Vox is hiring for a bunch of stuff, including a reporter to cover distressed communities. The job is based in Washington, D.C. Here is what the role encompasses:
Vox.com is seeking a reporter to chronicle life in distressed communities across America, from coastal inner cities to de-industrializing towns in the Midwest, and how policy changes help and hurt the people who live in them. The job will include reporting from across America, and just as importantly, through the halls of power in Washington.
This is fine! It is exactly fine. I think it is really important that Vox is hiring someone to do this. I understand why it’s based in D.C.: Access to the people making decisions that distress communities further is super-important. Also, Vox has an office there.
But those are, like, exactly two reasons for this job to be in D.C., and there are a lot more reasons for it to be grounded predominately in the middle of the country—or, even, the deeper west or Southeast. “De-industrializing towns in the Midwest” is the zeitgeist right now, and that’s where I live, so I feel very anecdotally qualified to emphasize the points made by a number of smart Midwesterners on Twitter:
- Media jobs are precisely the kinds of jobs that can be done remotely.
- It is expensive to live in D.C. and expensive to fly out of it on short notice. It is ridiculous, per JA, to expect a reporter whose focus should be other places to pay D.C. rents. My mortgage is $1,404 (you know, less than a studio apartment in D.C. right now), and I’m a drive away from a lot of the places of which Vox would probably like coverage for this beat. I also return to D.C. often and know that it’s not difficult to get there and jump into your work.
- The insinuation that it’s harder to find people who are good at, say, reporting on data because coastal cities are stronger markets is reductive and dismissive. Yes, the job market sorta sucks here. But that doesn’t preclude people from being good at things—or learning, quickly, by talking to people, training themselves, and asking for help. This mindset infuriated me when I lived in San Francisco, and it does a disservice to the talent that is, frankly, not being put to work in stimulating and challenging ways in places like Cleveland because our job market sorta sucks.
- Newsroom diversity includes geography. Full stop. I parachuted into places when I worked for Remix and felt, glaringly, like the out-of-town consultant every time. My clients (in Raleigh, Greensboro, even Baltimore, where, Jesus Christ, my parents were both born and raised and which I grew up 20 minutes south of) were defensive of their work because no matter how I presented, I couldn’t change that I, you know, flew in from San Francisco to interview them on their projects.
- Noting that distressed communities exist in coastal cities is a non sequitur. No shit. They exist across the country. Is that not the point of this beat? Anacostia’s existence does not deny the existence of East Cleveland, which does not deny the existence of Fresno, which does not deny the existence of [insert your stereotypically distressed place here].
I would like to be Vox’s distressed communities reporter, honestly. I felt a sorta-flutter when I saw this posted on Jim Tankersley’s Twitter account last night. My academic work dealt with gentrification and displacement, and was concerned specifically with the power dynamics of policy in marginalized communities. Literally, distress, or lack thereof, is how I tend to assess things, and my immediate instinct is to identify existing structures and systems through their impact on people.
I haven’t worked in journalism for a long time, but since then I’ve worked a variety of really interesting jobs that have exposed me to the inner workings of a lot of different municipalities, as well as the federal government (for those following along at home: bike advocacy [D.C.]; AEC marketing and procurement [San Francisco]; transit-planning software startup [San Francisco]; AEC marketing again, but this time for construction [Cleveland]; now I run a bikeshare system [Cleveland]). I have a wider circle of acquaintances that could, if they were comfortable, become sources. And I’ve learned how to quickly navigate the policy levers and departments and org charts and budget priorities of quite a few different cities and towns. I am fluent in and quick to see so many things in a way that I am, like, 95 percent certain I would not be if I had stayed in D.C. media.
I have learned the most by living and working in Cleveland, my resume’s most frustrating city. I have a much better sense of the lingering effects of Rust Belt machine politics. I know what to look for in terms of public structures and systems when learning about a new place. Overall, I just know more because I live here, and I ask better questions about other places because I have, better, deeper experience. By growing up in Maryland and living as an adult in D.C., San Francisco, and now Cleveland, I have a much better starting point for understanding the kinds of places that deserve stronger reporting. And I am not the only person like me here! We aren’t legion, but there’s a lot of us! And while I, personally, might be happy to relocate to D.C. for this job, it is so not necessary for Vox’s distressed communities reporter to live there.
D.C. is as much Real America(TM) as Cleveland. I know, because I’m from there, and I would do a lot to come home. It is the best place for me, and I have so much angst living here. I think there are real-America problems in San Francisco, too. I think they’re everywhere. I don’t think one place is better than the other, or more real, or more authentic, or more representative of what it’s like to live in the United States. And I do really think that ailing Midwestern cities have themselves to blame for a number of their ills. And, and! If you made me pick the kind of place that’s definitively Real America(TM), I’d tell you it looks a lot more like New York or Los Angeles than Lima, Ohio.
But I think the default assumption that it’s somehow better for a beat like this, specifically, to be based in D.C. is ridiculous, and that operating under that assumption is causing us to lose out on people who would be really specially qualified to tell the stories that America needs to read.