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tv   Nikki Usher News for the Rich White and Blue - How Place and Power...  CSPAN  November 28, 2021 6:30pm-7:29pm EST

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>> the world has changed today the fast reliable internet connections, while was there for our companies to the speed and reliability and choice and no more than ever it all stores and resources great internet. while with these television company support "c-span2" as a public service. ... part of the research network to focus on identifying and establishing market structures that will ensure the full independence and robustness of american journalism in the digital age. i am truly thrilled today to be able to introduce a standing
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fellow and nicky's new book news for the rich, white and blue how power and a pledge to restore american journalism. nikki is also an associate professor at the university of illinois vana champagne and author ofso two previous books. i first met nikki about five years ago at a holiday party in the offices of thee foundation here in dc. one of those places people speak very softly and try to avoid all references to power and♪ class. after talking to nikki for about five minutes, i realized two things, nikki is a brilliant observer of today's journalism and is a hell of a fighter. i thought to myself we are going to work together someday to help save journalism in america. from the powers that now most threatened and especially google and facebook, but also from the
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prejudices off wealth and privilege. then power and politics of god in the way. donald trump won the white house, googledo pushed open, facebookth decided they wanted o rule the world so it took a while but late 2019, we reconnected and this book was proof of two things. first, nikki indeed and at the e chops to save american journalism and can pretty much do it on her own. with that said we do have someone with us today to talk about news for the rich, white and blue and that is matt thompson editor of the initiative that does deep investigations into♪ economics, the environment and more. matt has worked at the fresno, minneapolis star tribune and the atlantic as well as the center for public integrity of the institute.
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in her book nikki writes the journalism is what enabled the active and engaged citizenry so last i welcome everyone who's joined us today because as good as nikki's book is, we can't win the great battle in the 21st century unless every citizen is active and engaged in every citizen is working to protect and rebuild american journalism. finally, one little note, this is being recorded for booktv on c-span. we don't have an air date for that but hopefully we will let you know soon. now i will turn over to matt. >> thank you very much and everyone for joining us and i am delighted to be here to discuss this book. nikki, i think it would probably
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be hard to be a journalist in the u.s. in the news industry today and not feel like your book describesel our world so we will touch the promise of the book a little bit in the conversation, but i want to assume first is the news media he struggled to amplify the voices that most needed to be heard in the democracy for those that lack the institutional power, political representation and meaningful redress to the discrimination? and yet, i would say most journalists come into this field with passion for uplifting the voices of everyday people, particularly those most at risk of discrimination or oppression for power so how is it we come in with these noble ideas and
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reinforce or amplify structural inequities? >> it's a great question and thanks again for being here and chatting with me. let's also acknowledge the fact there is long-term journalism and done by the national news organizations that are shining a light on power and equality so one of the things i start to worry, which there really are not that many that are doing these spotlights and they are doing vana well but as extracted, the workers so there is great journalism that is
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focused on these concerns but it's being told about people rather than for them and so i think that's one sided into the other side of it is you just get trapped in what journalism always does. there is certain kinds of stories covered, certain kind of stories that are always going to win a war and the power you end up talking to the powerful come canthe information for the story because they are sources that matter and can verify stuff like that so it's like the institutional routine of journalism then you have to kind of look within yourself to think about who gets to be a journalist today and in the newsrooms that are telling stories increasingly and they
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don't look like the rest of the united states. and then do people's experiences give them the ability to be conscious or understand the issues before them. >> one of the questions that i wondered when i was reading the book is what do you think has changed the most. the failures and weaknesses of journalism are long-standing.
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of those that are represented in the news and what the needs concerns of the people are that populated the country. >> there has always been a media elite and power. the question that ison making it ten times worse is we are at a crisis point in journalism. whether the word crisis was described today but they are literally going bankrupt. it is stripping them to the core. so the economic fragility is all kinds of uncertainty and this doesn't just go for the office for the digital first
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publication and disruption of internet, tv, and all this stuff. the economic security that the news organizations across the united states are facing creates a different set of incentives for survival and then for the people who chooseo to go into journalismnt it is hard to bankn this as a career if they want to help make the world abe better place. there are foreseeable jobs that still help people. i think that ends up being a serious problem where people experience risk. >> and a risk for all sorts of reasons. economic, political and other.
