Recognizing Blind Spots and Adjusting Course
December 17, 2018 | Perspectives | Journalism & Media

In 2015, MacArthur refreshed and relaunched its national Journalism and Media program, a signature area of work for the Foundation since its earliest days. A key component of the relaunch was an explicit focus on supporting and amplifying “just and inclusive” news and narratives. With “just and inclusive” as our grounding value set, we began to change the composition of grantees in the national program and awarded a significant number of new grants in 2017 and 2018 to organizations led, staffed by, and serving diverse, non-white communities, such as Colorlines, Radio Ambulante, IllumiNative, 18 Million & Rising, Pillars Fund, and Brown Girls Doc Mafia.

In June 2018, we brought the national program to ground in Chicago with a local initiative to support and strengthen the journalism and media ecosystem in MacArthur’s hometown. The local program is animated by the “just and inclusive” focus and has three concrete objectives: connect the act of journalism and media making to civic engagement and empowerment; address systemic and social inequities in what is reported, who does the reporting, and how the reporting happens; and nurture a new generation of diverse leaders in Chicago’s journalism and media institutions.  

With added insights and perspectives from a broader range of people and communities, we are envisioning a program that is larger and more comprehensive than what we had originally planned.

In developing the Chicago initiative, we reached out to numerous institutions and experts in Chicago to better understand the local context. We met with heads of journalism schools and major journalism institutions. We reached out to numerous young reporters of color to discuss their career development needs. And we were excited to learn about media start-ups led by a diverse group of millennials. When the initiative was launched, we announced three large grants to exemplar organizations that met our criteria. We also invited Angelique Power, President of the Field Foundation, to partner with us to develop the next stage of the initiative, aligned with Field’s own plans to begin a Media and Storytelling area of grantmaking. Together, we engaged veteran reporter/editor Susan Smith Richardson to conduct a deeper scan of the journalism and media ecosystem in Chicago. Over the summer, she conducted listening salons throughout the city and met with nearly 70 individuals, mostly from communities of color, who were generous with their time and candid in their comments.

Even as we stated that we wanted to address systemic inequities, MacArthur staff came to realize that our default processes and relationships steered us toward a set of known institutions and individuals while neglecting others. So we asked ourselves, and others challenged us to confront, what we might be missing. For example, did we put too heavy an emphasis on legacy forms of journalism and not adequately consider that news making and circulation can happen outside of traditional news outlets? Did we focus too much on early career issues when mid-career journalists of color needed supports as well? Were we more attracted to new ventures at the expense of understanding the challenges facing the legacy black press or non-English media? And did our grantmaking criteria advantage citywide organizations that were already successful and push out organizations working in places and for communities our funds do not typically reach?

Early next year, MacArthur and Field Foundation will jointly unveil a program that has many elements from the initial conception of the initiative, where representation, authorship, agency, and leadership were core principles and goals. But with added insights and perspectives from a broader range of people and communities, we are envisioning a program that is larger and more comprehensive than what we had originally planned. It is the product of an iterative, community and funder co-design process, and it is the result of MacArthur recognizing that our “careful, professional, and deliberative” processes can still lead to exclusion and the preservation of an often-unjust status quo. It was important for us to see this and adjust accordingly. We are grateful to all who participated in shaping this program and look forward to continuous discourse and debate to make it even better.

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