About Words and Pods
You're reading this because, at some point in 2023, I became fed up with the state of media reporting and criticism — mostly how little attention has been paid to the innovation happening among new media companies, how the culture in newsrooms is changing — and to what end, and how difficult it is to understand newsroom leadership at this moment in time.
Better media criticism
My name is Zuri Berry, and I've spent the past two decades shaping and sharing stories as a senior journalist in newspapers, digital-only outlets, T.V., radio, and now podcasts. I've worked in news organizations in California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C., specializing in digital strategy and multimedia production. And along with my 20 years of experience, I have an MBA from Queens University of Charlotte.
So, for some time, I had been weighing whether to throw my hat in the ring here on this very subject of media criticism and reporting. Simply put, I wanted to provide a counterbalance to the overwhelmingly non-business savvy takes perpetuated by those in my profession.
Of course, that's easier said than done. Some of what enrages me is the minutiae in larger stories and narratives that are often unchallenged assumptions. That's probably the majority of my frustration with media reporting. That and the constant navel-gazing and rumormongering about who is and isn't likable. (That's not something I'm interested in contributing to.)
But those gripes aren't enough to sustain this newsletter, nor do they represent all of my interests or pursuits.
Media as a force for good in the Black community
No, for me, this newsletter is so much more. While the topic of journalism will be at the forefront, including journalistic ethics and reporting on the state of the industry, I believe there's an opportunity to use media as a vessel for commentary about our society. I see the hyper-partisan politics and fractured media ecosystem as a challenge to connect and sustain well-informed communities. And that's a particularly acute problem for the Black community, for Black neighborhoods, and for Black citizens who want access to high-quality news sources that represent them well.
So I see this as an opportunity to provide commentary on some of the stickier issues involving the Black community, particularly when it comes to how and where we receive our news and whether or not efforts to reach Black people by highly touted news organizations are indeed successful, representative, or harmful to the greater Black diaspora.
I’m particularly interested in the inauthentic nature of how some social media conversations are elevated and then held up as representative of the Black community. So it's important to me to discuss those issues regularly, which I'll attempt to do here.
Management and leadership
I also wanted an outlet to talk about newsroom management and leadership. We're currently in the throes of one of the most significant periods of labor organizing in decades, which is a direct response to the growing income gap in our country, rising inflation, and increased pressures on productivity post-pandemic. That is coupled with the wave of pressure news organizations felt following the death of George Floyd. All of these pressures are felt most painfully at the staff level in newsrooms, where workers are often poorly paid and expected to provide expert-level knowledge work without a lot of resources. And they’re expected to do so while somehow navigating ongoing changes and cultural norms in their work environment.
Because of these developments, a tremendous amount of focus has been spent on the actions of newsroom managers and how these leaders of our industry respond during these turbulent times. However, much less time has been spent on Black leaders and their unique challenges. That’s personal to me.
Frankly, we need to spend more time discussing leadership and how managers might better support their newsrooms and themselves. But I'd also like to help decode why managers often respond the way they do, whether that be because of corporate orthodoxy, ass-covering, or to limit legal liability. I think it would be helpful for readers to understand why and how leaders respond and how to spot good communication techniques from someone who has handled these situations with mixed results.
Connecting to the creator economy
Lastly, a good chunk of the media ecosystem is now operated by digital creators. That includes Substack writers, independent journalists, and podcasters. The creator economy is thriving … for some. I want to explore this world of content creation with a keen eye on its journalistic applications. My writings and podcast dispatches here will explore how to understand the creator landscape better and hopefully illuminate opportunities for journalists to pursue.
Why “Words and Pods”?
Words and Pods pays homage to the start of my career in journalism as a writer and my current work as the owner of ZMC Podcasts, a podcast development and audio production company. It also reflects my view that writing and podcasting are the best forms of sharing knowledge quickly and easily.
So that's my long way of saying this newsletter is about journalism, the media business, the creator economy, and leadership. I'll write here regularly and share podcasts I produce, like Black Journalists on Journalism and Podcasting with Zuri, along with some potential exclusives for subscribers. Stay tuned for more. And thank you for reading.