Melissa Harris-Perry: Thanks for sticking with us. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. Now, if you made a Venn diagram of The Takeaway, you'll find my next guest at the intersection of multiple overlapping circles. This award-winning multi-platform journalist has served at our sister station KQED, at Mother Jones where we find great stories and guests, and she spent time with the Center for Investigative Reporting, and you know we talk to them on the reg.
Julia B. Chan: My name is Julia B. Chan. I'm the incoming editor-in-chief of The 19th. That is also the first time I've said my new title out loud to somebody, so [laughs] thanks for that.
Melissa Harris-Perry: As next editor in chief of The 19th News, Julia remains right here in the Takeaway Venn diagram. You know The 19th, they're the independent non-profit newsroom reporting at the intersection of gender, politics and policy. With somebody that connected to us, we knew that you would want to know more about her. That's why we sat down to talk with Julia B. Chan. I asked her to tell me a little bit about herself and about her pathway to The 19th News.
Julia B. Chan: I am very excited to have my first interview with you here, which will be carried on on KQED, which is a wonderful way that my two pathways can connect so soon and really starting out this new journey with The 19th. I started off at the San Francisco Examiner here in lovely San Francisco, California, really as someone who came in as a web producer, who very much was just starting to learn journalism and learn media and was that young person who knew the internet in the newsroom and introduced the newspaper to social media and to ideas around how things online could be done a little differently from print.
I really cut my teeth at the Examiner. From there, I went onto the Center for Investigative Reporting, which was a really great way to learn what more enterprise investigative journalism could be across platforms, and it really kind of took my nose off of that daily grindstone of daily news, to be able to think about what long-form was really like and spent five years there and helped to launch Reveal, which is an investigative podcast. From there, I went on to Mother Jones to be their Director of Audience.
Being the Director of Audience at Mother Jones, the first of its kind there, I was really able to experiment the ways in which we talked and engaged with our audience, and what it really means to not just broadcast. When we think about engagement, I think even social media, a lot of media companies tend to take social and use it as yet another broadcast mechanism, "Watch our thing, read our story," versus really opening it up into a two-way street.
My two years there really helped to set me up for this managing editor role that I was most recently at at KQED, in which, as I'm sure you and The Takeaway audiences are familiar, public media has really been wanting to find ways to better engage audiences, not just the ones it has but ones in which it purports to serve, so really kind of bringing in engagement strategies to reach underserved and historically underserved communities here in the Bay Area was very much what I centered a lot of my mission around.
Ultimately, all of that work really, I feel, culminates into this new role that I'll be taking on with The 19th in which this brand new organization, journalism organization, is taking on policy and political journalism in a way that not only wants to speak to a nationwide audience and national audience but also wants to drill down into building communities with folks who have been historically underserved by the media at whole.
Melissa Harris-Perry: What I love, I ask you a relatively straightforward or simple question, but your level of enthusiasm about this gig, about this role, that the US media and journalism and narrative storytelling and investigation and accountability, the idea that it still has something that can make you excited. I want to see if I can ding that armor of journalistic joy and ask, isn't journalism dying in this country? What is there to be this enthusiastic about?
Julia B. Chan: Oh, that's a big question, and I'm with you there. This level of enthusiasm and joy it definitely is not steady. There are highs and lows to this work, but I think that is another reason that keeps me going. I do see a number of things, and I've experienced a number of stories and projects and movement that have continued to inspire and encourage me. The ways in which communities of journalists have come together and have started-- not started, continued to speak out and create meaningful change and want to work at creating more meaningful change, like a burgeoning newsroom culture at The 19th, that is what's gotten me so excited.
That's what's kind of keeping my fires lit and seeing the ways in which The 19th wants to do things different. Wants to take, not ignore the history, the legacy of the ways in which things are done, but kind of cherry-pick, if you will, take the good parts of the culture and also do away with the bad parts of it. Really name what's worked and what hasn't worked, who it served, who it hasn't served, who we center and who we don't. Being able to be in this place right now and feeling like we can have more frank conversations about not just the craft of journalism but who we're making it for. I think that's what keeps me going.
That's where the inspiration for me lives, that's where the creativity lives, and as far as journalism dying, there's ways in which that absolutely is bearing out. The ways in which the business model is yet to be totally decided and agreed upon, but I think at this point we all have seen more diverse revenue business models shape up in ways that are supporting news organizations like The 19th or The New York Times or The Washington Post. I think, as journalists, we tend to kind of clock each other a little bit, especially when it comes to like, "Hey, how are you surviving out here?"
It is interesting to see that, but in this age of misinformation and disinformation, yes, arguably there are those dark days where you're like, "Why am I even doing this?" It's really those glimmers of light in seeing the impact of journalism still resonate and hearing directly from the audiences about the impact your organization's story had on their lives or on local legislation. That is definitely what keeps me going.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I want to hear a little more about that. I'm so fascinated. I feel like somewhere our own digital editor Zach Bynum, a young 20-year-old something member of the team, always has 10,000 ideas in every pitch meeting, is going to hear you and be like, "Yes, all right. This is a trajectory where I can start in the digital space, but also thinking about all of the other possibilities in the big career."
