Mayor Lightfoot only granting interviews to reporters of color ahead of 2nd anniversary

Lightfoot blasts 'overwhelming whiteness and maleness' of Chicago media outlets

Craig Wall Image
Thursday, May 20, 2021
Mayor Lightfoot only granting interviews to reporters of color
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she has been struck by the "overwhelming whiteness and maleness" of Chicago media outlets from the board room to the press room.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- On the eve of her second anniversary as Chicago mayor, Mayor Lori Lightfoot seized the opportunity to raise the issue of diversity by only giving interviews to reporters of color.

Lightfoot has made equity and inclusion a major focus of her first two years in office. And in deciding to take aim at the media, she said she has been struck by the "overwhelming whiteness and maleness" of Chicago media outlets from the board room to the press room.

In a two-page letter to members of the media, she wrote: "It is impossible for this glaring lack of diversity not to be reflected in the daily coverage of government, politics and city life every single day."

"She makes a really great case about diversity and the lack of diversity, but she doesn't make the case about what's wrong with the way she's being covered," ABC7 Political Analyst Laura Washington said. "What she says implies that she's being covered unfairly, there's implicitly or explicitly bias, but she never makes the case for how that plays out in the media."

Northwestern University Journalism Professor Ava Greenwell has written a book about the diversity issues in newsrooms, which go back decades. She supports the mayor's desire to draw attention to the issue.

"When we're looking at the Black Lives Matter movement and inequity and all these other places, the news media has no choice but also to look at itself in this situation and see if it doing the best job it can to actually fostering equity across the board," Greenwell said.

But former ABC7 Political Reporter Charles Thomas, who covered City Hall for nearly 10 years, sees the mayor's move as an attempt to distract from other more important issues.

"Is the crisis diversity, or is the crisis crime?" Thomas said. "I would suggest to you that a bigger crisis is crime. A bigger crisis is city finances. A big crisis is public education in a city where the schools and public schools have been closed for a year and a semester."

The mayor also issued a challenge to newsrooms to hire more reporters of color to cover City Hall.

The President of the Chicago Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists sees the letter as no big deal, because diversity in newsrooms is something they've been fighting for years.

"Yes, it's a great public relations move at her two year mark," NABJ Chicago President Maudlyne Ihejirika said. "But, it will not, it will not mean Mayor Lightfoot does not have to answer for her deficiencies, her weaknesses as well as her accomplishments over these past two years."

In a statement, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists said while it is important to address newsroom inequalities, "NAHJ does not condone restricting press access based on a journalist's race/ethnicity. Any action that threatens the cornerstone of our democracy and First Amendment rights is unacceptable."

There are also some who see this as an attempt by the mayor to curry favor with the Black and Brown communities, where her support may be soft.

ABC 7's Evelyn Holmes interviewed Mayor Lori Lightfoot Wednesday on a wide range of serious issues facing our city. ABC 7 is committed to holding all of our elected officials accountable, no matter who is invited to ask the questions. Her interview will air in our newscasts on Thursday.

Full statement from National Association of Hispanic Journalists:

While it's important to address long-standing newsroom inequalities, and it is imperative that leaders in power help hold news organizations accountable, NAHJ does not condone restricting press access based on a journalist's race/ethnicity. Any action that threatens the cornerstone of our democracy and First Amendment rights is unacceptable. We must take more effective steps to achieve lasting equity in newsrooms and news coverage.

Full statement from National Association of Black Journalists

The recent comments issued by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to explain her decision to only do one-on-one interviews with Black and Brown reporters on the two-year anniversary of her inauguration is a bold move. It appears to serve to underscore her desire to draw attention to the racial disparities in local newsrooms and political coverage. The mayor notes that she is disturbed about the overwhelming white Chicago press corps covering city hall. While her social media posts and subsequent letter have been eyebrow-raising to some, it shines a needed spotlight on the call for a greater commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion across the media industry.

Although we cannot support the tactic, we applaud the mayor's sensitivity to the lack of diversity among the people who cover city government. Historically, America's elite political units have been led by predominantly white reporters and managers. Too often Black journalists are not given the opportunity to join political teams.

While the mayor has every right to decide how her press efforts will be handled on her anniversary, we must state again, for the record, that NABJ's history of advocacy does not support excluding any bona fide journalists from one-on-one interviews with newsmakers, even if it is for one day and in support of activism. We have members from all races and backgrounds and diversity, equity and inclusion must be universal. However, the mayor is right in pointing to the fact that Black and Brown journalists have been quietly excluded from a number of access points over the years. We know first hand it is painful and unhealthy for our communities.

NABJ is also gravely concerned to see that a city with such a diverse population has no fair representation of communities of color in its local press corps.

This local issue is reflective of what is happening around the country and we continue to work to change the status quo. We have been successful in a number of areas to dramatically improve access and promotions for Black journalists, especially during the awakening and racial reckoning stemming from George Floyd's death.

The mayor's deputy communications director stated on Twitter, "Chicago's Mayor picked one day out of 365 to exclusively provide one-on-one interviews with journalists of color ahead of her two-year anniversary. That shouldn't be controversial. The lack of diversity in the media is."

We call on all media outlets to further improve Black and Brown representation within their newsrooms now. There should be no further delay in making swift and effective changes.