#128: New Organization Supports Freelance Journalists of Color, with Chandra Thomas Whitfield and Katherine Reynolds Lewis

The Center for Independent Journalists, aka The CIJ, is a new organization—launched in September 2021—to provide advocacy, education and support to freelance journalists of color and those from other underrepresented groups in the media. Programming is open to anyone, and white journalists can also join the organization.

It’s open to all freelance journalists, not only writers. Currently, membership for the first year is included when you register for The CIJ’s March 11–12 virtual conference. The CIJ has received grants to support the organization and continues to explore other revenue models that won’t require higher registration fees.

CIJ Co-founder Katherine Reynolds Lewis lives in the DC area and is an award-winning journalist and author who writes about education, equity, mental health, parenting, science and social justice for publications including The Atlantic, The New York Times, Parents and The Washington Post. Katherine’s 2015 story on the school-to-prison pipeline became Mother Jones’ most-read article ever and led to her bestselling 2018 book, “The Good News About Bad Behavior: Why Kids Are Less Disciplined Than Ever—And What to Do About It.” Her current long-form narrative project on racial justice in education is supported by the O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism and the MIT Knight Science Journalism fellowship.

CIJ Co-founder Chandra Thomas Whitfield, who lives in the Denver area, is a multiple award-winning freelance journalist. As a 2019–2020 Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Journalism Fellow, she hosted and produced “In The Gap,” a podcast for In These Times about how the gender pay gap affects the lives of Black women. A former Atlanta Press Club and Atlanta Association of Black Journalists “Journalist of the Year” awardee, she has been honored by the Association for Women in Communications, Colorado Association of Black Journalists and Mental Health America. She is an alum of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, Education Writers Association, Ted Scripps Environmental Journalism, Soros Justice Media, Kiplinger Public Affairs and Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism fellowships. Her Atlanta Magazine feature made the Atlanta Press Club’s “Atlanta’s Top 10 Favorite Stories of the Past 50 Years” list and is widely credited with contributing to a change in Georgia law and a teen’s early release from a 10-year prison sentence.

The Center for Independent Journalists’ first virtual conference will be March 11–12. The early-bird rate of $49 expires on February 18. You get 14 sessions, including 10 panels and two keynote speakers. The keynotes are Denene Millner, a six-time New York Times best-selling author, Emmy Award-nominated TV show host and award-winning journalist who has written 31 books, as well as David J. Dennis Jr., a senior writer at The Undefeated and author of “The Movement Made Us.”

Katherine and Chandra started The CIJ after forming a group on Zoom for freelance journalists during the pandemic, where people unexpectedly became vulnerable very quickly, sharing their struggles and isolation. Katherine and Chandra realized that if this accomplished group of journalists was struggling, then other freelance journalists must be struggling too—financially, emotionally, with work, etc.

Katherine also recognized she had a lot of advantages that other freelance journalists don’t and was called to give back.

Racial diversity in newsroom leadership has been a longtime challenge, and while there’s been a lot of focus on it, there’s very little progress. Humans learn through story, so we need diverse storytellers to have a robust and thriving media ecosystem.

It’s crucial to a democracy to have a healthy freelance ecosystem. The freelance world is the least powerful part of journalism, and The CIJ aims to strengthen it.

As newsrooms struggle and cut positions and lay off staff, there’s a sentiment among freelancers of color, women and those from other underrepresented groups that they’re the first to be let go. There are also those who are willingly leaving journalism because of microaggressions, office politics and lack of advancement. The CIJ is there to support those journalists in building a freelance career.

Want to be an ally? First, listen and respect the experiences that people are sharing. Don’t try to debate it with them: “Oh, maybe you misunderstood. Oh, that wasn’t their intent.”

Also, those of us not from underrepresented groups should question the lack of diversity in the room. We need to be the ones speaking up about diversity.

Both employees and other freelancers can make the effort to find and hire or refer people from underrepresented groups. Those on the “inside” need to find people on the “outside” and offer them opportunities.

Those who want to be allies—including freelance business owners—can also educate themselves through reading more about racism, prejudice and diversity; recruit diverse panels and speakers; recommend, refer and introduce people; hire a diverse array of subcontractors; diversify your own personal network; and support diverse organizations financially. And don’t be afraid to mess up and say the wrong thing. Just apologize, learn from it and keep trying.


Register for The Center for Independent Journalists March 11–12 virtual conference for only $49 before the February 18 early-bird deadline.

The Center for Independent Journalists

Chandra’s In the Gap podcast (how pay discrimination affects Black women)

Episode #61 of Deliberate Freelancer: 6 Ways to Be an Ally with Your Freelance Business

Episode #83 of Deliberate Freelancer: A Conversation about Practicing Anti-Racism in Freelancing, with Eva Jannotta

Episode #89 of Deliberate Freelancer: Being the Only Black Man at a TV News Station, with Mario Boone

Join the Deliberate Freelancer Facebook group.

Support Deliberate Freelancer at Buy Me a Coffee.

Subscribe to the Deliberate Freelancer newsletter.

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