In 2020, the Colorado Media Project, a philanthropic organization dedicated to local news sustainability, launched the Voices Initiative as an opportunity for community members from under-represented groups to explore why trust in the media was at an all-time low and what could be done to restore it.
I was invited to participate in the Latinx Voices group, but I wanted to hear more from other groups as well. Being in a leadership role in a Colorado newsroom, I had made it my mission to create teams that are more inclusive and reflective of the communities we cover.
Listening to Black leaders talk about their recommendations
for building trust was truly eye-opening, and I found it fascinating that their top request of media was not to hire more reporters and editors of color, but to acknowledge past harms in coverage.
In the words of the Black Voices group, “For there to be any room to build, create and foster healthy, reciprocal and trusting relationships with Black communities, there must first be an uncovering of material harms and a commitment to addressing those harms.”
Those words were still playing in my mind when I came to a Denver Press Club presentation of the Black Panther Press by senior librarian Jameka Lewis, who assisted us in this project. In describing the culture in which the activist newspaper existed, she highlighted some examples of coverage at the time, including many from the Golden Transcript.
As publisher of Colorado Community Media, I was, of course, interested since the Transcript is one of our publications.
In the late 1960s and early ’70s, the Transcript ran nearly 170 stories mentioning the Black Panther Party, many of which portrayed the Panthers in a negative light and primarily focused on violent acts in other states that did little to share insight on the group’s efforts locally. They rarely covered appearances by Black Panther leaders. It made me uncomfortable to be a representative of this publication, and it made me realize that we, too, had something to atone for.
The Golden Transcript was awarded a grant by the Colorado Media Project to explore, uncover and analyze this issue in the form of a special report that is in this edition of your newspaper. As a result, our newsroom participated in the Maynard Institute’s diversity, equity and inclusion Fault Lines training, and our West Metro editor, Kristen Fiore, was a speaker at the Advancing Equity in Local News convening with journalists from publications like the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Washington Post to talk about this project. Our journalists spent over a year working on this project, and we know that eyes are peeled to see how a small, local newspaper will pull this off.
Our predominantly White newsroom was tasked with scrutinizing the tainted coverage that came decades before and working out how to repair the relationship with Black readers today, many who distrust traditional forms of media because of past biases like the ones we detailed in the project.
We see this project as more than a story about the past. It instructs us in our efforts to better build and engage our communities and to include everyone in civic conversations. At first, people tended to clam up when they heard what we were doing. We understand; acknowledging racism is a touchy subject. Yet, eventually, people started to talk and we learned from those conversations that more conversations are needed.
We learned that talking about racism doesn’t have to be a touchy subject. It is often necessary. Our agenda is to build trust among all of our readers and to spark community dialogue about issues that matter. Thanks for reading — we appreciate the opportunity to cover all aspects of our communities, and we welcome your letters and thoughts about the Transcript – and CCM – as we move forward.
Linda Carpio Shapley is publisher of Colorado Community Media, which runs two dozen weekly and monthly publications in eight counties. She can be reached at email@example.com