As I am working to help black folks find work in journalism (like, actually shoe leather reporting), I run into a common theme among a good number of them: they have little to no reporting experience. I have some thoughts on why that is.
Reporting, unlike column writing, requires a very different type of skill that you cannot really hone at a desk top. You really need to leave the desk and hit the pavement. Developing sources requires a lot of face to face.
Also, news reporting is very expensive and few organizations can afford it. And journalism is already a country club (It really is and if someone says otherwise, they are lying to you) that only lets a select few in. They ain't letting in black folks.
Most of the folks I try to help are great writers and wonderful thinkers, but what I am finding is that newsrooms feel those types of folks come a dime a dozen. Not disrespecting the opinion writer/thinkpiece skill, but that's truly how it is viewed.
What's truly missing in many newsrooms, especially black digital ones, are folks who can do the boring, mundane task of news gathering that may not evoke 800 words of "fire" that Twitter will RT 1000s of times. Or being able to file a FOIA request. Our folks aren't learning that
I understand why. We aren't given the shot to learn. I have to admit the only reason I am a fulltime reporter is because I went to grad school for free and took internships that didn't pay; I did get an NPR internship that paid. But my degrees were 100 percent free.
That matters. I never worried about money as I learned to be a reporter. Now finding a job was hard as hell but I learned a lot in grad school that set me up to find a reporter job that prepared me to do what I am doing now. Most black folk do not have those opportunities.
Also, reporting is hard because you're not always gonna get the story in a few days. Some stories take days, weeks, months. And if you are freelancing, you may or may not be paid as you go for your labor; produce a story or get nothing. IF you get a shot at all.
Think pieces or columns tend to require a different kind of labor that allows you to write more and, as a result, get paid more and often. In the middle of that, you do not get to do any real reporting that prepares you for a fulltime reporting job.
I also write opinion pieces so I respect the game. But I was trained as a reporter first. There aren't a lot of people who can do it and good newsrooms hold it at a premium and pay for it; or you can leverage your skills because they are hard to come by.
For example, I travel the country covering politics. The hotels, flights, rental cars, etc add up. I spend LOTS of time knocking on doors, driving around, ease dropping on convos (politely) just to find a good story. You can't do that on a desk and The Root's reporting shows it.
I am one of the few black reporters on the trail. Most political reporters are white. By, like, a 1000 miles. All of the black reporters know of each other, at least. That is how few of us are out there. That reflects the racism in this industry.
I am responding to folks asking me for help finding work. (I promise I am working on it!) And one thing I realize is that my graduate school connections helped me with all of this, directly and indirectly. My grad education gave me a leg up in a way and I wanna be open about that