In this Still Talking, we asked Rod Watson, columnist and urban affairs editor with The Buffalo News and past president of Buffalo Association of Black Journalists:
“Why are you always writing about race?”
“Well, of course, I don’t always write about race,” Watson said. “But to the degree that I do, it’s because race-based inequity continues to exist here in Western New York and across the nation. Not to deal with that would be a betrayal of all those people who stood in front of fire hoses and had police dogs sicked on them and took batons up beside the head, and even gave their lives so that people like me could be in positions like this, and have this platform. Because diversity is not just checking a box on an EEO form; it’s incorporating and valuing the perspectives and insights that come with being black in America so that the media can present a more accurate and comprehensive portrayal of society, and that society is still filled with racial inequity no matter what metric you look at – whether it’s the wealth gap, the income gap, the poverty gap, the education gap, or the health care gap – which we’ve seen play out recently in the disparate impact of COVID-19 on people of color.
“To the complainers, I have one answer: spend less time complaining and more time dealing with these issues of inequity so that we can take them off the table as issues. And then, and only then, will I stop writing about race.”
Since the 1990s, Watson has written about police reform – including the need for a strong civilian review board. As a columnist, he’s been able to freely write about these types of issues, without waiting for specific incidents of police abuse and the Black Lives Matter movement to ignite such coverage.
In his other role as an assistant city editor, with the intent to make positive change, the News’ City Hall reporter reviewed reforms proposed for Buffalo including the civilian review board and stop receipts that have worked in other cities. This type of review is what Watson focuses on, and keeps the public abreast of issues of police abuse on people of color, so that it remains a focal point. Watson follows the maxim to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted” with his coverage, and ensures that equitable coverage is presented, for issues affecting African Americans.
“That, to me, is what equitable coverage means,” Watson said. “It doesn’t mean covering everything equally; it means shining the spotlight where it’s needed most. And in our society, that means shining it on the problems disproportionately faced by people of color. Police abuse and the impact of Covid-19 are just two examples of that.”
Buffalo Association of Black Journalists Instagram: @nabj_buffalo
The Buffalo News Instagram: @thebuffalonews
View other videos in the Still Talking series