Home #Hwoodtimes Black In the Newsroom: THT Interviews Venneikia Williams

Black In the Newsroom: THT Interviews Venneikia Williams

Venneikia Williams – Campaign manager for Media 2070

By: T. Felder 

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 6/1/23 – Media 2070 is a project reposed around the New York Times bestseller News for All People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media written by Juan Gonzales and Joseph Torres. Serving as a co-author and a member of the Media 2070 team, Torres is the senior advisor at Free Press and advocates in our Nation’s capital to ensure media policies serve the public interest, all while building community to expand the project’s reach. Other members include Afrofuturistic journalist Alicia Bell, Gullah Country Native, and Black Alliance immigration leader Collette Watson (Director), as well as campaign manager Venneikia Willams whom we will have the pleasure of interviewing today.

This project serves as a catalyst focusing on the visibility of the media’s harm against POCs, highlighting their role in racial injustices in and out of the newsroom.

The team produced a seventeen-minute documentary titled Black in the Newsroom, which debuted at Arizona State University last June. The film follows journalist Elizabeth Montgomery on her journey to land her dream job at The Arizona Republic newspaper. Shortly after receiving the position, Montgomery discovered systemic racism in the form of low wages and ill-treatment compared to her non-POC colleagues. She said, “The pay was so low that I had to either pay rent or buy groceries while watching my white colleagues in similar positions make thousands more per year.”

Below is our interview with Media 2070’s campaign manager Venneikia Williams where she will be elaborating on the film and giving us a broader scope on Media 2070’s push for new storytelling policies regarding POC and coming up with ways to support black journalists.

THT: Can you explain Media 2070?

VW: Media 2070 is a media reparations project that lives 50 years in the Afro-future. Essentially, we were created by the black caucus at Free Press, so we are a project within Free Press. It started with an idea and a thought that black folks will be able to own their queries from audiation through creation and distribution without interference. And with that claim the call came the essay that chronicles media harms from the first slave ad printed till modern day of the things that we see in the media today. Media 2070 calls for media reparations, reversal, control and ownership of black stories by black people. 

THT: How did you become the organization’s campaign manager?

VM: I was friends with Diamond Hardaman who is one of the essay contributors. We organized and worked in St. Louis Missouri together and I was teaching at an organization that did trainings for college students around active citizenship and global citizenship and we were doing a session on storytelling and the importance of storytelling. It was around the time that Media 2070 had launched. And not too long after that, they put out a call for the campaign manager. And I was like it deals in line with what I want to do and what I had been doing both with the activist’s peace and then the storytelling. 

THT: For those that are not familiar. Can you tell them about the Media 2070’s documentary Black in the Newsroom?

VM: Yes, so Black in the Newsroom is 17-minute-long film directed by Colette Watson, the projects director. And it tells the story of journalist Elizabeth Montgomery based out of Phoenix Arizona. But also, the media, as a system. We often talk about physicalizing media as a system, the same way that we do with criminal justice system, or the health care system. Media isn’t just something that came out from nothing, within Elizabeth Montgomery’s story, we can see its rules and biases. When she worked at the Arizona newspaper, she wasn’t being fully seen and acknowledged. Within her story, what we hear so often is that other journalists have also felt like they were just a number within their newsrooms. Even though their stories are doing numbers, getting clicks, on top of them being good writers and storytellers they’re still under appreciated and underpaid. We wanted to show her struggles and her strength through it all.

Black in the Newsroom talks about how one corporation can own all these radio and news stations and often control what we see, what we hear, and what we do. There’s actually a statistic that talks about how white counterparts are paid almost 26,000 dollars more. So Black in the Newsroom will touch on all of that.

THT: Where can viewers watch the film?

VM: The film is now available on YouTube and on Vimeo.

THT: I know this film has sparked up some conversation, have you spoken to anyone in regard to this discourse?

VM: A few colleges have reached out to us to privately screen this; we’ve screened it in one newsroom in Colorado. And the question that we ask when we’re there is what do we gain when we have black journalists within the newsroom? And their answer is we gain stories, insight, flavor, and authenticity. Conversely without black journalists they said that they lose the richness of having diverse perspectives and voices. Within the community and university screenings there’s an appreciation for a highlighting of the issues because often times journalists are not seen as part of the community that they are reporting on. So, to implementing Elizabeth’s issues and show what it is that journalists are dealing with helps bring all the pieces together for people. Also wanting people to amplify and share stories written by black journalists.

We’re currently in Colorado teaching a four-week course on media reparations and they’ll be viewing Black in the newsroom. So even the opportunity to impact the next generation of storytellers, journalists, and media makers is a way that Black in the Newsroom is changing the landscape.

THT: What are your thoughts towards social media and disinformation?

VM: I see it as an accessibility issue and a media literacy issue. I don’t think that people getting their news from Tik Tok or Twitter is a bad thing because it’s more widely available. When we think about it generationally, that’s where a lot of our younger kids are getting it from. With technology ever evolving we must evolve with it. But radio broadcast licenses only being given to white owners during Jim Crow era to modern day there’s always been a distrust, we must take that, we must sit with that.

THT: And how do you regain trust?

VM: I think that’s where community-based strategies for engagement, local news people engaging in that way and places where people are seeing themselves outside of just crime coverage. Building rebuilding and regaining trust as far as social media, I think it’s worthwhile and that it can be used, but Safiya Noble talks about algorithms of oppression when it comes to the things that are amplified. There’s a lot of money in advertising too, like, you said, to misinform and disinform people. And so that’s where the media literacy comes in where we must practice. Being inquisitive is important, not taking everything as a source. Having that sort of curiosity and willingness to continue to be seek reputable news is important.

 THT: Thank you so much for your time.

VM: No, thank you for yours. I appreciate it. You have a good one.

To watch the film please click on the link below:

Black in the Newsroom – Full Movie – YouTube

Media 2070 has an ongoing petition calling on newsrooms to demonstrate care for Black journalists and communities. It allows signers to urge newsroom leaders to sign the “Pledge to Care,” committing to properly supporting, paying, and nurturing Black reporters who tell truthful stories about the communities they cover. More than 80 journalism organizations have already signed pledged, including CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, Mother Jones, Scalawag Magazine, the Tucson Sentinel, WFAE-Charlotte, WREG-3 Memphis, and YES! Magazine.

Here’s an extended read on anti-blackness in America’s media system Essay | Media 2070 (mediareparations.org)