Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

In remembering George Floyd, journalism’s mistakes matter

By Geeta Anand

Together, we’ve persevered through the pandemic, the racial reckoning and the polarizing election, not only to learn the skills of journalism but to produce important stories.

On this, the anniversary of George Floyd's murder, I want to also share with you our deep learning and transformation this past year.

It’s become strikingly evident that who the storytellers are matters. That’s because we all see the world through the prism of our own lived experiences.

If more journalists — and indeed, more industry leaders — were people of color, mainstream media would have recognized much sooner that the cases of Black and brown civilians being killed were not isolated examples of police misconduct.

If more leaders in journalism came from less privileged white families, families that struggled with declining wages and inadequate healthcare, they would have known far sooner of the profound alienation and mistrust of government that fueled Donald Trump’s rise.

Journalism’s mistakes matter for the future of our democracy. We perform an essential public service.

When we tell stories of injustices, we force our leaders to confront these problems, find solutions and implement them.

If we take decades longer than we should to recognize something is a story that requires telling over and over again until our government addresses it, then there is a delayed opportunity to redress problems. The problem festers, and its victims become more and more frustrated.

They lose faith in the system — and in one another.

When we fail as journalists, it has devastating consequences for the future of democracy.

During my 27 years as a journalist, I’ve worked at some of the best mainstream news organizations in the world. As a woman of Asian Indian descent, as an immigrant raised in Mumbai, I know what it’s like to navigate a working environment dominated by white men, to be passed over for promotions, not to have your story ideas recognized as newsworthy because your editors don’t have the lived experiences to understand that the problems you see so clearly are real.

Last year, as America underwent a racial reckoning after Mr. Floyd's death, you — our community — rightly demanded that we at Berkeley Journalism do better.

As a woman of color on the faculty at this school, I understood the gravity of those demands and I responded. In fact, it is because I recognized the opportunity of our present moment, that I raised my hand to become dean last year.

I am talking about the opportunity to create huge structural change in this institution, change long overdue.

And in many ways, it is because of your support that I became Berkeley Journalism’s first woman to serve in this role. This past year, I have partnered with you to begin the difficult and important job of transforming not just our school but our industry.

Together, we’ve:

  • Created a new race and journalism class and recruited a new professor
  • Diversified our lecturers with amazing new instructors 
  • Boosted applications by 44%
  • Admitted a class (2023) with about half who identify as people of color
  • Created monthly faculty trainings on making classrooms more equitable
  • Raised $400,000 for first-generation students and emergency funds for students
  • Diversified investigative reporting so half of the program's summer researchers identify as students of color
  • Still, there is work to be done.

    I have laid out a bold vision for Berkeley Journalism to lead the way in taking the limits off who gets to become a journalist in this country.

    Because we know the economics of journalism often don't work for lower income people, this profession has not attracted large numbers of first-generation students, children of immigrants or people from historically marginalized groups.

    So our profession is disproportionately made up of people with backgrounds of privilege.

    We want our graduates to leave with as little debt as possible so they can afford to take the entry-level jobs that are stepping stones to careers of enormous power and influence.

    Indeed, we are committed to raising an endowment to make our school the first in the country to be tuition free: With a goal to raise $100 million.

    And as a first step, we’ve raised five full scholarships this year for students who are first generation.

    In remembering Mr. Floyd, we will continue to hold journalism accountable for its mistakes by helping to diversify the industry, so the stories that matter are told when they matter the most — now.

    Thank you, beloved Berkeley Journalism community, for being a catalyst and vital partner in this work.