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i wanted to talk in terms of the three dimensions of place that you mention in your book. youac talk about place as both a geographic and material setting for news as you put it and a place that is lived where we go to the grocery store and travel on highways and as having cultural, economic and a symbolic power and so i kind of wanted to talk to all three of those that i think contribute to the device that you've chronicled in the book i should say to the forces you chronicled in the book so i want to ask about the ways in which all three of them separately contribute to theob problem so starting with the geographic you talk a lot about where the newsrooms are and are not.
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one of the things that has always struck me the newsrooms and a lot of cities, the sort of classic ideal of where the newsroom is is a building downtown with security guards at all the entrances and where it's both the symbol that it's a powerful institution but also an alienating model wherewe the nes is made behind closed doors somewhere and is there a possibility that the real estate has gotten powerful for the companies to uphold that it actually sends them deeper into
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their communities and makes journalism as a process more accessible? >> i love the positive and covid has been significant in the fact that journalists are now working from home but it's like depending on who you are and where you're going. itit is a limit on the mobilityf journalists to do reporting but ii think that if you think about "the new york times," it's positioned in a place where i don't know how many thousands is that millions of people that go through the authority in times square every day and see the gigantic building that's like beautiful and very clearly a
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skyscraper to "the new york times." i think chicago is like the ultimate example. you don't realize now it's a historical landmark that you can go into, "the chicago tribune." they are not there. i think that loss of a symbol undermines to some degree and authority some of these organizations and places. they disappear and people think there isn't any news or newspaper anymore like out of sight out of mind. this is a big experiment i talked to journalists. they literally knocked it down
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like a wrecking ball and it's not fair and in a place out of sight out of mind it is deeply problematic. you don't want a lot of journalists in the newsroom, you want them out and about but my worry is even more like since you don't have to go downtown to go to the newsroom you're not going to encounter a homeless person every day onro the strees before you hop onto the metro or the one you see usually writing the city bus, so those encounters ofe people outside f your daily routine, i worry about that. you need to be around people that are not like you and be in situations you are not always
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comfortable in. it's at a time you're not even in the building so it kind of puts the question back. >> it's interesting because i see -- there's this ambivalence that courses through your book and i feel ambivalent about this on the one hand there are all these cities, minneapolis it's interesting when i worked at the tribune in minneapolis, the building was very prominently downtown with the star tribune carved into the top. if you are going to a vikings game you were going to see the star tribune angering downtown
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and now it's in a beautiful skyscraper still downtown. the name isn't quite so prominent, it is occupied by the stadium so i feel ambivalent about it on the one hand the star tribune staff has been a reasonably robust and has come back after one of the most troubling periods. that is a story for another day but there is the vibe that the paper is active in its community, healthy relative to where it was, still fighting for
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its existence every day but i don't know when minneapolis was experiencing its waves of protest last year. i don't know if the journalists downtown, i don't know how many of them personally felt the pressures and tension by the park which is a distance away fro downtown. i don't know how much the residents who fought for and identified with being named afterg john c calhoun named bak to its indigenous name.
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of the institution had authoritative to them as well i can't tell you those things, despite having lived and been a journalist in minnesota. so i don't know, i am ambivalent. it feels like that really runs through your book, you were saying twoo things at once it s critical and does and can do a significant amount to reinforce and make healthy a democracy and on the other hand it also reinforces patterns and inequities destructive so is that ambivalence.
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a. >> they are thankful to the open marketst for not being baked in this nostalgia attack on american journalism you can't really get into the heart of what is happening in american journalismin around the economic crisis and arguably having a lack of representation. you can't talk about that with public service journalism and what happens when the watchdogs aren't there. they are not always perfect. there've been legacies of racism and segregation and not in
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actuality de facto. you can't just try to put a band-aid on journalism and pretend it doesn't exist and that is a kind of lengthy objection, this idea of preserving institutions that fall very short. that is one goal but if you want to see journalism, you have to think about what is the function of journalism, not the institution. that's kind of what i'm getting at. we cannot have an honest conversation about what it does for the society and democracy unless we acknowledge that it is also flawed.
