The University of Maryland’s Howard Center for Investigative Journalism’s latest collaborative project, “Printing Hate,” is a thorough exploration of the racist pasts of newspapers. From the end of Reconstruction to 1940, newspapers were the most powerful news medium in America. Those run by white supremacist publishers and editors printed headlines and stories that fueled racial hate, inciting massacres and lynchings of Black citizens. As part of the project, The Howard Center produced more than 30 news stories, a special-project website, a data-driven news application and a mini-documentary.
The impact of the project was to expose the racist pasts of many American newspapers. In addition to the more than 30 stories contained in the project, The Howard Center also published a news application that identifies and classifies problematic historical coverage of racial terror lynchings by white-owned newspapers. The Howard Center also produced a mini-documentary for the project that uses animation, interviews and motion graphics to explore how white-owned newspapers fueled the 1919 massacre in Elaine Arkansas.
Reporting from the project also exposed that the Worcester Democrat, a weekly on Maryland’s largely rural Eastern Shore, ran an unsigned, front-page commentary in 1940 calling for the lynchings of five Black suspects in the murder of a white farmer and the robbery and assault of his wife. As a result, Edward J. Clarke, the owner, publisher and editor of the Worcester Democrat at the time, was removed from the Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association’s Hall of Fame
For the mini-documentary, we use AfterEffects to create a motion graphic that combines custom illustrations, interviews, audio and graphics into a cohesive and compelling piece of visual storytelling.
For the news application, the data team used computational historical research methods to identify and classify problematic historical coverage of racial terror lynchings by white-owned newspapers. Designers and developers then created a dynamic news application that allows users to view and search through this data in an easy-to-use manner.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The hardest part of this project was coordination through the many moving pieces. The project comprises more than 30 stories written by journalism students from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, Hampton University, Howard University, Morehouse College, Morgan State University, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University and the University of Arkansas. To supplement the writing, the students analyzed data, shot photos, recorded audio, created static and motion graphics, designed a website and built a news application that will allow people to explore historical lynching coverage by approximately 100 newspapers that still exist in some form today. The project was inspired by Merrill Associate Professor and Washington Post writer DeNeen L. Brown’s reporting on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The students spent the spring, summer and fall of 2021 digging into archives and interviewing descendants, experts and historians to document the power of white-owned newspapers to harm the Black community.
What can others learn from this project?
Other journalists and publications can learn the value of examining and reckoning with their own past mistakes. There is also a lesson to be learned about the value of collaboration between newsrooms and student news organizations, particularly the involvement of journalism students from HBCUs.