Opinion

The CP Edit: Doing the right thing

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It’s always the right time to do the right thing. We state that principle up front — with a hat tip to Spike Lee’s eponymous film — because it aptly expresses our approach to delivering news to our readers to the best of our ability. When we fall short, we don’t believe in making excuses. We’re all about admitting our missteps, righting the ship, and becoming a better paper — and better people — in the process. That said, we also reserve the right to defend ourselves when we believe criticism is unfounded or unfair.

With that preface, we note that City Pulse was recently on the receiving end of pointed criticism from Ingham County Commissioner Derrell Slaughter for our failure to include the perspective of Black citizens in the formulation and scoring of our candidate survey on social justice and equity. We undertook the survey because we believe it is the right thing to do. An important part of our mission is to help voters learn more about the views of people seeking elected office on the most important issues of our time.

Commissioner Slaughter declined to participate in our survey because he believed that the questions were composed solely by a white person (he is correct). He further surmised that the responses would be scored by a white person (also correct). Slaughter is absolutely right that including Black voices in the development phase of our survey would have ensured that we were asking the right questions and scoring the responses fairly. In our defense, we note that we did reach out to several Black community members for guidance but were unable to connect with them prior to publication. Nonetheless, we accept Slaughter’s criticism with an open heart, an open mind and a sincere willingness to do better. We apologize to him and others who were offended.

Commissioner Slaughter pointed to the lack of diversity among our reporters and editorial staff as the proximate cause of our blind spot in producing a truly inclusive survey. As we’ve noted previously, City Pulse has struggled in recent years to attract and retain people of color on the reporting and editing side of our paper. We were deeply disappointed to lose a young, talented Black reporter from our small staff in January when she moved onward and upward in her career. Although we have taken a significant financial hit due to the COVID pandemic, we continue to diligently seek qualified candidates of color because we understand that it is vitally important for this paper to reflect the diverse voices of the community we serve. Had she been on our staff when we developed the social justice and equity survey, there is no doubt her lived experience as a Black woman would have brought immeasurable value to the enterprise. In her absence, we should have worked harder to seek out others to contribute to the process and are committed to doing so in the future.

Commissioner Slaughter also expressed his disappointment with a story we wrote last year that focused on the stalled appointment of a Black Lansing resident to a county advisory board. His appointment was paused by county officials after a City Pulse reporter brought to their attention a series of Facebook posts that strongly suggested the prospective appointee was selling marijuana in violation of state law. With the benefit of hindsight — and with insight gleaned from Commissioner Slaughter’s perspective — we can see how the story could be viewed as disparaging or unfairly targeting the individual in question.

At the same time, we don’t agree with Slaughter’s assertion that the story casts Black people in a bad light.  We reported a matter of public interest and would have written the same story regardless of the race, gender or any other characteristic of the story’s subject. Whatever one thinks of marijuana, this is a legitimate area of inquiry when it involves a potential appointee to a public body. If anything, our article was a reflection of society’s ongoing struggle with how to regulate the use and sale of marijuana.

While acknowledging our shortcomings, we believe we’ve done a pretty good job covering issues related to race, social justice and equity. We were the first newspaper to question Mayor Andy Schor for his treatment of Black city employees and doggedly followed up as the story unfolded. We have diligently reported on the protest movement against racial injustice and police brutality in Lansing, led primarily by people of color, and used our editorial voice to call for police reforms that will help bring an end to violence and abuse against people of color. Recently we began running a regular column by Dedria Humphreys Barker to help bring another important Black voice to the fore.

At a time when our society is in the thick of a long overdue reckoning with the many manifestations of racism, we intend to continue being a part of the ongoing and critically important dialogue among and between people of every stripe that aims to right the innumerable historic wrongs perpetrated against people of color. Checking our privilege as white people is part and parcel of getting it right. We’re resolute in our commitment to continue listening, learning and growing and we will always welcome fair criticism when we get it wrong. None of us are perfect, but we all must strive to become our best selves. City Pulse is committed to doing just that.

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