Being the Subject

Tuesday, May 31, 2022 / 10:05 AM

“Why, when you look at news about our communities, is it all just so negative these days?”

I’ve thought a lot about that question since someone asked it to me a few weeks ago. It’s a tough question, to be honest: on the one hand, we’ve faced an increase in hate crimes these last couple of years; on the other hand, my 8 years in building digital spaces in newsrooms taught me that outrage leads to clicks (and traffic is king).

I won’t pretend like my time leading NBC Asian America didn’t fall prey to that mentality. We could see, in real-time, what clicked and how long people spent on the page. We saw what got shared (and how and where it got shared).

Our bosses could see it too, and then you get sucked into the mentality that you’re suddenly in competition with everyone else in the newsroom for more traffic, higher homepage placement, more social engagement. So you do the stories that give you the advantage to show your work is “worthy.”

The secret, unfortunately, is that it doesn’t always make a huge difference in the long run. I quickly learned that it didn’t matter how many awards you received or how high the social conversation was around the content; the short-term validation we received either internally or externally would never lead to a long-term investment in the initiative. I was explicitly told that in so many words.

And honestly … once you stop caring about retweets and unique visitors and going viral and appearing “above the fold” X-number of times in a week, it’s kind of freeing.

The philosophy I adopted was something my colleague Sandra lived and worked by as she built and grew NBC Latino into the powerhouse it is: Our communities should be the subjects of the story, not just the objects. In other words, we shouldn’t only be writing stories or producing content that puts our communities as the victims of a narrative. While it’s important to cover those stories and angles, at the same time, how are we centering our communities’ voices in the storytelling process? Who are the heroes and change makers that are driving the narratives? How do we contribute to changing how we are represented?

It’s a burden. It’s a privilege. It’s a never-ending fight. I won't be so arrogant to think anything I've ever done has changed the world, and I recognize how it was perceived when I walked away. I can only hope that I’ve positively contributed to the canon of work created over the last few decades that tried to make a difference.

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