A challenging road ahead: Twin Cities reporters see technology tools as key to reaching marginalized voices.
Georgia Fort has seen the pain of Black and Indigenous communities firsthand. As a biracial woman who is half Black, her hair is naturally curly. However, as an anchorwoman in Georgia, she was required to keep her hair straight. No matter what.
The thing about straightening her hair: It took 1-2 hours. Except, one day, she got a flat tire. She didn’t have time to straighten her hair and showed up for work with her natural, curly hair.
And proceeded to be scolded for a supposed violation of contract.
From then on, she made it her goal to do her part to change environments that forced black and brown people to conform to others.
Georgia Fort is an independent multimedia journalist who is joining reporters and editors throughout the Twin Cities who want to see newsrooms look like the communities they cover and to use technology as a tool to better tell all important stories in the community.
Fort says her goal throughout her career has been to spread joy in stigmatized communities. No matter how tough it may be, no matter the generation, no matter the stigma surrounding the issue. Most importantly, she wants to amplify the voices of those who have not always been seen.
“I hope my legacy reforms media to be more equitable for communities of color,” Fort said.
According to Fort, and other journalists, technology is a bridge to help bring diversity to newsrooms and stories. She wants journalism to communicate with non-native English speakers, make the news accessible to everyone and use graphics to connect to the broader public.
Now, imagine you are a recent immigrant or refugee and have sent your child off to school. Your kids love the community, and you love bringing your kids to a place they already know. Except that school is closing. You are blindsided because the only outlets broadcasting the information did so in English.
For the community around the Cedar Riverside Charter school, this scenario happened.
In response, Innovation Editor at the Sahan Journal Aala Abdullahi connected with a local Somali TV station to broadcast the announcement in the language of the community. The Sahan newsroom is also continuing to find outlets that broadcast to the Somali-, Hmong- and Spanish-speaking populations so everyone can access news that affects their communities.
“Good journalism often gives people a better understanding of the world they live in, which in turn, helps people become more informed and engaged community members,” Abdullahi said. “I’d say that’s how my values intertwine with Sahan Journal’s vision and mission. Our newsroom has made the commitment to do coverage that truly represents the changing face of Minnesota and recognizes that democratic engagement and power that belong to everyone.”
Howard Sinker, Digital Sports Editor at the Star Tribune, recently worked with reporters on a story in which a basketball coach was suspended for saying a slur. The story was continuously updated for two to three weeks. Eventually, Sinker got information about how an opposing team voted to not play the team of the coach, who said the slur, after he was reinstated. The article became the most popular on the website.
The ability for Sinker, and the Star Tribune, to continuously update their stories on StarTribune.com is a tool that has only been introduced in the last decade.
Sinker’s current project has been to create web infrastructure. He wants to have readers come to the Star Tribune before other sites and, to do that, information has to be accessible for everyone.
“I really like stories that give people added value to what they see in the newspaper,” Sinker said.
C.J. Sinner, Director of Graphics and Data Visuals at the Star Tribune, has spent her career cycling through newsrooms helping to engineer digital storytelling.
Her first job was at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota as an online producer. She trained reporters on how to use the content management system. During her time in the position, the Missouri River flooded the town and displaced people from their homes and crippled infrastructure. However, Sinner and the newsroom were able to quickly leverage social media to rally the community.
Sinner uses social media and data analysis to create maps and graphics for storytelling at the Star Tribune. She aims to help people see they do not have to solely excel at English to work in journalism.
“I hope that future journalists can see that there are other media, like photography, graphics, data, or skillsets like math that can be used to help readers understand a story,” Sinner said.
Fort uses alternative media to share unheard stories of minorities. Fort created a news page called BLK Press, whose goal is to transform media by empowering reporters to share what is happening in their own communities.
“I feel like the media industry is moving forward,” Fort said. “I think that there are a lot of Black and Brown reporters that are working in mainstream media.”
She is also working on a TV show that will air on the CW that she says aims to dismantle stereotypes about Black people perpetuated by media and instead celebrate their stories.
“They’re doing a really great job of making the coverage in their stations better. And I just hope that they’re encouraged to continue doing that work from the inside because that also is going to be the thing that helps move us forward,” Fort said.
This story is part of a series produced at ThreeSixty’s 2023 Winter News Team, spotlighting local journalists. Read more stories here.