U.S. newsrooms wrestle with how best to reflect the communities they cover

FILE PHOTO: Gabrielle Petito, 22, who was reported missing on September 11, 2021 after traveling with her boyfriend around the country in a van and never returned home, is shown in this undated handout photo. North Port/Florida Police/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) - U.S. news organizations that grappled with issues of race and bias in their coverage after the killing of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 have had to confront them again amid extensive coverage of Gabby Petito’s disappearance this year.

Critics have noted that the young white woman received far more media attention than missing women of color.

The 19th* co-founder Amanda Zamora and BuzzFeed Editor in Chief Mark Schoofs talked about these and other ways news organizations fall short on Thursday at the Reuters Next conference.

Zamora's news organization is devoted to reporting on gender, politics and policy. She said it was formed in response to sexist media coverage of Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid in 2016. Legacy news organizations seeking to serve their communities need to go beyond hiring a diverse workforce, she said.

Newsrooms must “value their lived experiences, empower them to bring their identity to the table in conversations, as colleagues ... to allow there to be tension?” Zamora said. “If you’re building a diverse and intersectional newsroom, there’s going to be these inherent tensions that are opportunities for growth.”

BuzzFeed’s Schoofs, whose newsroom pioneered a beat about the LGBTQ community, said his organization actively solicits community input with callouts on social media and invitations to readers to submit tips or additional information.

“It can be really inventive ways that you reach out to make sure that you’re including different voices, so that you’re actually asking people with different experiences to come and reach out to you,” said Schoofs.

“We’re specifically looking for people in particular communities that may not have interacted much with the press before, certainly not a national organization like BuzzFeed News or the 19th or Reuters, to see if we can bring them into our journalism.”

Asked about addressing blind spots in reporting, Zamora cited her work on a recent Aspen Institute report about information disorder, the increasing spread of false information including misinformation and disinformation.

“Sometimes we fixate so much on a surface level of political division and fighting that we miss what the underlying root cause of so much of that is – and a lot of it does come down to trauma between and among communities,” said Zamora.

Schoofs urged journalists to challenge their assumptions and the things they take for granted. He cited the Belarus-Poland border crisis, which he described as “a manufactured crisis, very much focused on who is in and who is out based on their national identity, based on borders.”

To watch the Reuters Next conference please register here https://reutersevents.com/events/next/

(Reporting by Dawn Chmielewski; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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