September 23, 2020; Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

In a grant that can’t help but prove strategically useful to a field that has found itself under constant attack as it cover communities under siege, Borealis Philanthropy’s Racial Equity in Journalism Fund has donated $100,000 to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) to establish a new legal fellowship that will explore and support the legal need of newsrooms led by and for people of color.

“Independent journalists and publishers of color have been ducking rubber bullets and dodging tear gas during the eruption of recent protests,” said RCFP Program Officer Tracie Powell. “Their news outlets have been burned to the ground and powerful actors have sought to silence them by refusing to include them on media advisory lists and by filing frivolous lawsuits. Access to critical legal support is a game-changer.”

The release cited a recent lawsuit against another Borealis grantee, the Atlanta Voice, as an example of the kind of issue it will address. After the Voice published an election guide for voters, one candidate, who did not return his questionnaire, sued the publication for not including his responses. Lawsuits like these create what publisher Janis Ware calls “a chilling” effect through their mere existence, incurring costs and posing distractions most publications can ill afford.

“It makes you jaded,” Ware said, “and you become apprehensive about putting out information. Borealis is truly to be commended for their leadership in providing much needed legal aid to smaller and legacy publications like the Atlanta Voice. Being able to consult and leverage high-quality, subsidized legal services during these turbulent and uncertain times arms our organizations with the guidance and confidence to cover our communities accurately, protect the hard work of our journalists and hold necessary parties accountable.”

NPQ reported yesterday on the underrepresentation of journalists of color in newsrooms—and in particular, their absence from leadership positions in news organizations. Those publications that do exist, therefore, need strong supports, and it appears the Borealis Racial Equity in Journalism Fund is seeking out strategic leverage points for that support.

“Journalists, including many journalists of color, have been confronting extraordinary legal obstacles while covering the protests and the pandemic this year,” said Bruce Brown, RCFP’s executive director. “We are proud to be working with Borealis Philanthropy to help ensure that newsrooms led by and reporting for people of color in particular have the legal resources and backing to overcome these kinds of threats and continue to pursue vital journalism.”—Ruth McCambridge