Making sense of censorship

Making sense of censorship

Credit: Caroline Jacoby/Chronicle

In a time when the trustworthiness of news is so critical, yet essentially every source seems to be biased, diversity in the newsroom is not just important but required. Reforms in the editorial process and diversity and equity initiatives are imperative to redirect the trajectory of the American newsroom toward something we can all be proud of. In a more diverse journalistic community, previously silenced groups can take a seat at the table.

Especially at the beginning of the editing process, with pitch acceptances and the decision of what is “newsworthy,” the structure of many publications allows for implicit and explicit biases to play a major role in what is published. Without a variety of perspectives, decisions are made by a small, privileged group in newsrooms across the country. Allowing news to be determined by the white male elite perpetuates the systematic silencing of minority voices. Even if a newsroom is “diverse,” having token minorities is not enough. Tokenization puts the individual into a position in which they are pressured to either represent their entire community’s interests and perspectives, checking the box, or stay in agreement, afraid to possibly be the only one to speak out.

Jessica Naziri, a seasoned Los Angeles journalist who worked at CNN, CNBC, CBS and the Los Angeles Times left her career at these companies. Naziri founded TechSesh, a women’s tech blog and community resource primarily because of the lack of freedom she experienced as a minority woman trying to write articles she felt were important to her community. Speaking to her experience, Naziri said she felt frustrated by the bureaucratic red tape of the newsroom. At all the news companies she worked at, she said it was no secret that her white male editors had the power to reject articles without giving a reason. As a journalist, Naziri said she feels this is frightening because she found that editors can, and did, censor important stories that need to be covered.

By the time Naziri founded TechSesh, she had come to the realization that the generic newsroom wasn’t running stories that spoke about and for women in tech. She said she wanted to be able to write about the trailblazers unrecognized by mainstream media, and at companies she had worked at, covering such topics was always a fight.

Naziri discusses the power dynamics at play in the newsroom.

Naziri’s experience reveals the unsettling truth about the power certain individuals hold within news companies. According to the Pew Research Center, 77% of newsroom staff are non-Hispanic, white males, and men overall represent 66% of the newsroom staff, which is 8% higher than the average workplace. In addition to being able to control what is newsworthy, the white males who so often are editors at major papers contribute to an echo chamber of thought: as the same perspectives are continually represented and listened to, the bias and censorship in the newsroom only compounds, leaving virtually no room for other voices.

Though this is not unique to The Chronicle, there are unfortunately many structural powers delegated to editors that can become flaws when we fail to have a diverse staff. Editors are able to reject pitches, and while this is an inevitable aspect of journalism, diversity can help keep this power from being abused.

As a student paper that doesn’t put out issues as often as larger publications, our staff often feels pressure to ensure the articles will still be “relevant” and “newsworthy” by the time they’re in print. But importance is completely subjective considering the immense differences between the realities that some people in our community live in versus the realities of others. For example, in this issue, I rejected an article for print pertaining to the explosion in Lebanon because it would have already been “old news” and was “less relevant” than the writer’s alternative pitch. Still, the reality is that this explosion and its repercussions will be on the minds of Lebanese Americans in our community for months if not years from now. Last year, when I pitched an article about the Trump Israel peace plan, the same reason resulted in it being rejected for print. It’s not good enough to recognize this issue in hindsight, and although I will continue to try my best to broaden my perspective, it doesn’t change the fact that if we had a more diverse staff, we could expand and improve our understanding of what is truly newsworthy and relevant.

Inherent censorship and bias can be limited by having a more diverse Chronicle staff.

So what can we do moving forward? Thankfully, this year, The Chronicle is creating a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) board to help current staff members from diverse backgrounds have a seat at the table and represent the variety of communities students and faculty belong to. The issue is that our staff is not diverse enough to begin with. In order to increase diversity among the staff, we should actively attend affinity group meetings and offer the opportunity for group members to join staff, regardless of whether they can fit the Modern Journalism class into their schedules. Additionally, we should consistently encourage letters to the editors and op-ed pieces from minority groups on campus and have more frequent check-ins with our affinity club beats. These are simple suggestions that can easily be implemented, but, in addition, we should create more space for point-counterpoint articles within the opinion section and continue to foster an environment that encourages every voice. Creating an appellate system for members of staff to bring rejected pitches to a higher level when they feel their voice needs to be heard in the issue is another way to check editors’ biases. Finally, editorials should not just be decided upon and written by the Management Team; editorial ideation sessions should be open to any staff member who would like to join, regardless of their position.

Undoubtedly, the best and most reliable news source is a diverse one. So, as we continue to witness issues surrounding diversity and racism within the news, we should first work to combat the issues of racial inequity within the newsroom itself.

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