‘Reporting While Black’ is a storytelling responsibility

Photo courtesy of Twitter April Ryan

These last couple of weeks or so have been trying times for Black America, and for Black journalists as well.

Four former Minneapolis police officers are charged with George Floyd’s murder, whose last 10 minutes of life at 38th and Chicago Avenue South were captured on phone video. The police killing sparked days and nights of mass protests that have stretched to several U.S. cities from coast to coast.

Since February we’ve seen an unfortunate fatal Black troika that have garnered national and worldwide attention—Breonna Taylor in March killed by police in her Louisville, Ky. bedroom; Ahmaud Arbery killed by two Whites while jogging in Georgia almost three months earlier; and Floyd’s death at police hands (or knee) on Memorial Day.

Veteran White House reporter April Ryan tweeted last week that Black journalists carry “unique burdens” in covering the Floyd death and protests that “hit close to home.” Columbia Journalism Review noted that it is “much more dangerous for journalists of color than it is for their White colleagues” in doing their job.

It is “Reporting While Black” in times like these.
“Being Black is a full-time job,” noted Errin Haines, the editor at large for The 19th News, a nonpartisan women’s news site.

“I am capturing history right now,” said NBC10 Boston Social Media Producer/Host Kwani Lunis. “I’m watching people who look like me.”
Lunis, Malika Andrews, Justin Tinsley and Master Tesfatsion spoke last week at the NABJ Sports Task Force’s “Innovation in Storytelling: Art of Storytelling.”

The four candidly and at times emotionally talked of walking that fine line of being objective versus losing one’s emotions in the aftermath of the May 25 murder of Floyd, who was laid to rest earlier last week.

Andrews, an ESPN NBA reporter who moderated last week’s panel, said, “I see myself as a chronicler. I am in this position and I deserve to be here.”

“I used to live in South Minneapolis where George Floyd was murdered,” recalled Tesfatsion, a former Star Tribune sportswriter, now Bleacher Report senior writer/columnist. “I’ve seen and encountered…police brutality in Minneapolis. Everybody is looking internally and externally as well trying to make sense of this.”

“2020 [has been] the longest [year] of my life,” admitted Tinsley, who writes on sports and culture for The Undefeated. He recently penned a piece on how Martin Luther King’s words are being “whitewashed” to make a point during protests.

The four all stressed the importance of storytelling, especially from a Black perspective. “I’m a storyteller for one of the most eventful times in our lives, and I’m grateful for that,” said Lunis.

“We have to take full authority over our stories. I honestly care about the people who look like me. It is something I don’t take lightly,” Tinsley reiterated. “The best way to tell our stories is for us to tell them.”

Tesfatsion concurred: “Your experiences help shape your perspective. You own the culture and bring something to the table as a Black person.”

Black journalists must ensure that their social media usage is purposely done, Andrews said. She asks herself three questions before posting on social media: “Does it need to be said? Do I need to be the person to say it? Is this the place to say it?”

The four journalists agreed that they must do what the community has entrusted them to do: Report While Black. “People trust you to tell their stories. You have to tell the truth. That’s one reason you get into this industry,” said Tinsley.