B-12 Journalism & Race Initiative

The “B-12 Journalism & Race Initiative”
An Intensive Infusion of Background Knowledge and Practical Information on Race for Journalism

The B-12 Initiative is a 3-year collaborative project at the Aspen Institute that harnesses the expertise of key journalism and racial equity-focused organizations to provide an intensive infusion of background knowledge and practical information into the field of journalism in a concerted effort to improve coverage of race and structural racism. The initiative will serve as a task force of sorts to carry out the effort. 

The racially charged events of the 2010s are changing far more than headlines and conversations. They are activating citizens of all ages and races in unique and, in some cases, unprecedented ways. In this time of rapid demographic change, they are also, on the flip side, increasing anxieties and antagonisms among those whose experience has not lent itself to understanding or connection with individuals and communities of color. Incidents of racism on college campuses, the Department of Justice’s report on government sanctioned racial targeting in Ferguson, MO, as well as long-running conflicts centered on race, education and employment illustrate the challenges still faced by communities across the United States. Given journalism’s great power in influencing the pace and direction of change, it is crucial that journalists have timely and accurate information on how race is operating in the US today and how they can most effectively produce excellent journalism about it and all of the issues with which it is intertwined.

A key challenge, however, is that these developments come at a time when journalism’s level of preparedness to positively affect public awareness around race and structural racism has diminished. Downsizing and buyouts redirected the attention of journalists already under pressure. At the same time, awareness and desire for change is at a tipping point, and, to borrow from the esteemed late New York Times’ media reporter, David Carr, “the ability to do journalism, to reach audiences, has never been better.”

The Aspen Institute convened The Forum on Journalism, Race & Society from December 7-9, 2014 with the support of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Thirty among some of most innovative minds in journalism stepped back from daily pressures to focus on the profession’s role in changing the current odds for children and communities of color.  The forum’s overarching questions were, “Does journalism still have the power to call Americans to conscience and action around matters of race?” and “Can journalism have even greater positive impact given the magnitude of racial inequity, its durable nature, and its toll on individual, community and societal wellbeing?”  The forum afforded opportunities to exchange ideas and experiences among visionary leaders, and to infuse productive energy into one of the nation’s most complicated challenges. It immediately influenced or inspired coverage inThe New York Times, The Florida Times Union, on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, and that it catalyzed staff training at one news outlet, among other examples. A set of recommendations based on the forum, Great Power/Great Responsibility—Reporting on Race in the 21st Century was developed and are the pillars of the B-12 Journalism & Race Initiative.

The goals of the B-12 Initiative are:

  • To expand the recommendations with examples, video tips on the most challenging issues, and related resources via a website designed to benefit professional journalists and journalism students alike. This site will serve as a “Race 101” resource for the journalism field and will produce quarterly e-bulletins over the course of the initiative.
  • To bring the recommendations developed at the Forum on Journalism, Race and Society to a much wider audience of journalism professionals and schools of journalism via conference presentations, forums at journalism schools and workshops at news organizations.
  • To host an in-person and online conference during year two of the project that will be focused explicitly on journalism and race. The aim of the conference is to increase, skills, commitment to excellence in reporting on race and collegial connections among of journalism professionals. 

This confluence of a) public awareness, b) desire for change and c) the unprecedented ability of journalism to reach more audiences more effectively presents a set of perfect opportunities to fortify and expand the field’s capacity to contribute to a fairer, more equitable and prosperous society. It is our aim to capitalize on this ability to build the capacity of journalism to analyze data and situations, provide relevant context, hold decision-makers accountable, report compellingly on all communities, and build inclusive teams and diverse sources. Delivering practical recommendations and examples to as many journalists as possible will not only direct attention to the heart of the issues, but will provide a road map and footholds for taking and sustaining action in reporting, editing and community engagement.

The overall mission of the B-12 Initiative is to raise the bar for reporting on race by providing examples, tools and connections among journalism professionals. As many news organizations are already recognizing, investing in more and better journalism on race is a socially responsible growth strategy—a win/win for journalism and the society at large. Leading conversations on race means that publishers, editors, producers, directors and reporters must have the most up-to-date and comprehensive understanding of race in the US since achieving excellence in reporting on race is not just the obligation of journalists of color, it’s the responsibility of all journalists. We believe that the B-12 Initiative, with its existing set of concrete recommendations and plan for broad collaboration, is perfectly positioned to provide the boost of energy and knowledge that will advance journalism and community wellbeing alike.