The Emancipator makes its welcome, long-anticipated debut

The Emancipator, long in the making, has gotten past the soft-launch stage and made its formal debut this week. Aimed at covering the Black experience from an antiracist point of view, the site is vibrant and colorful. It looks great on mobile, and features videos (including one by Black activist and filmmaker Bree Newsome Bass, above) and comics alongside serious essays and reported pieces.

The Emancipator is a joint venture of The Boston Globe’s opinion operation and the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University. Northeastern journalism students are involved as well. There’s no paywall.

The point of the project is to provide national coverage of the country’s reckoning with systemic racism. Starting with the police murder of George Floyd and the police killing of Breonna Taylor in 2020, race has moved to the center of the national conversation in a way that it had not since the 1960s. Tragically, the moment we’re in right now feels more like the backlash than it does forward progress. The introduction puts it this way:

Just as 19th-century antislavery publications reframed and amplified the quest for abolition, The Emancipator centers critical voices, debates, and evidence-based opinion to reframe the national conversation on racial equity and hasten a more racially just society.

We put journalists, scholars, and community members into conversation, showcasing missing and underamplified voices — past and present — and demonstrating how they reveal the way forward.

The founders are former Globe editorial page editor Bina Venkataramin and BU’s Ibram X. Kendi, the author of “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” winner of the National Book Award. The co-editors are Deborah D. Douglas and Amber Payne. Among the more recognizable bylines is that of Globe columnist Kimberly Atkins Stohr, and the star-studded advisory board includes the ubiquitous Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of the 1619 Project.

One interesting style note: News organizations have been reaching different conclusions during the past several years over whether they should uppercase “Black.” The Emancipator is going with uppercase “Black” and “White,” which, for what it’s worth, is what The Washington Post is doing as well. The Globe, The New York Times and The Associated Press have all opted for uppercase “Black” and lowercase “white.”

A year ago, when The Emancipator was announced, there were some hard feelings at The Bay State Banner, which has been covering the Black community in Greater Boston since 1965. (Northeastern students also contribute to the Banner through The Scope, our digital social-justice publication.) I don’t really see a conflict, though. The Banner continues to do a great job of covering local issues, while The Emancipator is national in scope and opinion-based. There’s room for both — and for more. Banner founder Melvin Miller, I should note, will receive a long-overdue Yankee Quill Award this Friday.

The Emancipator is an important project and a welcome new voice. I’ve signed up for “Unbound,” the site’s newsletter, and I’m interested to see how the project develops.

From Northeastern to the North Country: Em Cassel’s entrepreneurial journey

Em Cassel

Em Cassel is editor and co-owner of Racket, a reader-funded website covering politics, music, arts and culture in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. (She was also a student in my digital journalism course at Northeastern University.)

Em made a name for herself as food editor, managing editor and editor-in-chief of City Pages in the Twin Cities. She was the first woman editor in the 41-year history of that publication. City Pages, which was bought by the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2015, was shut down in late 2020. The company said it wasn’t economically viable, citing the pandemic. Em provides some inside scoop about that, and talks about the founding of Racket, which proudly claims on its website that it has “no bosses, some biases.”

I’ve got a Quick Take on the Montclair Local, a nonprofit weekly newspaper launched several years ago in New Jersey. The Local is well-funded and supported by a number of New York media types who live in Montclair. But what about less affluent areas?

My co-host, Ellen Clegg, reports on an effort to shut down an entire town that was uncovered by the Tennessee Lookout, part of the rapidly expanding nonprofit network called States Newsroom. The Lookout’s scoop was highlighted in the newsletter of The Emancipator, a re-imagined update on the nation’s first abolitionist newspaper for the digital age that is being launched soon.

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

Bina Venkataraman to step down as the Globe’s editorial page editor

Bina Venkataraman. Photo (cc) 2019 by TED Conference.

