The reporters, editors, organizational leaders, and funders of food and environmental journalism — the arena in which FERN works — are mostly white. There are important exceptions, but as a journalist since the mid-1980s, I have witnessed these racial disparities at every company where I’ve worked. Although I am, and identify as, biracial (white/Asian), I’ve moved easily in this world, without the prejudice Black and other journalists of color have encountered and which is now receiving long overdue public attention. This media landscape reflects systemic racism.
At FERN, we work to expose inequities in the food system. Or, to put it simply, how marginalized workers often pay a higher price – even with their lives – to put food on other peoples’ tables as well as their own. That reality is reflected in nearly all of our recent reporting on food system workers, largely from immigrant or refugee communities, who continue to fall ill and die of Covid-19. Whether we are covering agricultural pollution, climate threats, food insecurity, or the failure of corporations and the government to protect workers, justice and equity help frame our stories. Our work, which has been widely recognized, makes me proud. But I also know that nearly all our reporters are white. Many are women, some are queer. But nearly all are white and that’s a problem.
So what corrective action can FERN take?
We are reviewing the way we recruit new contributors, expanding our past efforts to diversify our reporter pool. We are also establishing a special project for reporting on food access and food security issues during the Covid-19 pandemic, setting aside $15,000 for such stories, and will seek out a diverse pool of applicants. More information about that project is here.
There is a lot that needs to be done to address racial disparities in the media, and I don’t expect change to occur overnight. Yet when we put the word “Network” in the name of our organization, we were intentional, because relationships are at the core of what we do. At FERN, we are committed to increasing the size and diversity of that network.