For this week’s episode, Rebecca sat down with Cara Reedy. She’s a journalist and the founder of a new organization called the Disabled Journalists Association (DJA)—which she’s spent the past two years setting up to identify the needs of disabled people in journalism and to amplify the voices of disabled journalists across the United States. It’s just getting off the ground and just launched its website this past week. (Check out discojourno.com to learn more, and if you’re a disabled journalist, check out the survey they’re running between now and October 2023 as they work to lay the foundation for DJA’s work.) They had a far-ranging conversation about the barriers to getting into journalism for disabled people today; the discrimination and ableism many face once they do make it into the newsroom and Cara’s own experience at a major news outlet; why inclusion in newsrooms matters to disability media coverage (and media coverage on all issues); how intentional, equitable, and diverse representation in newsrooms fits into the larger picture of disability economic justice; and lots more.
Links from this episode:
- Learn more about the Disabled Journalists Association at discojourno.com
- If you’re a disabled journalist, check out the survey DJA is running through October
- Follow Cara on Twitter at @infamouslyshort
- Nominate the changemakers you most want to hear from by emailing us at [email protected]
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REBECCA VALLAS (HOST): Welcome back to Off-Kilter, a podcast about the fight for economic liberation and what it will take to set us all free, powered by The Century Foundation. I’m Rebecca Vallas, and every week I go behind the music with visionary leaders and lightworkers working to reshape America’s off-kilter economy into one where everyone can thrive and access the shared abundance we all deserve. As I say every week, I think of it like a weekly trip to the Marvel Universe, but the superheroes I get to talk with every week work with law and policy.
And for this week’s episode, I am really, really excited to sit down with someone whose work I have been super, super interested to learn about as a member of the Disability Economic Justice Collaborative, and I’m really excited to bring her onto the podcast. Her name is Cara Reedy. She is a journalist and the founder and director of a new organization called the Disabled Journalists Association, which she’s been setting up to identify the needs of disabled people in journalism to amplify the voices of disabled journalists across the U.S. It’s just getting off the ground. Just launched their new website DisCoJourno.com. You can find that in show notes. Check it out to learn more. And if you’re a disabled journalist, check out the survey that they’re running as they work to lay the foundation for the organization’s work. We’ll plug that in show notes as well. Cara, welcome to Off-Kilter. It’s really cool to be in conversation with you.
CARA REEDY: Thank you. I’m excited to be here.
VALLAS: I wanna give a plug to my sister, Rebecca Cokley, who introduced us and who was the one who suggested that we do this episode. I feel like all roads always lead back to Rebecca Cokley! And we gotta plug the Cokleyverse when it happens. So, thank you, Cokley in absentia, for making this introduction and for putting us together for the Collaborative, for putting us together for this episode. But, Cara, before we get too far into talking about what the new organization is about—and I mentioned you just launched that website just this past week, actually. So, congratulations—but I wanna give you the chance to introduce yourself to Off-Kilter’s listeners and to share a little bit about how you come to this point in your path. I mentioned that you’re a journalist. How did you get into journalism? Talk a little bit about the road that you’ve walked.
REEDY: So, I got into journalism in a really strange way. I was in art school in Philadelphia and then decided to move to New York right after 9/11, which was not really a good idea. And there were no jobs, so I ended up at Time-Warner Corporate filling out Excel spreadsheets for the Benefits Finance Department. And one of my friend’s dad said to me, “Do they know you can’t add?” And I was like, “No, but they’ll find out later.” [conspiratorial laugh] But anyway, I tried to get out of there really quickly. And if you stayed at Time-Warner Corporate for a year, you could transfer anywhere.