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a. >> in the process of researching, what gave you the most -- was there anything useful that you are like that looks like a post newspaper there's a difficulty because i long recognize you need to the news organizations that are powerful to the institutional voices. some of them are exciting and experimenting journalism serving those underserved. some of them are citing
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experiments and journalism and community centers about the communities but i worry about the ability to yield a back power because there are governments that have no idea that they exist and now i think about the more rural areas where i am now and there are people that consider themselves journalists and if you smile politely that puts out a lot. i think that there's a lot of hope, but i just wonder how much power people are on the periphery even if they are looking out of journalism, how to getnt the attention of the powerful people, and that is what they worry about, there's all of these people are speaking
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about and i encourage anybody interested in journalism to see how do we make sure it uncovers the next watergate and somebody actually cares and that is whato i worry about. that tension between the access and the reach to power and reach the representation of the journalism. access to the most brutal and bad like people in power with
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proximity toin power what are ty willing to give up for what sort of representation and coverage and are there alternatives and other ways of bringing power that reaches people other than having to go to these fancy dinners or be physically geographically moved from the people you are representing or purporting to represent in your coverage. >> it is a delicate balance of access and power. you need to be close to it toe understand it. you and i have been in that
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world but we understand it. there is a considerably importantl skill and to be comfortable with people in charge of governing is a really important thing around doing things you don't necessarily believe in but it's something you see up close. the problem is you get sucked into that world and think of what is happening in your immediate circumstance. anybody that's been in dc for a while knows you can literally make a joke about something on cnn an hour ago and everybody in the room will get it. the story of the day in dc is so often so far from the story of the day outside of dc. if the story is the debt
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ceiling, this story in minneapolis is what is happening with the lightning so that disconnectle is problematic. one of the things that is interesting [inaudible] a number of journalists working for inpublications like politico how do you cover national news not from dc. you don't have to necessarily be in dc to cover the national view and i think that some are conscious of that and they can leverage the institutions they are aae part of we are startino
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get some questions on the q-and-a. it's interesting at the center for investigative reporting before coming to the times. building power from a lot of different voices, amazon has been investigated by a lot of journalists and its labor practices in particular it's been pretty hard for the stories to breakthrough but i would say the investigation related in part because.
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it's finding employees working at the warehouses and country and equipping them with the know-how to get these forms documenting in their warehouses come in their organizations so we had people sending us these forms it felt like an alternative although ultimately we compelled them to the courts.
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i'm curious what are the possibilities that you see for the national organization in the radial scope to work with organizations like revealed it in dc, indianapolis, "seattle times," denver post, to craft power in ar different way? you are thinking how we do investigative journalism from the bottom up where people recovering are also people who were part of creating the story themselves. when they start to leverage in those communities, that is the bottom of power challenging, using journalism and the institution vehicles for the redirect, and iho think how cane continue to take the strategy
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that you use for amazon into other things with other corporations. corporations are thek ones with the crisis in journalism it hurts more in terms of the reporting, but you can still request government documents as amazon or google don't want to giveve you their spending you're going to need to work with people and so i think it may actually be rethinking how we engage such as that it's not just color and conversation with the starting point that can often times do their own investigation but often it goes beyond engaged journalism where people are like i was always curious about why there wasn't a statue, now there is. that's one of form and you are
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talking about but the ability of the large national organizations that can bring together some of the smaller more regional missions i think that is a way of amplifying, but i worry about the internal talent shift because you see when these investigative centers were founded it's like a reshuffling of talent as much as it is like a reshuffling. so the prior approach getting the people to do the work of challenging power and using the power and organizing power to do that. journalists freaked out by this
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idea like old-school journalists togh imagine versus having the kind ofs power to help create a story. >> but you mentioned city bureau in chicago and the base level work that goes into the functioning city hall report, going to the meetings and figuring out what question. i want to talk about the culture of the press for a minute. i apologize if i mispronounce your name. what you say the later vilification of big cities, politically centrist figures is an example of a class religion chlorine ideology with andrew
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wcuomo in 2020 and any other numbermb of examples. >> i think it is absolutely they can tell you who the mayor of new york city is. the relationship evolves over time. giuliani became a mayor. the relationship that his family has goes back an entire
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generation. what it tends to reflect his this power or relationship that's very much part of how journalism works and how you get these stories and certain kinds of people being brought into this. but we will not do that ande i think that the bias that you are talking about in terms of class and region and ideology, you are spot on. that is my big central critique how we color the powerful reflects this idea very much so what the media elite understands is power and why that is important. journalists are powerful.
