As Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot approaches the two-year anniversary of her inauguration, reaching the halfway point through her first term, she told the city’s media outlets that she would grant one-on-one interviews to mark the occasion, but with one condition: she will only speak with journalists of color.
“I ran to break up the status quo that was failing so many. That isn’t just in City Hall,” Lightfoot tweeted Wednesday morning. “It’s a shame that in 2021, the City Hall press corps is overwhelmingly White in a city where more than half of the city identifies as Black, Latino, AAPI or Native American.”
I ran to break up the status quo that was failing so many. That isn’t just in City Hall.
It’s a shame that in 2021, the City Hall press corps is overwhelmingly White in a city where more than half of the city identifies as Black, Latino, AAPI or Native American.
— Mayor Lori Lightfoot (@chicagosmayor) May 19, 2021
“Diversity and inclusion is imperative across all institutions including media. In order to progress we must change,” she continued. “This is exactly why I’m being intentional about prioritizing media requests from POC reporters on the occasion of the two-year anniversary of my inauguration as mayor of this great city.”
Lightfoot called the racial make-up of the City Hall press corps “an imbalance that needs to change,” adding that Chicago’s local media “should reflect the multiple cultures that comprise it.”
While some on social media responded to Lightfoot’s tweets Wednesday praising the move as “equity” and a step forward in representation, many others criticized the decision.
Chicago Tribune reporter Gregory Pratt was among those disagreeing with the policy.
“I am a Latino reporter @chicagotribune whose interview request was granted for today,” Pratt tweeted. “However, I asked the mayor’s office to lift its condition on others and when they said no, we respectfully canceled. Politicians don’t get to choose who covers them.”
I am a Latino reporter @chicagotribune whose interview request was granted for today. However, I asked the mayor’s office to lift its condition on others and when they said no, we respectfully canceled. Politicians don’t get to choose who covers them. https://t.co/YMW8M8ZgJm
— Gregory Pratt (@royalpratt) May 19, 2021
In a letter emailed to Chicago media outlets, including NBC 5, Lightfoot – Chicago’s first Black female mayor and first openly gay mayor – said she wanted to “ensure” that members of the media understood her “thinking behind that decision.”
“In the time since I was elected, our country has faced an historic reckoning around systemic racism,” Lightfoot wrote, in a nod to the renewed racial justice movement sparked after a police officer murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis last May. “In looking at the absence of diversity across the City Hall press corps and other newsrooms, sadly it does not appear that many of the media institutions in Chicago have caught on and truly have not embraced this moment.”
Lightfoot wrote that since she began her campaign for mayor, she has been “struck” by the “overwhelming whiteness and maleness of Chicago media outlets, editorial boards, the political press corps, and yes, the City Hall press corps specifically.”
Lightfoot went on to list in her letter the positions in both city government and on her own team that are filled by people of color, noting that the city has “more to do” but calling equity and inclusion the “north stars” of her administration.
“I am issuing a challenge to you,” Lightfoot wrote in her letter. “Hire reporters of color — and especially women of color — to cover Chicago politics, and City Hall in particular.”
She went on to ask outlets if they have people of color in leadership teams or on editorial boards, if there are qualified reporters of color who could cover City Hall but haven’t been given the chance, and if outlets have analyzed their own coverage to “identify and root out implicit bias.”
“If the answer to these questions is no, be advised that I will continue to press for that to change,” Lightfoot wrote.