The New York Amsterdam News recently announced the formation of a first of its kind investigative unit at a legacy Black newspaper. The Blacklight will produce long form and investigative journalism which will focus on Black and Brown communities in the New York region and beyond.
“In the words of the publishers of the first Black newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, ‘We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us.’ With the creation of The Blacklight we are reclaiming our narrative and continuing our 100-plus year history of speaking truth to power,” said AmNews Publisher and Editor in Chief Elinor R. Tatum. “As the Amsterdam News continues our revival it is essential that we create the capacity to do the important, in-depth journalism that holds the powerful to account and helps our community thrive,” she added.
The Blacklight unit will be led by the AmNews’ first Investigative Editor and longtime contributor Damaso Reyes. Reyes first appeared in these pages as a highschool student and for more than 25 years has contributed stories and images from New York City as well as from areas throughout the United States, Rwanda, Tanzania, Indonesia and Europe.
“I am excited to help the Amsterdam News blaze a new trail in investigative journalism and to create a space where journalists, especially journalists of color, can do the important work of helping to preserve our democracy,” Reyes said.
First year funding for the unit is being provided by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and will provide capacity for The Blacklight to investigate the impact of COVID, and COVID misinformation on our communities. The Amsterdam News is actively seeking funding to pursue additional projects as well.
“The Blacklight is the latest manifestation of the Amsterdam News’ long legacy of fighting for Black and Brown communities,” said Siobhan “Sam” Bennett, Amsterdam News Foundation CEO and AmNews Chief Revenue Officer. “Along with our revamped website, the return of our daily newsletter Editorially Black, and our expanding partnership with Report for America, the AmNews is once again becoming the essential Black voice.”
Long the preserve of large and largely white-led media institutions, investigative journalism and the prestige that comes with it have been held out of reach for many journalists of color. Recently the National Association of Hispanic Journalists tweeted “A new @latimes internal diversity report shows that as of 8/31/21 there were zero Latinos/as on the @latimes investigative, food, features/lifestyle, politics, and audio desks.”
While American media outlets have been on notice since the Kerner Commission Report over 50 years ago, not nearly enough substantive change has occurred. As Paul Delany wrote in USA Today in 2018 “The American Society of Newspaper Editors… pledged in 1978 to push for a newsroom workforce that reflected the racial makeup of their communities by the year 2000; when that goal was not reached, ASNE leaders set a new deadline, 2025. Its officials now concede that even that deadline will be missed.”
“Journalists of color are tired of waiting for a seat at someone else’s table,” said Tatum. “The creation of The Blacklight unit shows that Black journalists can and must create their own spaces and capacity to do the work our communities need.”
In addition to the investigative unit’s work being published at amsterdamnews.com/blacklight, stories will also be distributed through Word in Black, the groundbreaking Black newspaper collective Publisher Tatum conceived and is now helping to lead.
“There are journalists who are content to cloak themselves in the words ‘neutrality’ and ‘objectivity’ but in doing so they placate the powerful and unwittingly keep intact a system of racialized and gendered oppression that has harmed our communities for centuries. The Blacklight is committed to rooting out oppression, injustice and fraud wherever it lives and exposing whoever commits it,” declares The Blacklight’s mission statement.