Less that two weeks after sending out a memo to her staff looking ahead to the new year, Boston Globe editorial page editor Bina Venkataraman has announced that she’s leaving. She posted a thread on Twitter within the past hour that begins:

Her departure isn’t entirely unexpected, as she took a leave of absence during the fall in the midst of the Boston mayoral campaign. Nevertheless, it’s stunning that her tenure lasted such a short time. It’s also at least a temporary setback for the Globe’s efforts to diversify; having a woman of color as one of the top two journalists (along with editor Brian McGrory) reporting to Linda and John Henry sent a powerful signal.

Venkataraman isn’t leaving completely. She’ll remain as an editor-at-large, which she says will involve writing for the Globe and advising The Emancipator, a racial justice digital publication that the paper is launching in collaboration with Boston University.

Unlike the news side, where McGrory has been a fixture since 2012 (he actually helped recruit Henry to buy the Globe from the New York Times Co.), the opinion side has been in flux for a long time. Ellen Clegg replaced Peter Canellos as editorial page editor in 2014, less than a year after Henry completed his purchase. Clegg served until her retirement in 2018, followed by business columnist Shirley Leung on an interim basis. Venkataraman arrived in 2019. (Clegg and I are now research and podcast partners.)

Venkataraman was an unconventional hire — a science journalist and author who didn’t come from the politics and policy side where most opinion editors cut their teeth. It will be interesting to see what direction the Globe heads in next.

Globe editorial page editor outlines 2021 highlights in end-of-year memo

Bina Venkataraman. Photo (cc) 2019 by TED Conference.

On Thursday a trusted source sent me an internal memo from Boston Globe editorial page editor Bina Venkataraman offering her take on the opinion section’s accomplishments in 2021. (Thanks, source!)

Probably the newsiest part of the memo is that The Emancipator, a racial justice collaborative involving the Globe and Boston University that’s been slow to get off the ground, is ramping up and “will begin publishing regularly” in the near future. Venkataraman also takes note of the paper’s 2020 editorials on housing in Newton, which won a Pulitzer finalist nod.

Her full memo follows.

Dear BGMP colleagues,

It’s a delight to be able to share with you some updates from the Globe Opinion team as we near the end of the year.

Thanks to our leadership, the company has made significant investments in growing and diversifying the Opinion team and the editorial board since 2019, helping us launch a pioneering partnership with Boston University, and allowing us to to do truly digital-first, innovative projects like our endorsement of Joe Biden and our editorial series Future-proofing the Presidency. This has raised the profile of our work nationally, where Globe Opinion content and voices are often featured in major broadcast venues, and has deepened our connection with local and regional communities. The growth has also allowed us to have a closer eye on and hold accountable the institutions and political leaders in Greater Boston and New England responsible for serving the public interest.

2021 has been busy and productive in Opinion and Ideas. Here are a few of the highlights that made our year extraordinary:

*Editorial board meetings with mayoral and municipal election candidates across Greater Boston, which culminated in our publishing a spate of endorsements.

*A significant and innovative project, the aforementioned  “Future-proofing the Presidency,” extensively covered in national broadcast media, influenced proposed Congressional reforms.

*Our ongoing op-ed series on longevity, in collaboration with MIT’s AgeLab, which sparked a conversation about Boston’s role as a city for innovation in aging.

*A Pulitizer finalist nod for our 2020 series on a Newton housing battle and housing choice reform.

*The launch of a hot new Ideas newsletter that already has thousands of subscribers and is engaging readers and driving them back to our section.

*The announcement of a new non-profit publication, The Emancipator, our groundbreaking collaboration with BU to reimagine 19th-century abolitionist newspapers for today’s conversation on racial justice. We started with the hiring of a great editor-in-chief and the launch of the Unbound newsletter.

*Globe Letters packages featuring our readers’ voices on the major issues of the day, from geoengineering to Mass. & Cass to Thanksgiving-season gratitude.

*Our popular Op-Talk event series and Now What? (formerly known as Don’t Look Back) newsletter, which offer new entry points to our journalism and expand our reach.

*Ideas features on artificial intelligence, race and mobility, the future of work, and urban schools led the conversation online and in the community.

