Fund aids Black journalists amid pandemic and protest coverage

It didn’t take long for donors to answer the call: $32,000 in 48 hours

The convergence of the pandemic, economic stress and the killing of George Floyd has left Black journalists covering a historic intersection of their personal and professional lives. The work has taken a toll.

“While publications ask Black journalists — both freelance and full-time staff members — to put their lives at risk to report on racial injustices and embed themselves within the protests, they rarely provide resources for these same journalists to process the trauma incurred both on the job and in daily life,” writes Sonia Weiser, a journalist based in New York. 

Following the protests after George Floyd’s killing, Weiser created a fund to provide financial assistance for mental health support. To date, the effort has raised more than $45,000 and assisted at least 53 individuals.

We reached out to Weiser to learn about the response and how the funds are distributed. 

How did the idea for the fund arise? 

Weiser: I saw an uptick in editors asking Black journalists to write about the protests and their personal experiences. They were all asking for so much in exchange for so little. Publishing anything regardless of subject matter puts you in a vulnerable spot because all of a sudden, you’re opening yourself up to criticism. Every word is a personal choice. That’s a lot of yourself to share with the public. So imagine the emotional toll of writing about trauma? People are putting their lives at risk to get editors the kinds of stories they think will bring in clicks and are barely being paid enough to attend a single therapy session to process all of it. So I recognized a need and couldn’t find anything that fulfilled it. 

What has the response been so far? Have any therapists reached out to offer assistance? 

Weiser: In the first 48 hours, we reached a little over $32,000 (minus the fees GoFundMe takes out.) That $32K went to helping 53 individuals. When I reopened the fund after GoFundMe reimbursed me for all the payments I fronted, I noticed that more people were applying for funding, but the original urgency that compelled donations had dwindled. During the first week of the protests, there was a performative aspect to activism. Everyone was matching donations and posting their fundraising efforts. People were excited to be doing the work and even more excited to prove it. Unfortunately, that seems to have ended. Donations are coming in, but not at the speed they were. 

A few therapists have reached out as initially, I hoped to be able to match people with treaters. However, it’s hard to match someone you don’t know with a therapist—it’s like trying to set two strangers up on a date. So I think going forward, rather than trying to get therapists involved directly, I’m going to try and provide everyone who’s looking for a therapist with a list of resources they can use to find someone who’s a good fit.

Can you describe your strategy for distributing the funds to those in need? 

Weiser: Everything that comes in goes directly to the people who apply. The application asks how much they need, and I try to match that request. The way GoFundMe is set up, the money is processed and sent to my bank account so I end up sending all the money through PayPal or Venmo. It’s not the most efficient process. 

How can news organizations better support journalists of color?

Weiser: Hire them. Listen to them. Pay them the same amount as their white counterparts. Don’t treat them like token hires. Don’t pat yourself on the back for giving them a job and then make their lives miserable. Don’t ask them to only write about race. Basically, just be all around better. 

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