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There has been much controversy over Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s (D) proclamation on May 19, 2021, as she approaches her second anniversary as mayor to grant exclusive interviews to Black or Brown journalists.
The mayor stood her ground on her decision Friday, June 11, 2021, during an interview with CNN, raising questions of racial representation and who can interview public officials in newsrooms. In a two-page letter emailed to Chicago journalists, she stated that this was part of her campaign’s promise to “break up the status quo.”
Lightfoot, the first Black woman elected Mayor in Chicago, stated that from where she stands, she does not see people who look like her and reflect the richness and diversity of the city. The mayor says talks regarding diversity in journalism should have taken place long ago:
It can’t be that in the city of Chicago with all of the talent that we have that we can’t find diverse journalists of color.
Thomas Catenacci, together with his news outlet, the Daily Caller News Foundation, plans to sue the mayor, calling the move discriminatory. The mayor calls the lawsuit “completely frivolous.”
Gregory Pratt tweeted that he declined an interview with Lightfoot after asking her office to allow others the right to interview. The Latin Chicago Tribune reporter who covers the mayor and city hall stated that “Politicians don’t get to choose who covers them.”
Carol Marin, former NBC Chicago political editor, agreed with Pratt regarding politicians, tweeting that this is a good lesson for journalism students to learn and that reporters need to stand up for other reporters.
Mary Ann Ahern stated on WGN Radio that Lightfoot seemed to be avoiding City Hall reporters she fights with.
Others responded fondly of Pratt’s decision to cancel his meeting with the mayor, while some saw her decision as beginning to address the subject of racism in journalism. Though they understood where she was coming from, some did not agree with the way her announcement was framed.
One person is Tiffany Walden, editor-in-chief of the digital media outlet The Triibe, which uses its platform to reshape the narrative of Chicago’s Black communities. Walden stated that Lightfoot’s decision was “a small step toward leveling the playing field” regarding the lack of access for Black and Latino journalists. She felt that the conversation should have been about the lack of access rather than complaints from those who have daily access to the mayor.
A 2018 Pew Research Center analysis reported that more than 75 percent of newsroom employees were white. This data supports the opinions of Black and Brown reporters who feel they have less access to high-profile interviewees.
Scott Reeder, a veteran statehouse journalist, says that Lightfoot’s comment was not racist. While remembering his first years as a young journalist, he saw first-hand in 1988, in a neighborhood where the majority were minorities, there were no Black or Brown faces in the newsroom.
He stated that “racism is discrimination on steroids, powered by privileges given to those in the culturally dominant race. In the U.S., it’s a bias with a pickax. It’s [a] prejudice with a weight of 400 years of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and history behind it.”
After the situation with the mayor, he thought of Ennis Williams, a young Black assistant high school principal in Galveston, Texas, who would help him understand how to cover the neighborhood news; Reeder realized that what he thought was reverse racism was not.
After the principal’s daughter was announced as the first Black valedictorian at a historically white High School, she was later told that she would only be co-valedictorian with a white girl because of a miscalculation there was outrage in the community. When Reeder tried to interview Williams, the assistant principal declined but interviewed with a Black journalist instead. Reeder considered that was a racist move.
Reeder spoke of the history of “whites only” and “colored” signs and how the newspaper would not run Black and White obituaries on the same page.
Since then, he has had time to think on the controversial topic of “white privilege,” he finds it not necessarily sought after and without struggles, but it means those struggles were not because of the color of their skin.
So, when Mayor Lightfoot said she would only speak to journalists of color as a means of encouraging greater diversity in the city hall press corps, my thoughts are these: I don’t like it because it is needlessly polarizing and it restricts public access rather than expanding it.
That said, while I don’t like the policy, I understand where it’s coming from.
Written by Brenda Robinson
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
THE HILL: Chicago Mayor Defends Her Decision To Grant Interviews Exclusively To People Of Color; by Caroline Vakil
USA TODAY: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot: I’m Only Granting One-On-One Interviews To Journalists Of Color
Chicago Tribune: Mayor Lori Lightfoot Chooses Only Reporters Of Color For Interviews Ahead Of 2-year-Anniversary, Sparking Debate Over Media Diversity And Access; by Alice Yin
Rockford Register Star: Chicago Mayor’s Journalists Of Color Policy Not Racist; by Scott Reeder
Featured Image Courtesy of Prachatai’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Adam Tinworth’sFlickr Page – Creative Commons License