* Columnists’ ongoing smart takes on pressing local, regional, and national topics — often featured in local events and on national broadcast, raising the profile of Globe Opinion.

*A new social media strategy featuring different voices of our editorial board and innovations such as  Instagram cards and reels, that has significantly grown our online audience and presence.

*Expert opinions weighing in on the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow and the threats to America’s democracy via the war on voting rights.

Looking ahead, The Emancipator will begin publishing regularly under the leadership of its co-editors in chief, Amber Payne and Deborah Douglas, while growing their editorial team and launching a new Web presence. Ideas will be publishing an exciting package on reenvisioning the US Constitution on the anniversary of the Bill of Rights. Our pandemic and political coverage will continue in editorials and op-eds, with a special focus on the gubernatorial election. Globe Opinion also aims to look back at some of the Globe’s coverage of communities of color to reckon with the past as the paper celebrates its 150th birthday. Watch for new ways we’ll engage with letter writers, more point/counterpoint op-eds, further experiments with our social media presence, and new deep dives in Sunday Ideas.

We’re always eager to find new ways to showcase evidence-based opinion and break through polarized, simplistic debates with original, reported, and nuanced perspectives. We welcome your ideas as we scan the horizon and are grateful to collaborate with our colleagues across BGMP on many of these efforts. Let us know if you see a way we might conspire in the new year!

All the best,

Bina

Bina Venkataraman
Editorial Page Editor
The Boston Globe

Black newspapers across the country collaborate via Word In Black

The trade magazine Editor & Publisher reports that 10 Black newspapers have created a network to provide news in communities of color across the country. The Effort, called Word In Black, is part of the Fund for Black Journalism, which was launched a year ago by the Local Media Association, according to E&P’s Evelyn Mateos.

Word In Black, she adds, “covers racial equity, K-12 education, police reform, healthcare disparities, social justice, politics, opinion, sports and LGBTQ.” Nick Charles, who’s heading up the project, tells Mateos:

[These] 10 different publishers sometimes have different mindsets, different politics, and they live in different parts of the country. So, people in Texas don’t have the same ideas about a lot of things that people in New York may have. But their affection and love for communities are what binds them. Collaboration is going on because people realize that to survive and to meet our mission as journalists, we have to band together.

The papers range from New York to Sacramento, but nothing locally. It would be great to see The Bay State Banner become part of this. It would also be interesting to see if The Emancipator, a nationally focused website sponsored by The Boston Globe and BU’s Center for Antiracist Research, could find a way to collaborate.

Ibram X. Kendi on race, antiracism and the problem with assimilationists

Ibram X. Kendi. Photo (cc) 2017 by the American Association of University Professors.

Later this year The Boston Globe plans to launch a racial-justice website called The Emancipator, overseen by Globe editorial page editor Bina Venkataraman and Ibram X. Kendi, who runs the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University. Because I wanted to become more familiar with Kendi’s thinking, I spent several months listening to the audio version of “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.”

Definitive is a good description — 19 hours’ worth. (The hardcover version is nearly 600 pages long.) Kendi traces 500 years of racist thought, from the early Portuguese explorers up to the dawn of the Trump era. Published in 2016, “Stamped” won a National Book Award.

Kendi’s scholarship is daunting, and the audio version probably isn’t the best way to take it all in. His organizational scheme is to tell the history of racism in America through the lives of five key figures — Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. DuBois and Angela Davis. Mather and Jefferson are the hypocritical white semi-liberals of their day. Garrison, in Kendi’s view, failed to overcome his own racist ideas despite fighting passionately against slavery. DuBois moved beyond the racist stereotypes that hampered his early writing to emerge in his later years as a true antiracist.

Davis is the most problematic of Kendi’s five. I don’t think he quite succeeds in establishing that the full breadth of her career ranks with those of the other four. Despite his best efforts, Davis comes across as someone whose significance waned over the decades following her days as an iconic revolutionary in the early 1970s.

