As a Black woman in the TV news industry, Georgia Fort ’10 has experienced discrimination firsthand. She has felt alienated for her hair, speech, mannerisms and more. For example, Fort described the hours she had to spend straightening — and ultimately damaging — her natural hair.
“When you get a contract in TV news, you have to agree that they basically control your image. So, when I was hired as a TV journalist, I was hired with straight hair,” she said. “Historically speaking, news anchors have been required to have one image and to maintain that image. And if you change that image, you have to have permission.”
Fort left one TV station due to what she described as discrimination when it denied her maternity leave. With almost 15 years of broadcast experience and two Emmy nominations, she was offered jobs elsewhere in the country, but she struggled to find a job in Minnesota. Meanwhile, she saw a TV station hire a white college student with much less experience as a weekend producer.
That is why founding BLCK Press and being a lead reporter for Racial Reckoning: The Arc of Justice is important to her. BLCK Press is an online site that publishes news and other content about the Black experience in America. Racial Reckoning is a journalism initiative created by Ampers, KMOJ and the Minnesota Humanities Center to enlist journalists from BIPOC communities to cover the court trials for Derek Chauvin and the other former police officers involved in George Floyd’s murder, in addition to other issues.
“For me, Racial Reckoning is very personal because it’s not just about what we’ve seen unfold in the criminal justice system. The disparities in Minnesota are … it’s hard to even describe,” said Fort , who received a bachelor's degree in business administration and management from the Opus College of Business.
Racial Reckoning does not have hard deadlines, nor does it rush to be the first to report on an issue. That is because it is prioritizing accurate, factual reporting.
“Not to say other news organizations don’t have that, but I think when your project is titled ‘Racial Reckoning,’ you’re making editorial decisions from a different lens,” Fort said.
During Chauvin’s trial, weekly recaps were made in Hmong, Somali and Spanish to reach communities underrepresented by mainstream media.
Fort is also mentoring the up-and-coming BIPOC journalists who are working for Racial Reckoning. She says mentoring and influencing the next generation of journalists is the most fulfilling part of her work. But she notes that even as more BIPOC journalists are being hired, newsrooms are struggling to retain them.
“You can recruit all you want, you can make great hires, you could find the best of the best of the best journalists of color to fill your newsroom, but if you don’t address the culture in your newsroom, you will fail to retain them,” she said, adding that addressing culture outside the newsroom matters, as well.
“What happens when they go to the grocery store? What happens when they go to church, what happens when they’re driving, while still just being Black? What happens when they’re going for a jog? What happens when they’re just living their life in Minnesota, while being Black, or any other ethnic background?” she said.
Fort, Racial Reckoning and similar groups are hoping mainstream media in Minnesota will hire from this cultivated group of journalists instead of outsourcing from other areas of the country. People from local communities can provide important nuances and context for complex stories, along with local connections, she said.
“You lose that when you’re outsourcing people who are not from this community,” she said.
Fort also thinks citizen journalism plays an important role in media coverage. Especially for TV, a growing amount of video comes from citizens choosing to film what they see – notably Darnella Frazier’s video of Floyd’s murder, a citizen video that spread around the world and helped hold the parties involved accountable.
“The power of documenting media is a powerful tool,” she said. “Whether it’s used correctly or incorrectly, it is a powerful tool. It can be used to cause harm, and it can be used to cause accountability or used to create positive change. It’s a powerful tool.”
This article was created during ThreeSixty Journalism’s summer 2021 News Reporter Academy by high school students in partnership with the Minnesota Humanities Center and the University of St. Thomas.