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Panelist Q&A: Gregory Moore on Black representation in the newsroom

May 8, 2021 | Equity, Features | 0 comments

//Illustration by Madison Lauterbach | mlauterbach@msmayhem.com

Gregory Moore has had the kind of prolific career that most journalists can only dream of.

//Retired journalist Gregory Moore. Photo provided by Moore.

Over his 40-year career in journalism, he’s held an editor position at some of the largest newspapers in the country. He spent 16 years at the Boston Globe, eight of which he was the managing editor. Moore oversaw coverage of the September 11 attacks, the Charles Stuart murder case and played a key role in launching the Spotlight team that uncovered sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. 

In 2002, Moore left Boston for The Denver Post. He led the team to win four consecutive Pulitzer Prizes from 2010-2013 for breaking news for their coverage of the Aurora theater shooting, feature photography and editorial cartooning. He was also awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Association of Black Journalists in 2013 and served on the Pulitzer Prize Board from 2004-2013. 

After retiring from The Denver Post in 2016, Moore took over the editor position at Deke Digital. He currently sits on the Boettcher Foundation Board of Trustees and serves as the chairperson of the Board of Directors of Polaris, which fights to end human trafficking. 

Moore will be joining Ms.Mayhem’s panel on reporting for Black communities for our one-year anniversary on May 18. We sat down with him to get some background on his experience as a Black journalist and the key issues surrounding the lack of diversity in newsrooms. 

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

 

Can you give a brief history of your career and how you got into journalism?

I had a 40-year career as a journalist. I worked at my hometown newspaper in Cleveland. Then I went to the Boston Globe, which was really a formative experience for me. I was 31 years old and I was sort of thrown in the fire, but quickly rose through the ranks. I had a 16-year career there and eight of those years I was the managing editor. It was a really great experience that prepared me for coming to Denver in 2002, where I became the editor of The Denver Post. I had 14 years there and it was really, really great. We did a lot of good journalism and we won four consecutive Pulitzer Prizes between [2010] and 2013. I’m really proud of that. 

I got into journalism when I got to college. I always enjoyed writing as a high school student and I used to make up stories and make up movie scripts. I didn’t really know much about journalism and didn’t know any journalists growing up in Cleveland. But when I got to college, I got lucky and my faculty advisor was the chairman of the journalism department. By sophomore year I was a journalism major. In 1974 when I was an intern in Akron, [Ohio], Richard Nixon resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal. I fell in love with [Carl] Bernstein. A lot of journalists of my generation got into the business because they wanted to change the world through journalism and they were motivated to do it by [Bob] Woodward and Bernstein. So that’s how I got started. 

It’s important for people to see themselves represented in the industry they want to enter. Did the lack of Black representation in the newsroom ever feel like a barrier to you? 

No, not really. Everything kind of goes in cycles, right? So the racial reckoning that they talk about right now, well, the Kerner Commission represented that back in 1968. After the riots in Cleveland and Detroit and then Watts and places like that, the same kind of premium was being put on removing the barriers to opportunity and things of that nature that we needed to be a more inclusive society. So it was doing that period, 1968 to ‘72, that you saw an explosion of Black journalists being hired to work at newspapers and in television stations. I benefited from that because I came into the business in 1976. 

My very first job was in Dayton, Ohio, and there were like six or seven Black journalists when I got there. It was a newsroom of like 35 or 40 people, but like six or eight of them were journalists of color and we continued to recruit some of them even during my three years there. So I felt really comfortable. I mean, there were still some cultural barriers and there were times when I didn’t think I was getting assignments that I should have gotten and things of that nature. But, in terms of the opportunity, I do felt like I had a pretty fair shot and it proved to be true because I was able to go to Cleveland and get even more opportunities and to work for an African-American editor in 1980 who rose from city editor to executive editor. He was a mentor of mine, my entire career. And I kind of modeled myself after him. I just learned how to be a Black man in journalism and the kind of things that I needed to do to be an effective advocate for other Black journalists and underserved communities. 

Have you ever personally experienced issues with implicit bias or even outright racism from colleagues, higher-ups or sources? 