Talk to me a little bit though about that particular insight, which you've now said twice about the two-way communication, where we're not just talking into the mic or into the camera or typing away on the laptop but actually finding ourselves in some kind of dialogue with our audience.
Julia B. Chan: Sure. It's so important the ways in which organizations should want to aim to engage with their audiences in a deeper way. I think historically when we think about engagement, when we think about the ways in which our stories have reach, it's exactly that, it's reach. We want as many eyeballs as possible or eardrums or clicks, page views. While reach has its own value and is a signal from audiences to your organization about what it's reading or listening to and the volume in which it's doing that, I think what organizations really are strategizing for now and are starting to prioritize now is that depth, that relationship with audiences in order to create trust.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, you actually serve on the board of the Asian American Journalists Association. When you're talking about serving folks and being in conversation, also talk to me a bit about diversity in newsrooms. I almost hate to phrase it that way because it's a phrase that I think for so many of us has come to just represent like bean counting, like how many people or how many voices, but meaningful engagement with diverse ideas and life experiences and persons.
Julia B. Chan: It's so important for newsrooms to have a variety of perspectives at hand in its arsenal, however you want to think about what your newsroom looks like and the brains you have in the room, the more diverse and the variety of perspectives you can possibly have in that room on your team I think is crucially important.
Serving on AAJA, one of the, unfortunately, top most examples that really comes up for me when I think about what it means to have a variety of perspectives in a newsroom, I think about last year's Atlanta shootings. I think about how a number of journalists really came to the board sharing the situation in which they were not being assigned or considered in the coverage of the Atlanta shooting.
These are people with expertise, with the language skills, with the cultural competency, and the access to the communities most impacted by this event, and yet, their journalistic ethics and their angles were being questioned, their bias was being questioned. Being on the board and thinking about the ways in which that plays out, I don't think that is something that has historically played out across newsrooms that are majority white. I don't think people are out here questioning folks about their bias and whether or not they can give a solid story and provide a solid framing on an event.
To really see this play out was another opportunity to kind of address the issue at hand and really, as AAJA, come out and say that, "Hey, these are journalists in your newsrooms that have access, that can provide the accurate and thorough reporting that you're looking for, and you should be leveraging them if they want these stories," because we also don't want tokenism in our newsrooms either.
That to me is like one example in which having a variety of perspectives and experiences in a newsroom will better serve the reporting, because ultimately what we want to strive for, and this is something I very much prioritized going into The 19th, is nuance and context quite frankly. Leaning into specificity and cutting into broad strokes, because that's where I feel established narratives live. That's how we can continue to complicate those established narratives, is really utilizing the identities and the intersectionality of identities in newsrooms and leveraging people's lived experience in order to better contextualize the journalism.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I feel like I know what you mean when you say that, but I want to put that down where the goats can get it and help a listener to understand, someone who in fact maybe spends their life doing something other than listening to the news or reading the news all day, what does it mean to go to a level that is deeper and actually challenging some of the broad strokes by investing in our newsrooms, in those sort of contextual capacities that a journalist has even at the same time that a journalist has got to have the sources and verify and all of those kinds of things?
Julia B. Chan: I love that you're asking me to dig in deeper into this because it's helping me find the words to better articulate the ways in which I've seen this be executed well and the ways in which I think we could be doing better as an industry sometimes. When I think about leveraging journalists or reporters in newsrooms who have access and skills that everyone may not have, I think about how they can navigate the communities most impacted by an event or the communities at the center of a story in order to best represent those perspectives, because ultimately as storytellers, what we want to be doing is helping to tell our community's stories.
Really hearing from them, having that access, having that trust, having built those relationships with the community and with those audiences, we can hear directly from folks not only just about what happened and what the story at hand is but be able to ask them to contextualize their story and their perspective by telling us how they identify or what may have inspired or informed their reaction or their response to what just happened.
To really just dig in deeper and tell a deeper story as to why something is happening, why it's impacting the community and how and really leaning into that specificity means sharing those details, it means fact-checking those details, means following lead after lead after lead and really not just with the goal of producing stellar journalism but also with a goal of continuing to deepen that relationship with that community, because the kind of storytelling I very much value on a personal level is one that is committed, one that stays with a community or a topic and communicates with an audience about whether or not the story has a beginning and an end and how long we're committed to following it.
I think, as media organizations, we don't do the best job of that. I think sometimes we've been accused of parachuting indefinitely. The ways we can get-- really not perpetuate that and not do that is to work with community, groups on the ground, nonprofits, local organizations. There's ways in which I think we could do it better, but even beyond that, I think we could do a better job of telling folks when we are following a story and when we may be closing out. Maybe we are following something up until an election, we're going to share what the election results are, and then that is the end cap of this project for us for A, B, and C reasons.
I think, as a media organization, I know that's something I'm very much interested in continuing to do in order to, again, really invest in that relationship with the audience and be as transparent as possible with them about what we're doing, why, and for how long.
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