Jin Ding, a veteran reporter, philanthropic leader and advocate for inclusive storytelling and diversity and equity in journalism, has joined the Center for Public Integrity as chief of staff at a time when the nonprofit news organization is expanding on its mission of confronting inequality through investigative reporting.
We asked about the approach they’ll take to this new role.
Why Public Integrity? Why now?
I grew up reading China’s Southern Weekly, a newspaper with a rich history of enterprise, that specialized in investigative reporting. I found my calling for journalism in these papers. It provided accountability, inspired changes, and gave the public a forum to engage with their civic duties. I thought, “How exciting to be an investigative journalist!”
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to become one. But I was provided the opportunity to manage many investigative reporting grants. I quickly found that it’s often so expensive and time consuming to do investigative work, especially to do it well. It’s a privilege to be able to afford an investigative team for many newsrooms. When the entry barriers are so high, small newsrooms that are lacking in resources can’t do investigative work. But it is a huge loss for the communities they’re in – they lost an independent monitor of power.
I wish to lower the barriers for these newsrooms and the communities they’re in. I want to see systemic change. So, the Center for Public Integrity is in a perfect position to make a significant difference in an existing order.
On one hand, Public Integrity is trusted as one of the oldest investigative newsrooms in this country; on the other hand, recent changes at Public Integrity, including a new mission of investigating inequality and fresh perspectives of diverse talents, are showing what a change agent this organization could be.
What does Public Integrity’s mission of investigating inequality mean to you at this moment for the country and for journalism?
As a first generation immigrant, racial minority, and gender queer person, I spent the past decade experiencing how the American system is set up against people like me. I am living in a country which is shifting to majority minority, yet I fear for my own, my family’s and my friends’ lives far too often. These past few years have been especially brutal: immigration bans, a pandemic, the protests against police brutalities and racism, capital riot, anti-Asian attacks…
We shouldn’t need to live like this. For all the issues I’ve mentioned above, if we chase the roots, they start from systemic inequality. How can we drive change from here?
Everyone can be a changemaker. But in order to build towards a democratic and just society, citizens need to be equipped with comprehensive knowledge and effective tools. This is why our journalism at CPI is essential, to educate the public. Our investigative journalism can reveal where the system was set up for failures and to start conversations with our audience, so they can make informed decisions and act accordingly.
What are your top priorities in this new role and for Public Integrity?
I will start with:
- Expanding Public Integrity’s collaboration network. We can’t tackle the issue of inequality alone. Through working with more local and national organizations, we can leverage our expertise in investigative and engage with audiences with in-depth, comprehensive, accessible journalism.
- Nourishing sustainability so we can take on bigger challenges and grow our capacity. It takes a village to raise an investigative project – we will need all the support we can get.
- Investing in our people. Great journalism wouldn’t exist without great journalists. We must continue to improve Public Integrity’s diversity, inclusion and equality among staff and build a culture that unleashes their potential.
Collaboration has always been in Public Integrity’s DNA, and it’s something you know a lot about from your time at The Associated Press, as a volunteer leader with the Asian American Journalists Association and elsewhere. What do you see as Public Integrity’s role and potential as a journalism partner in the coming years?
From reporting grants to emergency support, a lot of work I’ve done would not have been possible without collaboration. We all have different strengths and expertise. Collaboration, done right, isn’t an easy task. It often takes longer, but it almost certainly makes the results better.
Public Integrity already has a long history of working with national and local organizations. But I really believe this organization is capable of doing more. Not only that we should continue to branch out, we also need to set up new models for how we collaborate with other newsrooms.
Collaboration is never a one-way street. We should be asking our partners and the potential ones: How can Public Integrity help your newsroom to grow? I believe Public Integrity can offer more than our investigative expertise. Of course we will do more on that, but if you look at the organization right now, we have experience in DEI, grants, individual donations, and more. Many small, local newsrooms out there don’t have the luxury to afford these supports. But they can’t grow without access to these resources. We should fill that gap for them and we can grow with our partners together.
The majority of Public Integrity’s staff and its newsroom are now people of color. How significant is that for a legacy news organization, particularly one focused on investigative reporting?
I am an immigrant. Coming from a foreign country, I am far too familiar with the parachute reporting English media used to do and the harm this type of journalism has caused.
