For reporters and photographers, white nationalism is one of the most dangerous beats in the country. It’s also one of the most important.
Yet the journalists asked to cover the issue often feel siloed, ill-prepared, and ill-informed about the continuously-mutating movement they’ve been tasked with understanding and explaining. Many feel disconnected from the support and resources they need to do their job well. Editors and co-workers, who tend to be focused on more mainstream issues, don’t understand the intricacies of their work. And deep research into the bowels of white nationalist belief and rhetoric can leave journalists personally attacked and demoralized.
To help journalists overcome those obstacles, the University of Oregon Agora Journalism Center partnered with the Western States Center to host a daylong working session and discussion Oct. 29 at the White Stag Building in Portland. The Western States Center is a nationwide nonprofit, based in Portland, that works to strengthen inclusive democracy as well as social, racial and economic justice. The Agora Journalism Center’s mission is to advance media innovations that enhance inclusive civic engagement.
The goal of the event, titled “Communicating about White Nationalism,” was to share best practices, build networks, and understand the extent of the white nationalism movement as well as its roots in American history.
More than 50 reporters, photographers, editors and academics participated in the event. Panelists and moderators included Kelly McBride, Sr. Vice President of the Poynter Institute; Christopher Mathias, senior reporter, HuffPost; Alex Zielinski, news editor, Portland Mercury; Chad Sokol, reporter, The Spokesman-Review; Shane Kavanaugh, reporter, The Oregonian; David Neiwert, freelance journalist, author of Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump; Dana Coester, Associate Professor, West Virginia University and Director, 100 Days in Appalachia; Jim Urquhart, freelance photojournalist; Tess Owen, reporter, Vice News; and Jason Wilson, writer, The Guardian. Attendees included freelance reporters and photographers, staff writers for newspapers and online outlets as well as academics and nonprofit directors. They participated in panel discussions, broke into small groups to tackle specific problems, and identified best practices.
Regina Lawrence, director of the Agora Journalism Center, said the center convened the event with the hope of identifying best practices for covering racial extremists.
“White nationalism is a complex movement to explain to the public, and it shows no signs of going away anytime soon,” she said. “It’s critical that journalists find ways to cover this movement more thoughtfully, and to include the voices of people directly impacted by it.”
Covering this movement presents a challenging dilemma: How to meet the public’s need to know without disseminating hate speech to a wider audience. Attendees learned how to recognize when they are being manipulated by hate groups and how to cover chaotic events with the balance and context that the profession demands.
—By Tim Trainor
Tim Trainor is a journalist and multimedia journalism master’s student at the UO School of Journalism and Communication in Portland. He also still works with EO Media Group and freelances for publications throughout the Northwest.