Georgia Fort doesn’t consider herself an activist, even though people call her one. She’s a reporter – one of two who were in the courtroom when Derek Chauvin was convicted of the June 2021 murder of George Floyd. She did freelance work for NBC Today show, helped produce a PBS First line documentary and was nominated for two Emmys.
But the St. Paul-based journalist also works outside of traditional channels, reporting directly to her audience. She has over 95,000 followers on Facebook Watch, nearly 40,000 on TikTok, over 19,000 on Instagram and over 2,500 on YouTube. Last year, she reached 15 million people through Facebook alone, she says, and every time she posts something, her audience grows.
His freelance work is unlike what you’ll see on TV. Instead of tightly cut images with narration and commentary, Fort presents subjects that speak for themselves, often at length. A video, which Fort posted in February, features a woman named Nichole talking about her time living in a Minneapolis homeless encampment. In March, Fort went live for 28 minutes during the Minneapolis teachers’ strike. Around the same time, she shared footage from outside Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, where people gave statements about family members who had been killed by police.
Fort is also advocating for media reform: more diversity in newsrooms, more diversity in the stories told, and more diversity in the voices of cited experts. She criticized mainstream media coverage of Amir Locke, Winston Smith and other black men killed by police.
“If you are a journalist in Minneapolis, why do you still consider MPD a credible source? she tweeted in February. “#AskingForAFriend.”
But an activist? The word, Fort says, is often thrown at black journalists, especially those who expose injustices, challenge official narratives or call for change. For her, the word is a dig aimed at discrediting her work as a journalist while ignoring how the media has perpetuated violence and evil in the black community.
“When you have a black body challenging the status quo in any industry, all of a sudden it becomes activism, instead of being seen as a thought leader in journalism” , she says. “My promise to my audience is to cover stories about race and culture that build equity.”
A free press has long been considered a fourth pillar of democracy: an institution that provides a balanced account of what is happening in the world; transparent control of power and corruption. But analyzes have begun to expose the ways systemic racism seeps into who tells the news, whose stories are told, and how the stories are covered.
Newsrooms are less diverse than the nation’s overall workforce, according to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, which found that 77% of newsroom employees are non-Hispanic white, compared to 65% of all American workers. At NPR, an internal review from the same year found that 83% of sources quoted on-air were white and 67% were male.
Increasingly, journalism has had to take into account the emphasis on objectivity and questions about how bias affects news coverage, says Jelani Cobb, a journalism professor at Columbia University at New York. Recognizing that no one can be truly objective, he says, media organizations have instead started tackling fairness and representation.
“The old regime was that people never acknowledged their views or their biases and wrote stories that had a sort of voice of God’s authority for them,” Cobb says. “The idea of objectivity has often worked as a cloak to make normative a middle-to-upper class, white, middle-aged perspective, particularly newsroom demographics. This is under criticism.
That judgment has been a long time coming, says Fort. After the Civil War, white-owned newspapers incited lynchings and massacres of black people — a phenomenon highlighted in a new project called “Printing Hate” from the University of Maryland’s Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, which has documented over a century of racism. in media coverage, including headlines calling black people “bullies” and “fiends.” Newspapers announced when and where the crowds planned to gather.
Media bias remains just as blatant today, says Cobb, who highlighted the work of artist Alexandra Bell. In a 2017 piece, Bell enlarged and annotated a New York Times story of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. On one side of the poster-sized artwork, Bell included the original headline: “A teenager struggling with problems and promises.” On the other side is Bell’s version: “A Teenager with Promise”.
Diversification of news coverage is lagging behind, says Gayle Golden, a journalism associate professor at the University of Minnesota. Over the past 20 years, Minneapolis has been a relatively active place for local and citizen journalists, she said. With the rise of social media, journalists now have more ways to share what is happening in marginalized communities, opening the door to important conversations across diverse sources and informed coverage of trauma.
“If there’s a hunger there, there’s also a way to get there,” she says. “Even 10 years ago, you couldn’t easily access it.”
Fort grew up in St. Paul and went to high school on the East Side. She majored in business at the University of St. Thomas, where she hosted a weekly show for the college radio station. After graduating in 2010, she moved to Georgia and got a job co-hosting a morning radio show, before moving into television news and multimedia reporting. Filming, producing videos, writing scripts, publishing print stories for the web, she learned to do it all.
Returning to Minnesota in 2017, Fort worked as a news anchor in Duluth. She returned to St. Paul in 2018 and quickly reported as a freelancer for local media outlets and nonprofits, including Unicorn Riot, a nonprofit decentralized media and educational organization of journalists co-founded by Niko. Georgiades.
With the help of her business background, Fort researched the media market and brainstormed her brand strategy, and after much scribbling on notebook pages that were crumpled up and thrown away, she arrived at her tagline. signature: “Changing the story”. Those three words have helped her focus on the equity-building stories she wants to tell about race, culture, and injustices.
“As long as it fits in that frame, I show up,” she says.
Independent journalism raises questions about publishing without editorial input, but Cobb says readers can ultimately benefit when they have access to multiple perspectives. Just as political scientists can better predict elections by looking at many polls, he says, mixing media sources “can probably bring a conscientious consumer of the media closer to truth or sincerity than anything else.”
By posting on her own, Fort says, she can circumvent the whitewashing that occurs in traditional posts and provide more balanced coverage. During Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey’s re-election campaign, for example, she says she saw him speak about public safety at a north Minneapolis church, alongside reporters from every city publication. Then, while those stories focused on what the mayor said, hers featured a black woman from the neighborhood talking about the bullet holes in her home.
“Until the mainstream media can do an overhaul and have coverage that better reflects the America we live in,” she says, “then it’s going to have to be independent journalists coming to the table and saying, “Well, yeah, I only amplify voices of color, because the mainstream media refuses to do that.
A look at who really makes the media landscape.
- 40%: The segment of the US population that belonged to racial and ethnic minorities in 2018.
- 22%: The share of newsroom staff in print and online publications of these groups in the same year.
- 18%: The part of the management of the newspapers of these groups.
- 32%: The proportion of New York Times staff who were people of color in 2019.
- 26%: The share of the newspaper’s news and opinion staff who were people of color.
- 21%: The segment of the newspaper’s management that was made up of people of color.
- 15%: The share of radio employees who were people of color, according to a 2019 report.
- 26%: The People of Color segment on local newscasts.
- Narrowing gaps: Among newsroom workers aged 18-29, 38% are white men, compared to 30% of all workers in this age group. This is a smaller gap than for newsroom employees aged 50 and over: 56% are white men, compared to 39% in the overall workforce.