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BLCK Press Challenges Local Media Narratives

Dissatisfied with experiences at mainstream media companies, Georgia Fort is on a mission to create journalism that truly represents Black communities.

By Kaomi Lee

Independent journalist Georgia Fort started BLCK Press a few months after the murder of George Floyd.

"I love telling stories, it's my passion, my purpose. As a Black woman, as a biracial woman, it was difficult to do that in an impactful way working for mainstream media," Fort says.

After a decade working in various newsrooms – including as a news anchor in Duluth – she says she hit a wall trying to get a job in the Twin Cities market. Fort says she was passed over for positions for white men who had less experience. And she says news managers were not interested in her ideas.

"There was always high tension around stories around race when it came to editorial meetings, and I realized these are things I can't afford to compromise on," she says.

Some of her frustrations stemmed from the way she sees mainstream media covering people of color: like after the fatal shooting of Amir Locke, a Black man, by a Minneapolis Police SWAT team officer after entering a Minneapolis apartment with a no-knock warrant.

"In any other story, you have to tell both sides. So why when the police publish a press release and call [Locke] a suspect, and share photographs from his gun, why do we not hear from his family?" Fort says. Locke was not listed on the warrant.

This spring, Fort received several grants to expand her own media company called BLCK Press. One of her goals is to help empower young BIPOC journalists and to help change what she calls harmful narratives in the media about communities of color.

"I don't approach my work in a traditional sense where there's this imaginary line of being a journalist. At the end of the day, we're all human beings. At the end of the day, as a Black journalist, with a Black husband and Black kids, I am affected by the issues I'm covering," the mother of three says.

In Fort's office in Cathedral Hill in Saint Paul, hangs a photograph of her and attorney Ben Crump, who represented the family of George Floyd, among other families of Black victims of police killings. Both hold their fists in the air at George Floyd Square, the memorial in South Minneapolis created by the public to mourn the murder of George Floyd. Critics say Fort's journalism crosses into advocating for activists and social justice causes. Fort argues those close connections make her reporting more authentic and respected by followers, now totaling 100,000 on Facebook.

Former longtime Minnesota Public Radio reporter Marianne Combs recently joined Fort as news director for BLCK Press. [I also worked with Combs at MPR in 2001-2002]. Combs, who is white, says the notion of neutral, unbiased journalism is a standard that doesn't actually exist.

"The only time you hear [advocacy journalism] used is [against] reporters of color. They're reporting on their own community, so they must be 'adovcates.' The reckoning that needs to happen is that mainstream media newsrooms have implicit bias. Whether they know it or not, they're advocacy journalists," Combs says.

That is because mainstream newsrooms are often funded and headed by boards composed of powerful people in the industry. She says those relationships often have editorial influence, directly or indirectly, that support their points of view. Combs says BLCK Press is filling a void left by mainstream news outlets that have caused harm and distrust in communities of color.

"There's a real need for truly diverse voices and stories in a culture that supports their vision and amplifies their vision," she says.

African-American journalist Chioma Uwagwu is one of the new reporters at BLCK Press. She likes the fact that Combs does not assign story ideas. Instead, Uwagwu says she is encouraged to come up with her own news pitches. She says she'd like to see more joyful stories about people who look like her. Too often, Uwagwu says stories about Black folks seem to focus on trauma, violence and poverty.

"There's so many lot of cool positive, or even if they're not positive, things happening, intricate stories, with Black and brown people or queer people and I really want to get those stories out there," Uwagwu says.  

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