One photograph I will always treasure is a lovely family portrait showing 9-year-old Nguyen Thi Ly and her mother and grandmother in their home in Vietnam. Taken in 2010 by the renowned photographer Catherine Karnow, the tender image captures the warmth of family while proffering haunting evidence of an American tragedy—Agent Orange. Look closely, and you will notice that the faces of Ly and her mother are unusually flat and that their eyes are widely spaced. Both suffer from serious medical maladies and congenital defects. As Karnow learned during a 2010 reporting trip supported by Renaissance Journalism, their health problems can be attributed to the grandmother’s exposure to Agent Orange, the highly toxic defoliant that the U.S. military used without abandon during the Vietnam.
Triggered by the Black Lives Matter Movement, journalists across the United States are questioning the news media’s complicity in sustaining systemic racism and the inequities that permeate society. Recently, for example, the Los Angeles Times published an unflinching editorial apologizing for its “history of racism” and vowed to “redouble and refocus its efforts to become an inclusive and inspiring voice of California.” Today, this drive for a reckoning in America is also rippling through philanthropy, which has become an increasingly influential player in media as nonprofit journalism has spread in the United States.
From the state house to our city streets, Bay Area journalists are responding to the dramatic news exploding out of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter uprisings. At the same time, the heightened awareness to matters of health, racism and social inequality tied to the twin crises has pushed journalists to confront their own vulnerabilities and shortcomings. These were the top insights that leaders from the Bay Area’s most prominent nonprofit newsrooms shared during a recent conversation hosted by Renaissance Journalism. Conducted via Zoom due to shelter-at-home restrictions, it offered a rare opportunity for the journalists to set aside deadlines and share experiences.