‘Race is the story’: AP investigative reporter on the coverage Americans need next

Kat Stafford is the national investigative writer covering race and ethnicity for the Associated Press

Wednesday’s siege at the U.S. Capitol held a mirror up for America to see itself, plainly showcasing deep-seeded inequity in the treatment of law-breaking white supporters of President Trump and the peaceful social justice protests of summer 2020. 

“Many Black Americans, leaders, activists and even President-elect Joe Biden noted in the aftermath that had that been Black protesters or Black Lives Matter supporters, the results would have been very different — as history has demonstrated repeatedly,” says Kat Stafford, national investigative writer covering race and ethnicity for the Associated Press. ”America has yet to reckon fully with its dark history of racism.”

Stafford announced her new role on AP’s investigative team via Twitter this week; colleagues say she is the first official Black female investigative reporter at AP. Stafford talked to us about her perspective on where race and culture coverage should go from here, how local reporters can include race in stories, and how to diversify sources, even in crisis.

From your perspective as a leading reporter covering race and ethnicity, what did you see unfold at the Capitol on Wednesday? 

Stafford: As the Capitol insurrection began to unfold, I was in the middle of an interview with a key Georgia organizer about the extraordinary effort of Black-led organizing work that cemented the historic Senate runoff victories. We just sat on the phone in silence for a few moments as we watched the rioters breach the Capitol. Then he sighed and said, “This is America. The one we’ve known has long existed. The fight continues and we have a long road ahead.” 

So, what I saw unfold was the juxtaposition of the hard-fought victory of Black mobilization efforts, which helped propel President-elect Joe Biden and the two Georgia senators into office, get overshadowed by an insurrection led by a mostly white, violent mob of President Trump supporters attempting to subvert those very victories. What we saw was the convergence of dual realities of America and one of the plainest displays of a racial double standard in recent memory. Many Black Americans, leaders, activists and even President-elect Joe Biden noted in the aftermath that had that been Black protesters or Black Lives Matter supporters, the results would have been very different — as history has demonstrated repeatedly. America has yet to reckon fully with its dark history of racism.

In light of the siege at the Capitol, where does race and culture reporting go from here? What coverage do Americans need?

Stafford: Race coverage must be an integral part of every beat. It can no longer be treated as a reactive or special interest topic that newsrooms cover as breaking news event occurs. Race is the story, and it intersects and is the undercurrent of everything. As the nation’s demographics continue to shift, newsrooms will be forced to adapt, accurately reflect and include the voices and perspectives of marginalized communities. The Associated Press has invested heavily into its race coverage, and I’m fortunate to be part of a great team that really prioritizes this. Americans need more robust coverage that details and investigates how structural racism has manifested itself in every corner of American life.

Many people outside of the D.C. area may see Wednesday’s events as a “far away” issue. What questions should local reporters be answering to keep race-driven issues at the forefront in their communities? 

Stafford: What we saw unfold Wednesday is a national issue with serious local implications. More than 74 million Americans across the country voted for President Donald Trump despite the fact his presidency emboldened white supremacy and racism. This is something that journalists will be covering for quite some time. I’ve reported a lot about how polarized and deeply divided the nation is — but those divisions didn’t begin four years ago. So the very basic question reporters should start thinking about is how has racism — individual, institutional and structural — impacted my community in the past and in the present? Unfortunately, there are endless stories to tell on various beats.

What advice can you share about sourcing race-focused stories, especially in times of crisis? 

Stafford: I speak frequently about the need for what I call equitable sourcing, as well as reexamining who newsrooms consider to be an expert. Whether you’re a local or national reporter, prioritizing finding and developing relationships with diverse experts, not just racially — but gender and socioeconomic lines, too — is key for providing a fuller perspective and insight for readers that is often missed in coverage. An expert isn’t just a doctor, political analyst or historian or an “official” voice, either. I view community voices as experts of the communities they live in. Those voices should also be centered and amplified in a way that isn’t transactional or extractive. My advice: Meet and find people where they are.

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Debra Taylor
Debra Taylor
8 months ago

First of all a congratulations is in order for Ms Stafford on her elevation to generate stories of truth on race & ethnicity in this country! I think that she will enlighten the country on the core & nuances of race, ethnicity, structural & individual race prejudice! Ms Stafford has an opportunity expose, inspire & help America live up to the tenants of liberty & justice for all! I am excited to see the stories that will ensue as a result of her her new role with the AP!

Last edited 8 months ago by Debra Taylor