On the Record: Addressing The Eagle’s coverage of anti-Asian hate incidents
Apologizing for our lack of coverage, setting concrete plans to improve
The Atlanta-area spa shootings on March 16 that took the lives of eight people — six of whom were women of Asian descent — should not have been the reason for some media organizations to finally fully acknowledge the rise in anti-Asian hate and bias over the last year. As I recently wrote, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students on campus said it was frustrating to once again realize that it takes a tragedy for journalists to cover their community.
We at The Eagle are still very much a part of this problem. A problem that we have been working on fixing, but have not tried hard enough nor taken accountability.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic through the rest of 2020, crimes that targeted Asian people in 16 major U.S. cities rose by 149 percent, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. Scholars argue that this rise can be somewhat attributed to racist rhetoric surrounding the origins of COVID-19, like when former President Donald Trump repeatedly called it the “China virus” and the “kung flu.”
While The Eagle didn’t hear directly of stories of AAPI students facing outward hate and bias on campus or in online classes, as journalists, we should’ve still sought out stories about how the rise in hate crimes affected AAPI students mentally, emotionally and academically, along with their families. As journalists, our mission is to “seek truth” and “seek sources whose voices we seldom hear.” Our work should not rely on incidents that spark public outrage or a hate crime that is from the buildup of stories that we don’t hear about.
For that, The Eagle accepts responsibility for not seeking out those stories and voices before a tragedy like this occurred. We need to hold ourselves accountable for our mistakes and lack of coverage, still, of underrepresented voices. We should not only be covering tragedies and hate. We need to continue to uplift these voices, organizations and their accomplishments in our coverage, on and off campus.
We also need to think about the complex experiences and diversity within the AAPI community when we report stories. As both Malini Ranganathan, the interim faculty director for American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, and Christine BN Chin, dean of the School of International Service, pointed out in interviews with The Eagle, there are a diverse array of nationalities, socioeconomic backgrounds and immigration statuses within the Asian community that white Americans often do not educate themselves on. We need to recognize and educate ourselves on those complexities and the various cultures within the Asian community.
While having conversations with my team about this issue, I came across a quote about news judgment in a book called “The View From Somewhere” by journalist Lewis Raven Wallace. Wallace describes news judgment as what, oftentimes, a single editor may see as important or newsworthy to them, and they often make the final decision. Newsworthiness and importance have different definitions to people of different backgrounds and lived experiences.
“News judgment is the first filter all news passes through, and it usually isn’t based on anything measurable: we don’t look to statistics on our current or desired audience or even our most popular stories of the past to decide what to cover. Some of this is good, protecting journalists against the influence of a purely commercial way of thinking about news. But news judgment is still always about power — who controls the narrative, whose narratives matter, and how the appearance of ‘mattering’ is created in a society rife with entrenched inequality.”
We need to keep thinking of this quote — as editors, we hold power, and at a predominantly white institution with a predominantly white staff, we need to take deliberate steps to make our coverage fairer and more representative of marginalized communities.
Although I am the one writing this column, the idea rose after a recent editorial board meeting, where we discussed this story and how to better our coverage and prevent these stories from being forgotten in the future. Even though our Editor-in-Chief Sophie Austin pitched this story about anti-Asian hate incidents’ impact on the AU community in May 2020 and Community Engagement Editor Fariha Rahman pitched it for weeks, no one picked it up. As editors, we failed to assign it and reevaluate its importance.
Moving forward, Fariha and I discussed a plan to reevaluate individual pitches if they are on our pitch (story idea) list for longer than two pitch meetings. This evaluation process will ask who this story affects and if this is a bigger story in our society outside of campus. We need to ask the question of who this story affects because we often think of AU’s campus as a whole, and not as being composed of individuals. We also need to recognize that there is a society outside of AU that is rife with hate, bias and racism, even though we do see that on our campus as well. We need to look toward local and national media stories and ask ourselves how these issues affect AU students, even if we haven’t heard of these stories.
In terms of assigning pitches, my predecessors and I have often avoided that since we see The Eagle as both a newsroom and a club, where people can explore their interests, while still feeling like they are working in a professional newsroom. We know that students already have a lot on their plates and student journalists are especially vulnerable to burnout. However, this is a story that should’ve been assigned to ensure it was covered sooner.
A part of being on The Eagle’s staff is being a dedicated and committed team member, and part of that, we realize, is to write stories that are emotional and hard to report on, but are crucial to covering voices that are seldom heard. I am emphasizing this as a white editor because, especially during times of tragedies and hate, we should educate and seek out resources ourselves on how to report stories of racism, even when they aren’t prevalent on the national news or haven’t affected us personally.
I am also going to make a list of resources for our reporters on how to report on issues of race and other underrepresented issues, like disabilities, sexuality, gender and more. I realize that I am continually learning how to report wholly on these issues and that we have ignored useful resources in the past.
Over the past year, The Eagle, under the leadership of our editor-in-chief, has created initiatives to challenge our own biases. Mandatory trainings and discussions have centered around identifying and combating implicit biases, along with reporting on marginalized communities, led by professionals like School of Communication assistant professor Sherri Williams, as well as Issac Bailey, a professor with expertise in journalism and race at Davidson College. Our reporters and editors have also led a workshop on reporting on gender and sexual orientation. These initiatives came after we developed a source list to ensure that we include a diverse array of opinions and experiences in our stories. We are continuing to evaluate the diversity of our staff, with our recruitment efforts ramping up to reach people of all backgrounds.
I am proud of these achievements, but we have a long way to go to continue improving our coverage.
This is a problem that has plagued our newsroom in the past and will continue if we do not improve and educate ourselves while also recognizing our privilege as editors and reporters and holding ourselves accountable. Thanks to the work of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Group and Fariha, we have increased the diversity of our staff and coverage, but that does not mean the work is done.
It certainly is not.