In addition to the five people he places at the center of his narrative, Kendi builds his argument around two big ideas. The first is that there are two types of racists, white supremacists and what he calls “assimilationists.” Posited against these two groups are antiracists. So who are the assimilationists? Essentially they are well-meaning liberals who believe that the route to Black advancement is through betterment, education and becoming more like white people. (As Kendi notes, this view depends on ignoring the reality that white people are no more immune from the effects of poverty and other social ills than Black people or any other racial group.)

The assimilationist camp is a large one. Kendi says he was among that group early in his career, as is former President Barack Obama. In listening to “Stamped,” I concluded that I would have to place myself within the assimilationist group as well; I also concluded that not all assimilationist ideas are bad, though we would do well to ask ourselves where those ideas come from and why we hold them.

Kendi’s second big idea is to redefine racism as effect rather than as cause. It’s an idea he explores at length in a recent podcast with Ezra Klein. I recommend you give it a listen, as it serves as an excellent introduction to Kendi’s work. To understand Kendi’s argument, consider his take on theories of Black inferiority and their relationship to slavery. What most of us were taught is that slaveholders justified their evil practice because of false notions that Black people were not as intelligent as whites. Kendi says we have it exactly backwards — that slavery came first, and the theories of Black inferiority were developed after the fact as a way of maintaining slavery.

What does this look like in practice? Consider same-sex marriage. Many LGBTQ activists believed that overcoming hostility to homosexuality was crucial to building support for marriage equality. But as Kendi would have it, the Supreme Court’s legalizing of same-sex marriage resulted in a rapid decline in hostility to LGBTQ people. In other words, ideas follow actions rather than the reverse.

Finally, a word about audiobooks: You don’t have to buy them from Audible, which is now part of the Amazon empire. I buy them from Libro.fm, which sends some of the revenues I give them to An Unlikely Story, my favorite independent bookstore. If you like audiobooks, I hope you’ll give Libro a try.

This post was part of last week’s newsletter for Media Nation members. If you’d like to sign up for the newsletter for just $5 a month, please click here.

Amber Payne of BET Digital named co-editor of The Emancipator

The Boston Globe has named an editor-in-chief for The Emancipator, the much-anticipated racial-justice website it is launching in collaboration with Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research.

Amber Payne, a veteran journalist who recently finished a Nieman fellowship at Harvard, will spend the next several months “putting together an editorial plan and team for The Emancipator and launching it alongside her counterpart at BU’s Center for Antiracist Research,” according to an email to the Globe staff from editorial-page editor Bina Venkataraman, co-founder of The Emancipator.

The BU editor-in-chief has not been named yet, Venkataraman added. The other co-founder is Ibram X. Kendi, who directs the BU antiracism center.

What follows is Venkataraman’s full email (except for some personal information that I deleted), which I obtained from a trusted source:

Dear all,

It’s my pleasure to announce that Amber Payne joins the Globe today as the Editor in Chief of The Emancipator. Amber is an extraordinary person whose career in journalism has spanned broadcast, print, and digital.

Until recently, Amber was an executive producer at BET Digital, where she oversaw daily editorial and long form video content for BET.com. Previously, she served as executive producer of Teen Vogue and them., a vertical focused on LGBTQ+ stories. Payne also founded and launched NBCNews.com’s NBCBLK, a media vertical on Black identity, and worked on breaking news and features as an award-winning producer for “NBC Nightly News.” Her repertoire is vast and varied; she’s edited a multimedia story on an Alabama landfill that became a civil rights battleground, produced the feature-length documentary “Harlem Rising,” and made an engaging interactive on the sexist, racist history of the high school prom. She has covered stories throughout the U.S., Ecuador, and in parts of West and South Africa, including Nelson Mandela’s funeral, the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, the Vancouver Olympics, and Hurricane Katrina recovery.

Amber is fresh out of the Nieman fellowship where she has spent the past year deeply studying the history and present of race in America, examining how people from marginalized communities can share stories in ways that resonate across races, faiths, and cultures….

