When it comes to diverse voices, most of us probably only read a few whose reporting fits in with the narrative we’re used to. Online magazine The Root, however, is changing that, and editor Danielle Belton is working tirelessly to bring diversity to our everyday news.
The Root, which is part of the Fusion Media Group (the owner of Gizmodo and its sister sites), bills itself as providing “thought-provoking commentary and news from a variety of black perspectives.” The Root makes clear that there is no one, singular black voice, and the voices within the black community are as varied and worth reading as those in the mainstream press. And that, Belton says, is why it’s so important for our local and national outlets to focus on adding diversity to their rosters of reporters.
“Every day I’m getting pitched different thoughts and ideas around what it means to be a black person in America and what it means to be black and abroad, and I think that’s wonderful,” Belton says. “I’m very proud that we have so many diverse voices from the diaspora.”
Every kind of black voice exists, Belton explains, from bougie to broke, from Southern and Midwestern to East Coast elite, from working class to the 1 percent. But getting mainstream publications to acknowledge that diversity can be difficult.
“Part of the reason you don’t see more people of color at [larger national news publications] is that people want to hire people who remind them of themselves, and the people in power are predominantly white and male,” she says.
“It’s the folly of thinking that you can drop a white man into any position and magically he’s the best person ever to cover [the story] because white people are impartial,” Belton continues. But one is never truly impartial. “Everyone brings their own experiences and ideas and thoughts with them wherever they go and whatever job they have,” she says.
Instead, Belton says, the fact that black writers have different backgrounds and perceived “biases” is what makes them essential to the media landscape. “You should look at people of diverse backgrounds to cover all sorts of things because they do add a different perspective that one might not otherwise have,” she says. Take, for example, crime reporting. Belton believes that more black reporters should be put on the crime beat because many of them already have a deeper understanding of the schools-to-prisons pipeline and the prison industrial complex because of their relation to social justice issues around the black community. Of course, Belton notes that you shouldn’t hire a reporter simply because they’re black, but as The Root demonstrates, there are more than a few qualified black journalists who can tackle these beats, if they’re given the chance.
As of 2016, only 5.33 percent of newsroom staffers are black, according to a survey by the American Society of News Editors. The fact that there aren’t more black journalists in the mainstream is part of what’s keeping black journalists from reaching for those positions. “You need to be able to see it to achieve it,” Belton explains. “For me it was seeing Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes that had a profound effect on me. The fact that Ed Bradley covered everything, [from interviewing] Mick Jagger [to covering] politics, that was just… Wow. You know? That’s really impressive.”
Being able to see someone like Bradley discussing politics and pop culture and being taken seriously and succeeding at both — and on a major mainstream news program, no less — made it easier for Belton to imagine herself filling a similar role. That early inspiration from Bradley not only inspired her, but helped her feel at home in newsrooms (even when she was the only black woman at the table), and then pushed her to create her popular blog, The Black Snob, at a time when black bloggers were still a rarity. Now, Belton and The Root are providing that same feeling to hundreds of new writers and giving them a platform from which to share their unique voices.
Jennifer Peters is former content manager of the News Media Alliance.