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'Los Angeles Times' Recognizes Black Twitter's Relevance


And let's learn more about a unique online forum. African-Americans are some of the most active Twitter users, and so-called Black Twitter has become a space for news, activism and challenging conversations about race. This week, the LA Times even hired a reporter to cover Black Twitter. Here's Karen Grigsby Bates from NPR's Code Switch team.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: You cannot physically find Black Twitter. It's not a place, although its members have a prominent online presence. Look at what's trending on Twitter any day and many of the top trends come from Black Twitter.

MEREDITH CLARK: I define it as a culturally-linked network of communicators who use Twitter to talk about issues of interest to black communities.

BATES: That's Meredith Clark, an assistant professor at the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas. Her dissertation was on Black Twitter. Clark says its subject matter varies widely, from updates on hit TV shows like "Scandal" and "Empire" to the unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore. That range of subjects presents a challenge.

DEXTER THOMAS: I don't think anyone has ever captured the depth or complexity or variety of Black Twitter.

BATES: That's Dexter Thomas. The LA Times just hired him to cover Black Twitter and what the paper likes to call communities of interest. Thomas stresses that this community isn't a monolith.

THOMAS: I rarely see Black Twitter agree on anything. There are a lot of conflicts within it. There are a lot of conflicts with other people.

BATES: Beyond the lively and sometimes contentious discussions, Black Twitter breaks news. S. Mitra Kalita, Thomas's new boss at the Los Angeles Times, says it's essential for journalists to follow those conversations closely.

S. MITRA KALITA: I've said many times that Black Twitter has saved my career over and over and over again where it forces me to realize that a Ferguson is going on before everybody begins covering it.

BATES: Kalita is the managing editor for editorial strategy at the LA Times. She notes that Black Twitter has been in the forefront of many social justice movements that start online. It's largely responsible for keeping the national spotlight on police misconduct.

KALITA: That community has not just shown activism, but is actually achieving results.

BATES: Covering those results will only be part of Dexter Thomas's job, says Richard Prince, a columnist for the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

RICHARD PRINCE: He's not just covering Black Twitter. He's using Black Twitter to develop stories.

BATES: And, predicts Prince, many of these stories will bring new voices into the traditional media mix. Plenty of media organizations have reporters watching Black Twitter, says Jamilah Lemieux, the senior digital editor for Lemieux says she welcomes the LA Times's decision if it results in more nuanced coverage of black people in the broader media. But she doesn't want the voices that make Black Twitter muted or changed to appeal to a broader audience.

JAMILAH LEMIEUX: What we do online is not done to provide a learning experience for others. We participate in Twitter to enrich our own lives, to learn more about ourselves, to build communities, to share ideas and to get things done.

BATES: And if the media can engage with Black Twitter instead of just taking from it, that would be a good thing, too. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book (Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.

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