Floyd’s death and the ensuing nationwide protests has been challenging for journalists, especially those who find themselves on the front lines. In several alarming instances, police have appeared to specifically target reporters in the field. For black journalists, the burden is doubled: Not only are they reporting in risky situations, but it “hits closer to home,” says National Association of Black Journalists president Dorothy Tucker.
Tucker, a reporter for CBS 2 in Chicago who has been out covering the events herself, shared her perspective to TheWrap.
“I would hope that any reporter covering tragedies like George Floyd’s death would feel some type of concern, compassion, emotion and desire to see change, whether it can be expressed outwardly or not,” she explained, touching on the expectation that journalists remain as neutral as possible.
For black journalists, she added, “it hits closer to home because most likely the person who has experienced the injustice and who has had their life taken could easily be your spouse, child, sibling or cousin.”
Some journalists are reporting that while they must stay neutral, the situations they’re facing in the field are anything but equal. The same day CNN’s Omar Jimenez was arrested on-air in Minneapolis, network correspondent Josh Campbell was reporting from nearby. The arrest prompted the governor of Minnesota to call and personally apologize to CNN president Jeff Zucker.
Reflecting on the treatment of Jimenez, who is latino and black, Campbell, who is white, told CNN viewers, “I was treated much differently than he was. I’m sitting here talking to the National Guard, talking to the police. They’re asking politely to move here and there. A couple times I’ve moved closer than they would like. They asked politely to move back. They didn’t pull out the handcuffs. Lot different here than what Omar experienced.”
Jimenez’s experience drew attention to the treatment of journalists and, in particular, of journalists of color and the importance of having a diverse staff to tell uniquely authentic stories.
Other black reporters in the field agree. Kevin Corke, a Fox News correspondent covering the current unrest in the nation’s capital, told TheWrap, “As someone who has lived in public housing, I know firsthand the fear and frustration many feel. Covering the protests has brought that into sharp focus.” He added a personal appeal against violence and looting.
“It is situations like this that should remind news companies and organizations of how vital it is to ensure their newsrooms are diverse and that black news professionals have leadership roles,” Tucker said. “The stories that need to be told about the issues facing the black community require newsroom decision-makers and staff that can understand their perspectives and know how to best cover them.”
It’s up to newsroom leaders, she said, to not only diversify editorial staff, but support staffers of color as they face unique challenges white colleagues may not when reporting on a story like the death of Floyd — whether those challenges are emotional or come from outside forces.
“Additionally, news companies must do everything in their power to provide a listening ear, resources, support and protection for their staff, especially in times like these. News companies who want to be the most productive and innovative in their content must make it a priority to ensure that diversity, inclusion, and sensitivity training is an ongoing process in their newsrooms,” she said.