After a long history of anti-Black prejudice in media, what would reparations look like? To answer this question by the year 2070, a team of journalists at nonpartisan organization Free Press have come together to launch Media 2070.
The initiative started with a research essay—written by Alicia Bell, Joseph Torres, Collette Watson, Tauhid Chappell, Diamond Hardiman and Christina Pierce—that detailed the history of U.S. media participation in anti-Black racism and harm. It is also “a growing consortium of media-makers and activists collectively dreaming reparative policies, interventions and futures,” according to its website. Both the website and essay went live in October 2020.
Bell, Free Press organizing manager and director of Media 2070, told E&P that the idea grew from the work she and her colleagues had been doing for years. For example, upon conversing with Black and brown communities, Bell said the organization often found they didn’t have a relationship with local news or that they had been harmed by it.
So, in 2019, the Black caucus at Free Press began to discuss what media reparations could look like. Initially, the plan was to publish an op-ed and call for reparations. However, as the team dived into the issue the proposal developed and ultimately, they wrote a 100 plus-page essay.
The essay covers various topics from how the media profited from and participated in slavery to how public policy has rooted anti-Blackness in the media. The essay also documents specific events. For example, it includes the story of Eugene Williams that took place in 1919. Williams was a 17-year-old boy sailing on a raft at Lake Michigan when he drifted into unofficial whites-only waters. A white man threw rocks at Williams, causing him to drown, which caused a fight that turned into riots. The newspapers paid little attention to Eugene’s life and there were further problems in the reporting of the riots, the essay stated.
“The ultimate goal is to win repair and reconciliation at a policy level, institutional level and a philanthropic level, and to really influence the shifting of newsroom and journalism culture…in a way that honors the ideas and stories of all people,” Bell said.
This year, Media 2070 is focusing on building their coalition—which they want to fill with media makers, organizers, journalists, funders, technologists, and lawyers—and hosting coalition meetings which will lead to the creation, writing and releasing of a media operations platform. They will also continue to educate the public on the concept of media reparations.
Bell described the reaction to Media 2070 as eager. There was an immediate interest to act, she said. People from journalists to philanthropy workers reached out to ask what the next steps were and how they could get involved. Others shared that the essay gave them data points or context for things they were also feeling.
However, there were also people that questioned how the initiative will affect newsrooms across the nation that have been struggling financially. Bell explained that there is currently no sustainable model with the current economic models and histories that the industry is built on. So, for journalism to survive, “we have to figure out the transformation that’s necessary.”
But why wait until 2070?
“This isn’t about waiting until 2070,” Bell said. “It’s really about putting into motion the world that we want to exist in 2070 so that by the time we get there, we’re not having the same conversations we’ve been having for the past 100 years.”