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>> one question asks whether we could a discuss the effect of subscriptions were firewalls on the problem and i will layer onto that how to address the dissonance between who has access to consume and who is represented in quotes and news reports and others in the press. >> there is nothing more t maddening than the fact that they get better information than others then they are likely to pay and willingre to pay. i understand that the journalism has to be paid more. there has to be some other way to do it. there's the conception of people making the decision of what
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becomes news and who the audience is and that is what is happening now. that is the strategy and the only way going forward that distorts even more so than before the images of who the news is for some increasingly particularly at the local level to treat the people that are the subject of stories rather than those who matter to engage within stories told about rather than mysteries for.
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it's important for people in these decisions to have great information butec the effect of people having this information in their daily lives you have to pay to know something and when it's happening sometimes newspapers in the city are the only place you will get that information and now you have no idea why. >> that is so right. one of the challenges i would say for us in the business what do you do i guess and i would point this question to you i did the same journalism thing where
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i've reported or edited with the profession and to point us in the direction of perhaps getting more and more into the culture of the press van in a particular place where we are deeply rooted and connected not just on a city level but a neighborhood level to the concerns of the public. havingin identified that, how do we overcome or mitigate to see parts of the world that are background training education, class privilege et cetera. >> there is a larger culture and
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its being in dc or looking for espn, is that the end goal or is there a different end goal and it's more true to what we started the conversation with which is the desire to change things. that is sort of one side of it. i think in terms of thinking of the crisis and representation inside of journalism together, they should be taken to gather but i think part of this is making the people that are working in the newsrooms look more like the communities and there is no excuse.
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i looked yesterday and 9% of detroit is white. when you look at the number of journalists who are white it's something like 80% and you can't tell me that there are not ways to do better and how are we failing, to not make it possible for people to be empowered to work in these spaces and to leverage that power to do bottom-up directive journalism. with all of these news
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associations like do you get letters and we've talked about before rethinking the federal work studies so people don't have to choose between covering working for the student newspaper and taking a job swiping cards or taking a third job so they can afford to work at a student newspaper. using some of the federal loan forgiveness and nonprofit journalists part of doing better is having these conversationson that we are talking about today and not shutting up about it.
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>> i would say it's also it can be easy, like race and ethnicity and thinking about diversity as opposed to a multidimensional class analysis and wealth privilege it can be pretty easy to create accesss and to pat yourself on the back, to folks that pretty well accurately depict the newsroom. i am curious how we define and speak explicitly how do we talk about where the deficits are?
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i hear a lot of fervor and the broad representations but explicit appeal. >> you're the kind of person i know you've started these kind of conversations explicitly with the most elite and we need more people like you they have the cultural class so it can happen. i think that there is talking about it and sometimes when you have the data it is powerful and can't be ignored and that's why
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the survey is so important. llook at the representation bounded in the internship classes and i think the new yorker when they literally went through 40,000 articles looking at the number of book reviews written by women, like you need the data to be able to draw the picture and when you talk about diversity and the need to improve, what have you done
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lately. we've had these conversations and others i forget, who is it giving a survey like every year, add young. so am i quoting enough women. that needs to be part and parcel of the practice of viewing the news work. >> i am going to pull in a related question that said when it comes to the bottom-up investigative reporting, how do we connect -- how do we connect
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with the unconnected and what is the relationship on the platform and how can we use it better? >> currently the structure problems with that are hard to ignore and they use as it is traditionally understood to capture the dynamics. when i think about it it's like block by block. part one thinking about these
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platforms in the communication infrastructure into the open markets like my gosh what does this mean on these for-profit platforms serving as the lifeblood and those people that may not necessarily be connected, but i think that there is a big assumption being made between the disconnect and the journalists as we are imagining it. she talks about the way that the journalists failed to engage with the leaders in the area, so there's always somebody more connected to get to the
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unconnected. and also the disconnection may come from being off at what is -- not seeing yourself represented, so that is a great question and one that we need to think more about. >> it reminds me of being an intern on coverage in orlando within local newspaper was reported as the orlando flannel. it's such a reminder of the fact that you can have a process in place but if the press, if the precept and the values are at odds with the culture, which they were, there were a lot of
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questions about from an evangelical christian community that i was embedded in, there were questions how should we treat the press, they are secular and don't quite share our religious values and i always would have wondered what to do with that. an interesting question about visual versusit traditional journalism. photojournalists are more heembedded in the necessities. do you think that we underpin the role the platforms can play and photojournalism can play in representing a different way from either the 600 word incremental news story or the long magazine length?