So, a job at CNN came up, and I applied for it and then never heard back. And then about a week later, I was on a bus. And this woman that I knew from the shared cafeteria walked up to me and said, “We don’t know each other’s names. I’m Arlene.” And I said, “I’m Cara.” And she said, “Where do you work?” And I told her, and I said, “Where do you work?” And she said, “I’m Lou Dobbs’ assistant.” And I said, “Well, that’s funny ‘cause I just applied for a job at CNN, but I didn’t hear back.” And she said, “Which one?” And I told her, and she goes, “That’s gone.” She said, “Next time, let me know.” Literally a week later, a job came up to be an anchor assistant for the morning show. I called Arlene. Arlene said, “Send me that résumé,” and then that’s how I got into CNN.
And once I got there, like, I have a background in political science. My degree’s in political science. I have another one in photography, so not really journalism focused. But once I got into CNN, I was like, oh, what’s this great world where you can tell stories, you can hold power to account? This is amazing. Like, it’s everything—and it’s visual—it’s everything that I’ve ever wanted. And so, actually one of my anchor, both my anchors got kicked off the morning show, and one went to the documentary unit, and I went with her. And then we started doing documentaries, and I started actually producing. And that’s how I got into really doing journalism. And then I loved, I just loved it. It was just something that really stuck to me. It was storytelling, it was visual, and it held power to account, which is something that I just have always wanted to do…since birth.
VALLAS: I love that story so much, and I especially love stories that have such a meant-to-be element to it, right? It’s like you’re in the right place, right time, meet the person, and it’s like all of a sudden that’s what opens the door to getting that job. So, clearly, this was your path that you found. So, take us to present day, right? How did you get from being in journalism to saying, you know what? Actually, I’m gonna start this thing called the Disabled Journalists Association? And how did you get to the place of believing that something like this needs to exist?
REEDY: Well, CNN was a long ten years. I was there for ten years. It was really long. And the entire time I was there, they never would give me the title of journalist. I would do all the work, I would get, you know, they were always talking about numbers and how many clicks, how many views, page views, all of these things. And I was meeting all of the numbers that they liked whenever I wrote something, but there was this reluctance. They were just kind of like, well, you’re untested, you’re untested, you’re untested. But then I would look around the room, and there’d be these people that would write maybe two stories a week, and they weren’t like investigative pieces, and they had full-time jobs doing it. They weren’t actually getting the page views or the numbers. And so, it felt personal. And…I could tell that they didn’t want me there because of who I am, not because of what I could do because the excuses were just ridiculous at some point. I used to pitch disability stories. They would say things like, “Nobody cares about that.” I would pitch stories that weren’t disability stories. And then they would say, “Is this another dwarf story?” just because I pitched it. So, there was just like really pretty naked ableism happening in newsroom.
And so, I, at the end of the ten years, I had to go ‘cause I was starting to lose it. And like, ‘cause you internalize all that stuff, and it makes you sick. And I left, and I wandered around for a good four or five years. I freelanced at NPR. I did a documentary for The Guardian. And then 2020 hit, and there was the pandemic. And I was actually running out of money and didn’t really have a job. And then Lawrence Carter-Long called and said, “I think I may have a job for you.” And I was like, “Well, sign me up. What is it?” And he said, “Judy Heumann wants to speak to you.” And I was like, “Judy Heu-, like, she don’t know me.” So…. [laughs] And I got to the meeting, and she said, they were like, “We wanna change the way media represents disability.” And they were like, “advertising, film and TV and journalism.” And I was like, “That’s a lot. But okay.” And they were like, “What are your ideas? So, I came up with a list of like ten ideas that span those. Not advertising ‘cause I really don’t know that much about advertising, and so I was not going to do that. But film and TV and journalism, I came up about ten ideas. And then Judy said, “Let’s go to Ford with your ideas.” And as soon as I said, “Disabled Journalists Association,” Farai Chideya went, “That’s the one!” And put funding behind it.
And then I took the first two years of this funding has really been research. So, I’ve been teaching newsrooms how to cover disability, but that, yeah, that’s great. They get an hour with me or an hour and a half, but that’s not gonna change them. But what it does is it gives me information about what’s happening inside the newsrooms because people can be really honest with me about what they feel about disabled people or what they feel about disabled stories or anything, which then has led us to kind of where we are and why we’re now sort of launching website, trying to get people together.