Over the coming months, Amber will be putting together an editorial plan and team for The Emancipator and launching it alongside her counterpart at BU’s Center for Antiracist Research (who is still to be named). She’s also eager to speak with many of you about your ideas for The Emancipator, to conspire with various teams at BGMP, and to find ways to showcase Globe journalists and their work through its channels.

Talking to Amber is fascinating and fun, and once you meet her, I think you’ll find that she’s just the person to take the helm of this historic and forward-looking publication at this moment.  Please give her a warm welcome to the Globe and join me in cheering her on!

(You can follow her on Twitter @amberwaves)

Bina

What’s in a name? The Bay State Banner’s founder weighs in on The Emancipator

The Boston Globe and the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research should have come up with a name other than The Emancipator for the digital publication they announced last month, according to the editor and publisher of The Bay State Banner.

Melvin Miller, who founded the Banner in 1965 to cover the Black community in Greater Boston, wrote recently that The Emancipator — which takes its name from a 19th-century abolitionist newspaper — conjures up images of white people seeking to free African Americans from oppression when in fact the real need is for whites to overcome their own racism. He wrote:

Even with its best intentions, the Emancipator was an organization of substantial white men to eliminate slavery. Its objective now, apparently, is to end white racism. That is a cultural impediment of white Americans. Nonetheless, the name “Emancipator” still implies that Blacks are the ones impaired by slavery or its aftereffects.

Miller added that the Globe’s role “does little to elevate the trust and confidence of Black citizens of Boston. Over the years the Boston Globe has not been overly friendly to the development of Black institutions in Boston.”

Globe opinion editor Bina Venkataraman, who’s heading up The Emancipator along with Ibram X. Kendi, director of BU’s antiracism center, referred my inquiry to Kendi, who did not return several emails seeking comment. But in a recent interview with Ben Smith of The New York Times, Venkataraman and Kendi said they decided on the name because they wanted to evoke the great abolitionist publications of the 19th century. Their first choice was The Liberator, the legendary newspaper founded by William Lloyd Garrison, but that name was already in use.

If anything, Miller’s commentary shows why The Emancipator is needed. Boston is a city that is still haunted by its racist past. And though the atmosphere has improved to the point at which the acting mayor is a Black woman, we still have a long way to go. The venture gives the Globe an opportunity to overcome the distrust that Miller refers to as well.

And as the Banner’s senior editor, Yawu Miller (also no fan of the name), said recently of The Emancipator in an email to “Beat the Press,” “There’s never enough coverage of race, justice and inequality.”

The Emancipator is currently seeking editors-in-chief to be based at the Globe and at BU, and is scheduled to make its debut later this year.

Still more on The Emancipator

Ben Smith of The New York Times weighs in on The Emancipator, the antiracist digital publication that will be launched later this year by The Boston Globe’s opinion section and Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research.

Of note: Former Globe reporter Wesley Lowery, who later clashed with now-retired Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron over his use of social media, may be coming back.

As Smith describes it, The Emancipator will have a seven-figure budget and will blend “reportage, opinion and academic research, some of which will appear in The Globe.” Founders Bina Venkataraman, the Globe’s opinion editor, and Ibram X. Kendi, who runs the Antiracist Center, say they also want to “revive the tradition of a generation of media that predates the formal division of news and opinion in 20th-century American journalism.”

Well, that’s fine. I’m sure they know that any number of quality magazines already do that. It was a hallmark of the alternative press as well. Not to say it isn’t a good idea, but there are contemporary models they can look to.

We also talked about The Emancipator on “Beat the Press” last Friday. The video is above.

More on The Emancipator

Here’s The Boston Globe’s announcement of The Emancipator, including a video and a list of the advisory board members.

There are a lot of heavy hitters here, but the three who stand out to me are New Yorker journalist Jelani Cobb, who teaches at the Columbia School of Journalism; Nikole Hannah-Jones, who won Pulitzer Prize for The 1619 Project; and Heather McGhee, author of the widely acclaimed “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.”

Also of note: Globe columnist Kimberly Atkins will write for The Emancipator and oversee its newsletter, to be called Unbound.