The perspective of Blacks is a critical element of accurate reporting, especially when it comes racially-tinged events such as the rise of White supremacist groups and the inauguration of the first Black woman vice president.
But are the people responsible for those reports making an effort to include the minority viewpoint? That’s the question the Los Angele Civil + Human Rights & Equity Department sought to answer on Feb. 23.
Through forum called “African American Equity in Media,” the new city agency known as L.A. Civil Rights brought together three representatives of the city’s leading media to review how Blacks are represented in newsrooms and news coverage. LA Civil Rights Executive Director Capri Maddox moderated the event, which featured Beverly White, NBC4 news reporter; Angel Jennings, L.A. Times assistant managing editor of culture and talent; Brandon Brooks, L.A. Sentinel and L.A. Watts Times editor.
In his welcoming remarks, Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas said, “In the past year, we have seen communities like ours come together to make it absolutely clear that Black lives matter. Covering these events and standing on the front lines of history are the African American reporters, photographers and newspapers that are so crucial to our nation’s conversation and how we bring more African Americans into the newsroom to tell our stories.”
Explaining the reason for the forum, Maddox noted, “The conversation today is meant to explore the state of equity in L.A.’s newsrooms as well as the challenges and opportunities facing Black journalists. Having representation matters and it’s important to have a pipeline for people to become reporters and editors. It makes all of us better to share that information more broadly.”
Maddox opened the session by asking the panel how they started in the field. White, has been with NBC4 for nearly 30 years, said she’s been “inquisitive all of her life and thought reporting would be a natural fit.”
After taking journalism classes in her junior year at the University of Texas, she decided to pursue it as a vocation and admitted, “It’s been a wonderful run thus far.” She also cited her late grandfather as an influence, recalling, “We used to sit and watch the news together and I fell in love with current events.”
Jennings was also a curious child and “talkative and nosy” as well. ‘My mother would say, ‘Stay out of grown folks business,’ so I learned to listen,” remembered Jennings. “Listening led to asking questions, which ultimately led me to this field.” As a teen, she wrote for her high school newspaper and volunteered for other activities connected to journalism. Jennings received a scholarship to University of Nebraska and said, “It was such a great opportunity to study my craft.”
After serving several internships at media outlets around the country, she landed at the L.A. Times and previously served as a Metro reporter before being promoted to her current position where she also supervises the paper’s Metro Diversity Fellowship Program. “If you like to talk and write, this is a good career for you,” insisted Jennings, who also encouraged young people to seriously consider journalism as a profession.
Recounting his journey, Brooks said, “I tell people to put yourself in an uncomfortable position because you really don’t know what you are capable of until you are in that position.”
He said, “I was fresh out of college, trying to find my way,” when he joined the Sentinel about 15 years ago, thanks to an offer from his cousin, Danny Bakewell, Jr., who is the Sentinel executive editor, and his uncle, Danny Bakewell, Sr., who is the executive publisher.
“I was blessed to work in the family business and I dove in. I worked in Classifieds, Accounting, Accounts Receivable, Production, Editorial and in any and every aspect of the newspaper business. I worked my way up and I just fell in love with it,” Brooks said.
“The Sentinel is an institution. It’s been around for 87 years and I’m just carrying the torch. I love Black people and I’m inspired that everyday, I get to learn about outstanding Black people!”
Maddox also asked the panelists what has it meant for African American journalists to report on the last year of racial reckoning and what is it like to report on some of the hardships that Blacks have experienced.
Regarding her long career at NBC4 and the impact of reporting over the last year, White said, “I first came to Los Angeles in the fall of 1992 and was told that I was brought in to deal with the ‘racial reckoning’ of that era. They didn’t call it that, but I was recruited because there were not enough people who looked like me and I’m glad they had the foresight to include me. KNBC4 had gone seven years without a Black female reporter.”
White added that one of the positive changes she has noticed over the year is seeing more reporters of color on the anchor desk. “We are changing in this industry and I’m proud to be a part of it,” said White, who previously served as a president of the National Association of Black Journalists – Los Angeles Chapter. “There are signs of hope and praise be the memory of George Floyd because his passing awakened everyone and gave a chance for everyone to see the inequalities in the streets.”
Brooks shared that the significance of the Black Press is being revealed in the midst of racial unrest. “We’ve always been here to tell the story of Black people, but we were often overlooked by the mainstream media. But, the Sentinel survived due to Black entrepreneurs like Colonel Leon Washington and his wife, Ruth, who founded the paper and set a standard that was followed by Kenneth and Jennifer Thomas, who were the next publishers. Ultimately, the torch was passed to Mr. Bakewell, who understands the importance of Black media, Black perspective and Black ownership.”
The group also encouraged Black audiences to communicate with media reporters and executives and let them know about good news stories as well as about issues that are important to minority neighborhoods. In addition, the panelists urged listeners not to be discouraged if they don’t get an immediate response to their inquiry or comment, but to continue sharing feedback with the media.
African American Equity in Media discussion is available for viewing on YouTube.com and Facebook.com/lacivilrights.