VALLAS: I love that. So, we’re gonna pull on a bunch of those different threads and make you tell more of this story. But I have to just say, of course, Judy Heumann is part of the story! As listeners of the show will know, godmother of the disability rights movement. And I love that Lawrence Carter-Long is part of the story, too. We haven’t had him on the show in a long time, but that was years ago for one of my really, really fun episodes actually talking about disability and film, which is one of Lawrence’s things. So, I love that both of them show up in your story, and of course they do.
So, okay, so, let’s talk a little bit about why: why you’re starting this organization, why Ford was interested in. And of course, the Ford Foundation is anchoring, helping get resources out to the field in so many ways and is also a supporter of this show and of the Disability Project at The Century Foundation. I always need to thank them for that. But you started to tell your own personal story about being undervalued and being systematically kept from ever even being called a journalist. I mean, wow, does that weigh on my heart as you tell that story over the course of a decade at one of the nation’s most renowned and visible and powerful news outlets. But it isn’t just your story, right? That’s one story of so many that are honestly the rule and not the exception when it comes to people with disabilities in the field of journalism. Talk a little bit about what you’ve been learning as you’ve been doing that research, as you’ve been talking to folks, and just generally what the picture is for folks with disabilities in our newsrooms. We’ll talk a little bit about the barriers to getting into the newsroom, too. But what’s the picture for folks? I know it’s much more than just your own story.
REEDY: It’s pretty bleak. So, there are…there have been some movements in the newsrooms, and there are fellowships like The New York Times, and now there’s a disability reporter at The Washington Post. But that’s kind of few and far between. And it paints it…. And what I will say, okay, here’s what I will say. I think there’s not a ton of visibly disabled— And I hate this visible/invisible kind of thing because I feel like invisible disabilities aren’t really invisible. They’re invisible for a while, and then there’s a flare, and they’re very visible. So, but people can mask. But I think that there aren’t a ton of “visibly,” quote-unquote, disabled people in newsrooms because journalists are, the whole industry’s kind of afraid of it. And I think there are many, many, many more people inside newsrooms that have “invisible,” quote-unquote, disabilities and who are hiding. And everything I’m doing I’m not trying to out anyone because people make choices based on their financial situation. ‘Cause someone was like, “Are you outing people?” I’m like, “Of course not.” You gotta do what you gotta do. That’s not what this is about. This is about changing newsrooms so that you don’t have to hide, so you can ask for accommodations, so you can be comfortable where you work without feeling like you’re gonna get repercussions.
But I’ve heard all kinds of stories. People ask worried about stimming in newsrooms, people uncomfortable just asking for more time. Any of the things that you might need as a disabled person, most people don’t feel comfortable asking for because there’s a grind culture in newsrooms that also is creating disabilities as people in the newsroom. So, that’s the other thing. It’s not just that there’s disabled people that show up in these newsrooms. Newsrooms are also harming people.
VALLAS: I so appreciate you bringing that in, right? The actual causing of harm to people in grind culture, which, also true in think tanks, also true in politics broadly, also true on the Hill, the campaign world, right? And we talk very little about that, at least in my awareness, in the context of media, right? And so that it’s not just folks who are there who have disabilities, it’s also the disabilities being created. I actually wanna come back to that theme as well.
But I feel like you started to go there, but let’s talk a little bit more about it. The barriers that folks face to getting into these newsrooms in the first place, right? There might be, I’m somebody who identifies as invisibly disabled. I’ve been a lot more out about that in recent years. It took me a long time to start to say that in public for all the reasons you were naming, right? Because there is very good reason for being afraid of repercussions or of not being viewed as someone who’s gonna be up to the job. And I bridge a few different worlds, right? Journalism is part of it. Doing this podcast, which I’ve now been doing for, I guess, eight years, so I have to start identifying as like, that is actually part of my life! It’s not just a side hustle. But even in the think tank world, it can be hard to come out and to be visible. So, just appreciate all of what you said about it’s not about judging. People gotta do what they gotta do. But talk a little bit about some of the barriers that folks with disabilities face to even getting into the newsroom, and particularly maybe if it’s folks with apparent disabilities that they can’t hide.