Oh yeah, I’ve had situations where sources gave a really big story to one of my white colleagues and never mentioned anything to me and I talked to them every day. It’s hard to separate whether that happened because I was Black or because they had a better relationship or what have you, but it certainly hurt. I’ve had situations where reporters challenged me. One of my favorite stories is one night I was in charge of the newspaper when I was the managing editor. I made all the final calls for page one. It was the night that Michael Jackson did the interview with Diane Sawyer where he denied that he was a serial rapist. I told one of my deputies before I left for the night that if Michael Jackson makes any news around these sexual allegations, I want you to replace a story we have on page one with that. Instead of doing what I asked, he called another white editor and discussed his concerns about putting this story on page one and they decided not to do it. I personally just felt like that was a slap in the face to me as the ranking editor. I called him and told him to come into the office early and we sat down and I just explained to him don’t ever contravene an order that I give. It’s really funny, we’re still the best of friends now. But I had to get him straight and I felt like he just wasn’t regarding my judgment. I do think it has something to do with my race, I do. 

So I’ve had instances like that, but I’m also really happy that I dealt with those concerns in real-time. I didn’t let them fester. And that was something I learned fairly early in my career in my early thirties, is that when you have things like that, you have to have the courage to address it right then with the person that’s creating the discomfort, deal with the problem at hand and deal with it directly and forthrightly. 

What are some of the issues you see with how Black stories are covered by non-Black reporters? Why is it important to have Black reporters in the newsroom?

I just think that there’s context that generally is always missing. Context is always a problem. If you’re not familiar with communities, if you’re not familiar with the players or the politics, if you’re not familiar with the history, it’s hard to get the context. 

And then I think it is also hard to sort of get the sensitivity right. When I say sensitivity, I mean true understanding, like really listening to people and making sure that the things that are really important to them actually make it into the story. Generally, those things tend to not make it into the story because the white reporters, through no fault of their own, just don’t understand what they’re talking about. [White reporters] also tend to focus on things that separate the subject of the story from themselves. You see that most often in the language, how they quote them. They tend to seize on that because that person is speaking totally differently than the way they speak and they think that’s interesting. Where, if I’m listening to somebody say, ‘Imma be there at four,’ I’m going to write that as ‘I’m going to be there at four.’ I don’t process that as, ‘Oh, look at that, that cute language that they’re using. Let me share that. That’s how this person really talks as if that’s some real insight into their soul.’ 

I think the third thing that’s missing is that the coverage tends to be very episodic. Something happens and they parachute in, but they don’t go back to see what happened. They don’t go back to see what changed, they don’t go back to see what other things happen in a community besides the shooting of a 14-year-old kid that is super, super tragic. What are some of the other issues? Like the fact that people haven’t been able to get their homes appraised at a fair value, or they haven’t been able to see their properties increase in value because of redlining. They don’t look at anything else that’s happening in that community because they don’t have any interest in it besides covering that episodic story. 

When you have people of color or you have women, or you have people who are residents in those communities, you get a whole different texture of a news story in terms of things that people in those communities really care about that might prompt them to buy your publication. You’ve demonstrated that you care more than just about that one story that happened. You’re actually caring about the fabric of the community and you’ve demonstrated that in your coverage. 

You’ve talked about why it’s important to have Black reporters in the newsroom, but why is it important for there to be Black leadership in the newsroom as well?

They’re the ones that green light the stories. One of the great frustrations of Black reporters, whether they’re young or veteran reporters, talking with white editors, they just don’t speak the same language. It’s very frustrating for those reporters to have to go and explain why Nipsey Hustle was a huge persona, and that his death in Los Angeles is a huge story. It’s as big as Bob Dylan dying or George Michael dying. And they don’t understand that because they’ve never heard of Nipsey Hustle. Even on more routine stories, it’s trying to explain why you want to do a story about the lack of grocery stores in Black communities that have become food deserts. You’ve got to make the argument to your editor about how food deserts affect everything from obesity to early death rates and health disparities. Having to explain that is exhausting. That’s one thing, your ability to connect around story ideas. It’s about having someone in a position of power being able to say yes to story ideas about underserved communities that would not otherwise get attention, but for the fact that you’re there. 

It’s so important to have people in power to make those decisions, greenlight those stories, challenge those stereotypes when they slip in. That’s why it’s important to have us there. And it’s really important for us to be there and not act like the folks that have been in those jobs a long time. There’s always a lot of pressure to fit in, but I believe in just doing what you’re there to do and demonstrating that there communities that you care about and making sure that that coverage is done right. 

 

Tickets are on sale now for our panel discussion For vs About: Reporting for Black Communities. You can click here to purchase yours. 

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