CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is now halfway through her term, and to commemorate her two-year anniversary, the mayor only offered the customary one-on-one interviews to one select group of journalists — political reporters of color.
Her decision has ignited all kinds of opinions.
She took the action to make a statement about the lack of Black and Brown political reporters in television, radio and print newsrooms in Chicago, and she laid out her reasons in a letter sent to reporters like CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov who were not on that interview list.
In her two-page letter, Lightfoot brings up the country’s “historic reckoning” around systemic racism while pointing out the “absence of diversity across the city hall press corps.” She expresses concern about the “mostly whiteness and maleness” of the city’s news outlets, a glaring observation considering she is not only the city’s first Black woman mayor but also the first openly gay mayor.
“Diversity matters,” she writes, “and without it, how can you, as the media, truly speak to the needs and interests of the diverse and nuanced constituency you claim to serve until you do the work necessary to reflect that constituency.”
She also points to “implicit bias” in city hall news coverage but does not give examples.
Her challenge is to “hire reporters of color — and especially women of color — to cover Chicago politics and city hall in particular” or make sure a person of color is working with them.
But then there is the question of access and cherry picking who gets to ask an elected official direct questions.
The dean of the Medill School of Journalism is conflicted.
“We’re talking about someone trying to shed light on historic inequities, and that’s a commendable goal. Still, it’s a slippery slope to kind of allow politicians to dictate coverage in that way,” said Dean Charles Whitaker with Northwestern University.
When pushed, one of the mayor’s staffers told the National Association of Black Journalists this is a one time thing.
But she clearly wants to send the diversity conversation into high gear.
In Chicago there is a crime crisis, an unemployment and now a worker crisis, among other issues. The three arguably most powerful politicians in Chicago — Lightfoot, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and State’s Attorney Kim Foxx — are all African American woman. One is openly gay. So is this the time for a diversity lecture?
Kozlov thinks the argument she is posing is not about people currently in power but is specifically focused on the people who report on them. She was very specific in those comments.
Kozlov did ask to sit down with her Wednesday to talk about her letter but never heard back.
There are some who call this a bold move and others who say it is wrong. The principle behind it aside, this could also be a political move to boost her standing as mayor at a critical time. It is no secret her support in the Black community is not strong right now, and this could be a way to try to increase that support.