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>> some of the beautiful journalism and photo essays are incredible on the textbased journalism or document broadcast journalism. it's nice that they see photojournalism as being deeply embedded in the communities because i'm not sure that is always the case. there's a story in the la times which is journalists kind of writingut about their experiencs and a journalist refused to enter because -- it really depends and it's a great question we need to think more
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about. we are in a golden age of photojournalism t. i'm always astounded by a beautiful drawing and those are conveyed but some of the choices compound. there's the story inor rural america and all the photos are in black-and-white. >> absolutely. >> one of the pleasures left the platform is getting a window into a different experience somewhere around the world next to one another and i don't know that we figured out what to do with that power to link the perspectives and also to go
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beyond what we can see on the platform and how we create the window. a couple of questions one if we can speak to the issue of salaries and how that contributes to journalists working for larger and bigger cities. >> i have followed the truck and left dc not just for journalism but to make money work when they don't have a safety net it's really hard, especially starting out in some of these big cities and then the more precarious it is and if you stick it out long enough you can make a decent amountf of money one day but
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people try to work in big organizations because they have a health care plan and paid them a little bit more, yes, absolutely that is necessary to who works and where they work wereand where they choose to li. it's something to think about what role might transparency play like other news organizations and institutions to beut accountable but when the "washington post" looks at the salaries like please volunteer your information there's all these disparities. you might find out the person next to you is making ten grand. >> i'm going to throw in one
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more that asks about the potential impact of the ursustainability act or the possibility of the government intervention more broadly. i guess i will just volunteer. i've always had this kind of funny counterpoint to the narratives in the newspapers and the one printed paper that i subscribe to comes from my partner's hometown of plainview minnesota but still somehow gets delivered to us in california and we subscribe to it. one of the things i think that keeps it alive is one of those implicit views the government notices that appears in the paper every week. what do you think about the possibility that public
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government intervention could step in? >> i think one of the goals is to understand how to make the news n organizations more competitive in the marketplace so they can survive independently. sometimes the way through is assisting legislationng and pows for the government and executive branch to carry out some of those barriers, and i think that for me some of the ways of leveling that out is whether they are being run by b hedge funds for the local news but obviously facebook and google and amazon. i think that is the first step for me quite frankly. after four years of donald
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trump, i am soured on the idea of active expansions of government subsidies for the news media, but i'm glad there are still believers out there. [laughter] >> where did you come over the course of researching the book to think of may be to help the sustaining and supporting ofnd journalism and we have three minutes. >> particularly when it comes to local news it might be in the system or something else, so really tapping into each place what does it look like to
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provide the kind of news and what does that offer and how can it be done by another news organization so it's like coming up with this measure of resilience to understand the ability of any community to understand that the loss of the local media. that's one way and i'm still convinced we can tip the flow of money in politics to shore up the partisan democratic alternative to some of the right-wing local press that we are seeing. take some donations and funnel them to the local media. i should mention i should refer
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to them as such even though they are in some cases one of the big income streams that is popping up. there's a whole other line of questions that have opened up and i wish we could keep talking longer because the book is fascinatingti with ideas of whee we've come from and where we are headed and we could go on the for hours talking about it so i would encourage folks to check it out, news for the rich white and blue is on sale at a bookstore near you. thank you so much for this exchange and for

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