Lightfoot: I'm just trying to "break the status quo" on media diversity in Chicago

Lightfoot: I'm just trying to "break the status quo" on media diversity in Chicago

Does she even know what the status quo is? Lori Lightfoot isn’t backing down — but she’s not doing much fact-checking, either. After a reporter from NBC’s Chicago affiliate reported that Lightfoot refused to give interviews to white reporters, media inside and outside of Chicago criticized the mayor’s new policy. Lightfoot says she only wants to break the “status quo” of an exclusively white male press corps at City Hall:

Lightfoot emailed a two-page letter to Chicago journalists on Wednesday saying her choice was a continuation of her campaign’s promise to “break up the status quo.”

“I have been struck since my first day on the campaign trail back in 2018 by the overwhelming whiteness and maleness of Chicago media outlets, editorial boards, the political press corps, and yes, the City Hall press corps specifically,” Lightfoot wrote.

She wrote that there are no women of color assigned to the City Hall beat, saying, “I find this unacceptable and I hope you do too.”

Ahem, replied WBEZ:

Lightfoot goes on to issue a challenge to local media outlets: Hire reporters of color — and especially women of color — to cover Chicago politics. She claimed in the email that zero female journalists of color were covering city hall.

Two of the three WBEZ reporters covering City Hall are Hispanic and South Asian women respectively.

Yikes! Didn’t Lightfoot even bother to check on this claim, given its ability to completely contradict her foundational argument? It prompts the question of how many other people of color Lightfoot is overlooking as mayor. Perhaps the issue isn’t so much a lack of diversity in the media corps as it is a lack of competence in the mayor’s office.

Even Lightfoot’s nominal allies on diversity are distancing themselves from Lightfoot’s policy. The board of the National Association of Black Journalists scolded Lightfoot for her attempts at exclusion rather than fostering inclusion. “NABJ’s history of advocacy does not support excluding any bona fide journalists from one-on-one interviews with newsmakers,” they declared last night, “even if it is for one day and in support of activism.”

Other media outlets suggested that Lightfoot herself is the problem:

[The Triibe editor Tiffany] Walden challenged Lightfoot to uphold her promise for supporting diversity in media by prioritizing access for Black and Latino-run media outlets just as much as for legacy media. She said her outlet has struggled to get timely responses from the Lightfoot administration and been excluded from press calls. Wednesday’s interview was the first one-on-one meeting with the mayor for a Triibe staffer, she said.

The editor-in-chief of South Side Weekly, Jacqueline Serrato, tweeted Wednesday afternoon that her outlet did not get Lightfoot’s letter to media and later said the paper had not been granted an interview with the mayor despite requests to her office from two women of color on the staff.

So much for being “intentional,” as Lightfoot declared herself to be yesterday after the story broke. The problem doesn’t appear to be a lack of diversity among media outlets and reporters in Chicago. It appears to be a mayor whose publicity stunt is now blowing up in her face. And Lightfoot still has yet to explain how she plans to qualify people as “Black or Brown” journalists in the first place, let alone explain why she’s not including Native Americans or Asians in her diversity portfolio.

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David Strom 6:01 PM on February 01, 2023