Journalist Vann R. Newkirk II on How to Cover White Supremacy Without Sucking

Image via Getty.
Image via Getty.

As we’ve witnessed and participated in protests in Charlottesville and across the country, reporters and newsrooms have rushed to cover white supremacist groups with a renewed vigor. But how do we best cover these stories without unintentionally elevating the wrong voices?

On this episode of Big Time Dicks, we speak with Vann R. Newkirk II, staff writer at The Atlantic, who has written extensively about race—most recently growing up in the shadow of Confederate monuments, and about the black Charlottesville residents affected by protests in their hometown.

“As this conversation about Confederate monuments, about the Civil War, about the flag has gone on—not just under the Trump presidency but since Dylann Roof’s massacre in the church in Charleston, South Carolina—who I thought has been missing from that debate is the perspective of people, one, who are southerners,” said Newkirk, “and two, who are the people who might have been considered the targets of acts of terror in the south.”


He told us that after the election, the way editors approach journalists of color has also shifted.

“I kind of feel like, and I actually would say that lots of journalists of color feel this way too, like a bit of a Cassandra. I think people were telling, in newsrooms across the country, were telling editors, were telling Americans that race is a thing,” he said. “That the concern around statues did not start under President Trump... You see people realizing as a whole, whoa, we missed this, and I think it was part of why people were so blindsided by the phenomenon of Trump.”

We also spoke about the idea that as these hate groups receive increased coverage, however momentarily, newsrooms can avoid giving them too much.

“I think, as incredible as that Vice documentary was, I think the more we do this micro, hyper-focus on white supremacists and try to wrap our heads around them, the more they are in turn using that media coverage, that focus, in order to legitimize themselves,” he said.


Newsrooms can counteract this temptation by saying, “for every good documentary we have on white supremacists in Charlottesville, we need to do more coverage of people of color on Charlottesville,” he said. “We have to have a balance.”

Big Time Dicks can be found on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play, iHeart Radio, and on the NPR One app.


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Senior Editor, Jezebel

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I suck irrespective of whether or not I’m covering white supremacy; will this advice be useful to me?