For the longest time, I’ve felt conflicted about my relationship with The Daily Tar Heel.
I’ve felt immense pride when we broke major news stories or held the University accountable for its treatment of the campus community. I’ve loved supporting our newspaper as a bastion of student journalism — a place to “Print News, Raise Hell.”
But I’m also disappointed. I’m disappointed by the hypocrisy of a supposedly inclusive newsroom that hasn’t made enough efforts to prioritize staffers of color and from underrepresented backgrounds. I’m embarrassed knowing we caused harm to people through reporting missteps and have overlooked stories crucial to different members of our readership.
When I applied to join the DTH in fall 2018, one of the very first things I read was former University Desk Editor Leah Asmelash’s farewell column.
Leah’s words about the paper’s systemic race issue stuck with me throughout DTH orientation, during management reads, in conversations with other journalists of color and every time I stepped foot in the office.
As a new staffer, I didn’t see myself as a valuable part of the newsroom, especially because it was overwhelmingly white. Time and time again, I thought about quitting the DTH.
It’s also difficult to feel cared for by a newsroom that doesn’t write stories that relate to your lived experiences. Historically, the DTH has been criticized for not covering issues that are important to BIPOC and marginalized communities and for not being culturally competent when it does cover those communities.
But I also know that intentional and sustainable change doesn’t happen overnight.
I’m proud of the work that the DTH's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officers Brittany McGee, Ramishah Maruf and Heidi Pérez-Moreno have done to make the newsroom a more inclusive space. They and other DTH editors and staffers of color before them helped prioritize reporting on stories of marginalized communities, which eventually led to the creation of the Elevate section this year. Elevate's purpose is to highlight and celebrate underrepresented communities that make up our campus and Orange County.
I’m excited to serve as Elevate editor for the 2021-22 school year and to continue directing this coverage. I’m hoping to work closely with next year’s DEI officer and management team to address reporting areas early in the year and establish regular check-ins with beat reporters. As our newsroom looks to a digital-first future, I look forward to expanding our coverage to include more audio and video content.
I also hope to work with local Chapel Hill organizations to plan a tour of the town for new staffers during DTH orientation. To produce accurate coverage, DTH reporters need to understand the histories, contexts and cultural nuances of our community.
Although Elevate appears in the newspaper on a bimonthly basis, its content and values must be at the forefront of every editor’s mind at the DTH. The drive to amplify underrepresented voices in our community shouldn’t be relegated to just Elevate’s section of the paper.
It is the responsibility of our entire leadership to foster a work environment that celebrates the complexity of a reporter’s identity, that makes staffers from marginalized communities feel valued beyond the number of stories they may write.
I’m hopeful that in years to come, the newsroom will live up to the promises made to staffers from underrepresented groups and the standards we’ve set for ourselves, because I know DTH is capable of more. It has to be.
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