To NICAR, With Love
My first NICAR offered essential support—and was missing a few things, too
This year, we asked four people who had never attended NICAR before—or were attending in a new capacity this year—to write up what they learned and experienced. —eds.
If I had to describe my experience during the US presidential campaign and election, I would have to quote another journalist. Lewis Wallace suffered the consequences of questioning the current state of journalism and what it means to be objective when your very identity is questioned. He said, “the idea that I don’t have a right to exist is not an opinion, it is a falsehood.” Wallace was fired from his job at Marketplace after writing a piece titled, “Objectivity Is Dead, and I’m Okay with It.” When I read his piece on Medium, all I could think was, “I know how that feels.”
I am queer. I am a woman. I am Jewish. I am mixed. And I work in the news in Trump’s America. And I am likely better off than most journalists who are knee-deep in stories—I’ve been working in product at Wired for over a year now, so I am not directly reporting stories, but I have to keep myself updated.
It’s easy to mistrust yourself in times like these. The folks who should read the news do not trust us. Racism and sexism have been normalized and the media is allegedly “failing.” I know some of these things aren’t true, but once you’ve marinated in this kind of commentary for long enough, it’s easy to question your sanity as well as your ability to report properly.
That’s why attending my first NICAR this year was necessary. It was vital for me to find myself with folks who know that facts still matter. We continue to take serious hits under the new administration, and it gets rough.
Resources and Real People
The conference itself was a goldmine of learning resources. From mapping to drawing lessons, my nerdy little heart felt content. I learned to dig through data to find stories (Thanks Denise Malan!), and I also learned more about my brain’s creative ability to do data. Diving into these courses inspired me to do more with my skills as a programmer and motivated me to get more involved with my editorial department here at Wired.
But the real morale boost came from what that nerdy bunch of journalists who came to Jacksonville did outside the conference. We shared our struggles. We shared our successes. We ate BBQ, taught and helped each other, held and hugged each other, discussed and debated, and left in the highest spirits. I was with other news nerds who just get it. I was with my people.
As a mixed Jewish woman, it was also comforting to find that NICAR wasn’t a monolithic glob. Around 800 people attended the conference, and while it was predominantly white and male, we did manage to organize a journalists of color dinner where 30 people showed up.
Unfortunately, that feeling of comfort was sporadic. There were sessions at NICAR that asked tough questions about inclusion and diversity, but they weren’t part of NICAR’s core trainings—they were the hour-long NICAR Conversations. [Note: the NICAR Conversations are sponsored and co-organized by OpenNews, Source’s publisher. —eds.]
Conversation sessions like Helga Salinas’ “How Do I Exist and Work in a Newsroom as a POC?” provided a space to discuss topics we can’t always explore at work. Arjuna Soriano, a front-end developer and journalist at Marketplace, even felt like NICAR was more inviting than the previous year, thanks to the conversations track. But while conversations are good, trainings are better.
I want to be very clear: NICAR does a lot of work to include minority attendees and presenters. I am simply pointing out that NICAR can and should integrate diversity and inclusion within their trainings and workshops.
Just adding more people of color or LGBTQ reporters to conferences is not going to solve the clear lack of diversity in US newsrooms. We need to integrate diversity into conferences’ curricula. Liz Spayd, public editor at the New York Times, wrote a piece about the lack of diversity in the NYT’s newsroom. After speaking to employees, she notes that “there is a level of frustration bordering on anger that would be institutionally reckless not to address." All I can do is nod my head in agreement. The future and the health of journalism are at stake in part because our newsrooms are simply not diverse enough.
I strongly believe that NICAR and other conferences can help make journalism less white and less male—and to do so, these conferences need to take responsibility and create spaces for sessions about minorities in the newsroom. Some of those sessions could be internally focused and explore why newsrooms need diversity and how to retain journalists of color. They could also usefully tackle journalism techniques and explore the do’s and don’ts of doing data about minorities. Hard skills are good, but changing the newsroom isn’t just about learning how to use the latest R package. It’s also about representing the communities we cover.
And here is the thing: If NICAR were to integrate diversity and inclusion trainings, it would also make the conference itself feel more inclusive, and keep IRE’s promise to “providing training, resources and a community of support to investigative journalists.” Because that’s what NICAR felt like: it felt like a community trying its best to support us in our experience as journalists. But I want to be supported as a queer journalist of color too.
The future isn’t all gloom—I’ve spoken with some organizers and staff during my time at the conference. They all feel the urgency when it comes to diversity and inclusion and are eager to listen. So let’s keep on questioning the status quo and push even harder for more space at the table.
My name is Lo. I am a multimedia journalist and interactive web developer. I currently work at Wired. I like data and stories. I like coding. I tried to do both at once. I am a digital sec enthusiast (whatever that means).