But when I came to the U.S., I faced another similar reality. On any given day, I can pick up a Chinese newspaper from an ethnic grocery store and learn more about the immigrant community in my neighborhood than watching any of the local news channels. I live in one of the most diverse counties in the country. Our industry has been so disconnected with a large portion of the population and we lose opportunities in our own backyard.
Inequality issues, whether it is health care, education, housing, or voting rights, all disproportionately impact people of color communities. To investigate these issues, we first need to understand what the communities are going through, we need to be in these communities in order to ask the right questions and ask the right people for solutions. It is our duty to provide answers when our communities are crying out for help.
The progress Public Integrity has made on diversifying its staff is admirable. Because I know how difficult it is to make such an organization-wide change. But the work doesn’t stop here. It’s so essential for our mission and we have to keep ourselves on our toes and push further together.
You’ve spoken out about the stress that AAPI and other journalists of color have been under in a pandemic, with hate crimes spiking and the ideal of a multiracial democracy under attack. What do the leaders of news organizations owe to journalists under these circumstances, and stepping back to look at an industry that arguably just has not treated workers very well?
Since 2020, I’ve run two mental health programs, one at the International Women’s Media Foundation for Black journalists, one at the Asian American Journalists Association for AAPI journalists. Stories I’ve heard from reporters who came to ask for help were horrific. I admired their strength in spite of all they had experienced.
Early in the pandemic, I called a Black reporter who had applied for a relief grant to verify her information. Three of her family members, including her mom, her grandma, and her aunt, caught COVID. She was driving after dropping off her mom at the hospital. She didn’t know if they’d make it. I often think about her and I couldn’t imagine that she would later return to work with so much trauma. Then one month later, George Floyd was killed. On top of the pandemic, journalists of color were enduring one tragic event after another.
The day after the Atlanta shooting in 2021, many AAPI journalists forced themselves to show up while they were so heartbroken. They felt obligated to be there, in order to fight for the coverage their community deserves. It really shouldn’t be like this. If we failed to build inclusive newsrooms as a start, then how can we expect these journalists of color to give all they have in every battle, in order to avoid publishing mistakes or completely ignoring a chance to have dialogue with the community?
Meanwhile, they might be fearing for their family’s lives while jogging down the street or shopping for groceries. They might be suffering from online harassment in silence. They might be juggling with their kids’ school work, taking care of elderly parents, and their own jobs all at the same time. It’s simply unrealistic to “keep it all together.” There’s no support, and that’s why they are leaving this industry in waves. There won’t be journalism if we don’t have journalists.
The work should be embedded in our day-to-day operations. How to be more empathetic towards our colleagues, how to learn more about their communities, how to build trust between each other, how to provide flexibility to meet where they are at, how to create appropriate spaces for intimate conversations virtually or in-person? If a leader can answer these questions, they can build resilience in their news organization. So when a tragic event happens, that newsroom would be ready to answer and not at the expense of journalists of color.
Why is it important for funders and individual donors to support Public Integrity right now?
The country is fighting its way out of a pandemic with a soaring inflation rate and extreme wealth gap between the rich and the poor. Inequality is impacting every person’s livelihood in every corner around the country. It is more urgent than ever to tackle the roots – systems and circumstances that contribute to inequality.
Quality investigative journalism plays an important role – reveal the facts, examine the context and connect dots in history. Our communities need guidance to navigate a news landscape that has been infiltrated by disinformation.
Public Integrity has proved ourselves to be the leading voice in this arena. The impact we have made in national policies and local communities will continue to motivate us. Last year, Public Integrity partnered with the Associated Press and Univision to report on underpaid workers in thousands of American companies and the lack of action from the Labor Department. Our team also has done a nation-wide investigation with the USA Today network and dozens of independent local news organizations on how schools report students to law enforcement. Public Integrity’s research showed that students with disabilities and Black children were hurt the most.
We are determined to do this right. Our journalism is made by reporters and editors who have lived experience in diverse communities of America. We will build on our existing collaboration model to lift underrepresented voices and provide a platform for civic engagement.
Public Integrity’s journalism is a vehicle for changemaking. We are devoting all of our resources to grant free and equal access to information, in order to empower our citizens to build a just society. CPI is a small-but-mighty team and it’s used to punching above weight. But it is crucial for us as a society now to form alliances so the systemic problems could be revealed, discussed and addressed. We cannot do it alone.
Help support this work
Public Integrity doesn’t have paywalls and doesn’t accept advertising so that our investigative reporting can have the widest possible impact on addressing inequality in the U.S. Our work is possible thanks to support from people like you.