The Knoxville News Sentinel embarked this summer on a review of its archives as part of the Confederate Reckoning series, a collaborative project of USA TODAY Network newsrooms across the South to critically examine the legacy of the Confederacy and its influence on systemic racism today.
We weren’t sure exactly what we’d find as we dug deep into pages printed generations ago, but unlike many of our sister newsrooms throughout the South, we knew East Tennessee was an outlier, a Union stronghold in Confederate territory. We knew the News Sentinel has long proudly embraced its history of fighting segregation in schools and public facilities.
That history, however, has not inoculated us from the corrosive effects of the systemic racism endemic to American institutions and manifested in their failure to represent the true United States in all its diversity.
The News Sentinel is focused on diversifying its newsroom, and our parent company, Gannett, has made a commitment that newsrooms in the USA TODAY Network will mirror the communities they serve by 2025.
Today, we make ourselves accountable by sharing our progress and pledging to reflect the diversity of the place we all call home.
The good news is our newsroom is in broad categories reflective of the News Sentinel coverage area, with journalists of color making up just over 15% of our newsroom. The bad news is we employ no Black journalists in a region with a significant African American population, particularly in Knoxville, the state’s third-largest city.
Just as no single journalist stands as proxy for a group, no group of journalists should stand as proxies for only one segment of our community. Imbalances in life experiences, no matter how careful a newsroom is, show up in coverage. They show up in how we connect with the community, how we frame topics, how we find stories and how we approach sources.
In the coming months and beyond, we’ll engage you in our efforts to broaden our views. We will challenge assumptions about ourselves and our community. We will double down on our commitment to seek solutions as well as reveal problems.
In Knoxville: Knox News is holding itself accountable on diversity goals
Gannett news president: Diversity and inclusion are choices, not just words. Today we reaffirm our mission.
We Americans face twin crises right now playing out simultaneously at the national and local levels: the sudden onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic and the centuries-long burn of systemic racism. To solve both requires a diversity of experiences and perspectives.
The News Sentinel is one of only a few institutions that can provide the space and openness to honestly address the full spectrum of our community, and we promise to expand our efforts to foster a representative conversation.
Our newsroom has no instant solution to the challenge before us. It requires intense focus and a genuine commitment to change to make our newsroom reflect our community, and our community to be reflected in our news report.
With transparency and accountability, we will attain that goal.
Joel Christopher is our editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @j_christo. Make our community, our society and our republic stronger by supporting robust local journalism. Subscribe online at knoxnews.com/subscribe.