BLCK Press — a talent pool for newsrooms

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Victoria Holmes | for editor and editor

Clockwise from top left: Georgia Fort, Founder; Jasmine McBride, journalist; Nadia Sharawi, Multimedia Specialist; Kai Sanchez Avila, journalist; Aaliyah Demry, journalist; Marianne Combs, Director of Information; Chioma Uwagwu, journalist and digital media manager; and Faaya Adem, journalist.

BLCK Press is a collaborative newsroom dedicated to cultivating talented and diverse voices in the media industry. The publication works with ambitious journalists of color to challenge the status quo and give communities of color a platform to be heard.

“We see ourselves as a bridge for young journalists of color to be welcomed into a culture where they can learn, grow and gain hands-on experience,” said Georgia Fort, Founder of BLCK Press.

Fort knows the hurdles journalists of color face when trying to enter mainstream media newsrooms. Fort started as a broadcast journalist but was unable to advance in her career when she tried to apply for positions in the Twin Cities. Even with two Emmy nominations and 10 years of experience, Fort was denied career opportunities where she grew up.

“If I wanted to keep doing it, I had to create my own path, and I decided to do it independently,” Fort said.

Fort covered the death of George Floyd and was one of two reporters during Derek Chauvin’s sentencing. Fort has also worked as a field producer for NBC Today Show online and as an associate producer for PBS Frontline American Voices since becoming independent in 2019.

At a time when even the most well-meaning news outlets struggle to cover issues of race, ethnicity and culture with nuanced precision, Fort has managed to earn the trust of his community. Its newsroom instills the same confidence by penetrating to the heart of journalism.

“We provide a service to the public by keeping them informed, exposing things that might otherwise be swept under the rug. I think that’s the main thing people have turned to,” Fort said.

Marianne Combs is the News Director of BLCK Press. Fort met Combs during a journalism project around the Chauvin trial and civil unrest. Combs previously worked with MPR News as a reporter, producer and occasional host. After the project was completed, Fort and Combs envisioned a long-term partnership that would continue the work of their original mission. Now Fort calls the newsroom a talent pool.

“We see ourselves as a bridge for young journalists of color to be welcomed into a culture where they can learn, grow and gain hands-on experience,” Fort says. She welcomes partnerships with newsrooms across the country to provide diverse talent to their staff. But, according to Fort, it’s also time for some industry standards to change.

“If you’re going to hire journalists of color and make them change their image, their language, the way they dress, what’s the point of having a diverse editorial staff? There is none,” Fort said.

Fort said that unless there is a transformation, there will be deaf newscasts and newspapers that will continue to cater to white male audiences. This is where news releases will decline rapidly if they continue to miss the mark.

“If you don’t speak to an audience of color, when the country is a minority majority, you won’t have an audience,” Fort said.

A investigation conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that blacks are underrepresented in the information industry. An analysis of data from the 2013-2017 American Community Survey shows that 7% of newsroom employees are black, while 11% of all American workers are black. According to the Radio Television Digital News Association, local television newsrooms have somewhat more proportional representation. In 201812% of television workers were African American, but only 6% of news directors were black.

The young journalists of BLCK Press begin their training with radio reports broadcast on several partner media platforms. Then, the editorial staff begins multimedia training in line with industry standards. The Newsroom is funded by grants and through its subscription platform. Newsrooms and publications may license content from their websites. While Fort and Combs put a lot of work into helping journalists gain the experience needed for professional newsrooms, they recognize that the effort must also be reciprocated by the people who hire them.

“We can train thousands of journalists of color, but if mainstream media newsrooms don’t foster a culture that retains them, then our work is essentially useless,” Fort said.

Victoria Holmes is a freelance journalist and writer based in Dallas, Texas. Previously, Holmes worked as a television news reporter and political podcast host at WNCT-TV in Greenville, North Carolina. Contact her on Twitter.

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