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Common Reading 2020-21: Listen. Learn. Act.

This theme for 2020-21 is dedicated to listening to and learning about Blackness and Black experiences.

Journalism & Freedom of the Press

Journalism in the Novel

In the novel, we follow Tracy Beaumont as she pursues justice for her father and the truth about her brother's alleged involvement with the death of a White character named Angela. In her investigations, Tracy draws on skills she honed by preparing for the role of editor in her school's paper.


What is Journalism?

According to the The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University, "Journalism is the practice of gathering, recording, verifying, and reporting on information of public importance. Though these general duties have been historically consistent, the particulars of the journalistic process have evolved as the ways information is collected, disseminated, and consumed have changed. [...]

Freedom's Journal newspaper cover from first issue

An image of the cover of the first issue of newspaper Freedom's Journal from the March 16, 1827 issue, courtesy of the Atlanta Voice

The most important difference between journalism and other forms of non-fiction writing is the idea of objectivity. Journalists are expected to keep an objective mindset at all times as they interview sources, research events, and write and report their stories. [...] "

"Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth"

According to a summary by Walter Dean of Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel's book The Elements of Journalism, "Good decision-making depends on people having reliable, accurate facts put in a meaningful context. Journalism does not pursue truth in an absolute or philosophical sense, but in a capacity that is more down to earth."

Read more from this article at the American Press Institute:

Journalism & Democracy

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." (emphasis added)

Photograph of the Heading of the Bill of Rights

Heading of the Bill of Rights from the Library of Congress

Check out the digital collections of the Library of Congress at the link below. They contain a wide variety of primary source materials associated with the Bill of Rights, including congressional publications, manuscripts, letters, and broadsides.

Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the Press is a right to report news free of government control or censorship. According to the ACLU, "The freedom of the press...is critical to a democracy in which the government is accountable to the people. A free media functions as a watchdog that can investigate and report on government wrongdoing. It is also a vibrant marketplace of ideas, a vehicle for ordinary citizens to express themselves and gain exposure to a wide range of information and opinions."

Objectivity, #BlackLivesMatter, and News Judgment

Black Press

Black Press in the US

According to the Oxford Bibliographies entry, The Black Press in the United States, "The black press is a critical—but often ignored—aspect of African American history and culture. Along with churches, political and service organizations, cultural institutions, and schools and universities, the black press has been central to community formation, protest and advocacy, education and literacy, and economic self-sufficiency. [...] African American journalism has played a dual role, serving as of purveyors of news and information and as agents of social change. The black press has always been a source of black American political power, and even among the most commercial ventures, it is a defender of shared values and interests. The story of these institutions is one of ever-present challenges—to secure financial resources and to fend off public and private efforts to silence or control them. Many of the most influential figures in African American history and Book cover of Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases  By Ida B. Wells-Barnettthought including scholars, activists, entrepreneurs, religious leaders, novelists, and poets circulated through the black press as editors, publishers, artists, and correspondents" (emphasis added)

Ida B. Wells &. Ida Bae Wells

As noted on the 1. Fight for a True Democracy page of this guide, Ida B. Wells helped to bring about awareness to the horrors of lynching through her journalism. Listen to the interview below with Nikole Hannah-Jones (who goes by Ida Bae Wells on Twitter), about "objectivity" in the news then and now.

Image of this Pamphlet Cover in the Public Domain

An Oregonian Newspaper Editor and Publisher

"Beatrice Morrow Cannady was one of Oregon’s most dynamic civil rights activists. Between 1912 and 1936, she gave hundreds of lectures to high school and college students about the importance of better race relations. She used the new medium of radio to share her message of interracial goodwill with listeners in the Pacific Northwest. She was assistant editor, and later publisher, of The Advocate, a weekly Black newspaper founded by her first husband, Edward, in 1903. Cannady was the first Black woman to graduate from law school in Oregon, and the first to run for state representative."

Read more about her at "Beatrice Morrow Cannady and the Struggle for Civl Rights in Oregon, 1912-1936" from BlackPast.org.

Beatrice Morrow Cannady, Public domain image, Courtesy Barbara J. Redwine

Read about the history of the Black Press in the United States from the Encyclopedia of Social Movement Media:

Digitized Collections of Black Newspapers

Portrayal of Black People in the Media

Media Stereotypes

The question of how negative portrayals and stereotypes of Black people in the media has been the subject of a lot of research. A search on this topic in LibrarySearch from 2000-2020 produces over 88,000 peer-reviewed articles. Studies have shown links between negative portrayals in news and other media with negative health outcomes, negative social interactions, over-sexualization especially of Black girls and women, and over-criminalization of Black adults and youth. The negative stereotypes are used to portray other groups as well. To explore this topic yourself, check out these books and links below:

Learn logo from UO's Common Reading ProgramExplore the Research Yourself

Use this permalink to log into Academic Search Premier, an EBSCO database.

Social Media & Accountability

Act logo from the Common Reading Program at UOAt the end of the novel, Tracy Beaumont writes once more to Innocence X to request an interview for her new podcast on justice. Like many young Black and African-American youth, Tracy is using the tools of social media to share her voice and make change in her world. Tracy took action.

Video Recordings

Video recordings shared on social media or otherwise have played an important role in raising public awareness about the inequalities that Black, Indigenous, and non-Black People of Color (BIPoC) face in police encounters. From Rodney King's brutal beating in 1991, caught on video camera, to more-recent incidents like the killings of Eric GarnerPhilando Castile, and Walter Scott, video recordings (both from social media and body-worn or police dashboard cameras) have also been used in court cases as evidence. Despite video recordings of police killings of unarmed Black men, this type of evidence often does not lead to a conviction (Source: "Former Officer's Guilty Verdict for Killing Walter Scott Is the Exception, Not the Rule").

Mobile JusticeTM

According to a CNN article from May 31, 2020, the ACLU launched its Mobile JusticeTM app in 2015 "following the deaths of unarmed black teenagers Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, which ignited the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014."The app allows videos to be "automatically uploaded to the organization's server to ensure they are saved even if a phone is seized or destroyed." It has also become a deescalation tool: "It can help people feel empowered while forcing officers to take a second to reevaluate the situation."

"There is no doubt that moments like these highlight the importance of the app," Marcus Benigno, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Southern California, told CNN. "Without a video of the unfortunate and tragic incident, we probably wouldn't even know George Floyd's name."

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