REEDY: They just, I’m surprised I got there, to be quite honest. I was the, it was me and a
, like, that I know of at CNN in New York, was me and a photojournalist who had been injured in, oh, I think he was injured in Kuwait at one of the wars. I can’t, I don’t wanna be specific ‘cause I don’t really know. But he was injured in one of the wars, and they kept him on. Which is great ‘cause he’s a great photojournalist, so why wouldn’t you? But I didn’t see a ton of people. There was one other dwarf intern at one point, and I was like, oh my God! Here he is. And then I never saw him again after the internship. And he wasn’t my intern, but it just was like they didn’t consider it. I never saw a wheelchair user. I never saw anyone unless there were people that had PTSD, but I found that a lot of them, if they weren’t getting help or they ended up kind of phased out. It’s just not really safe. And they don’t hire. They don’t hire. There are some places that are starting to hire visibly disabled people, but they don’t have the infrastructure around the people. They’re just hiring them and then expecting them to move in the same way non-disabled people move in this grind culture, and it’s not gonna work. And so, the disabled people start to feel uncomfortable and then leave. Yeah, it’s just, it’s pretty bleak.
VALLAS: So, I feel like you’re doing a really good job here of setting the table for why this organization needs to exist! But I kind of wanna ask what probably seems like a fairly obvious question, but just to name it and to give you a chance to speak a little bit to it: Why does it matter to have disabled people in newsrooms? Why does it matter to, I mean, obviously, there’s a broad national conversation going on right now about diversity and equity and inclusion and accessibility, right, DEIA, and often folks will sort of take it for granted as just, well, that’s just what we do now. But I actually feel like talking about the why and why it matters, especially in the context of the media, is really important not to skip that step in the conversation. So, why does inclusion of people with disabilities matter in the newsroom, and why does that matter to the media coverage that those newsrooms end up putting out?
REEDY: Well, if you’re not disabled, you really don’t understand how the system oppresses disabled people, and there’s no way for you to understand it until you become disabled. And it’s like white people writing about the Black experience. You don’t really know what the Black experience is. And it doesn’t matter if you have a kid that’s Black and you’re white, or same thing, if you have a kid that’s disabled and you’re not. Like, you don’t really get it. And it’s not, there’s no shame in that. And I’m not…. But there are ways that the entire system oppresses us, and we understand the failure of the system at a granular level that non-disabled people don’t understand. And so, if you’re gonna tell the story, how are you going to actually tell a full story if you don’t have? And this the thing. I’m not saying that non-disabled people can’t tell disability stories. But if you are in a newsroom where there are disabled people that are hiding or there are no disabled people that you know of, then you yourself are functioning in an ableist system. And so, now you’re gonna go report on somebody else’s system? Fix yourself.
And the best newsrooms—and this is what the racial reckoning in newsrooms was about in 2020—the best newsrooms have people from every walk of life in them, because when newsrooms are functioning really well, you know, Bob will be at one side writing his story, and there might be a disability angle. And he’ll turn to Sally and be like, “Hey, Sally, can you give me some context on this? Or is there a source I should be, you know, like, what should I be doing?” And then Sally will be like, “Hey, contact this person, this person, and this person.” That just makes stories better, right? And to say that you don’t need disabled people in your newsroom is just…it’s clown town. Like, you know you do. You also know you need Black people. You also know you need, like, you know, you need all of these things, and you’re pretending like you’re not, you don’t. And—
VALLAS: No, keep going. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.
REEDY: And then the comment section goes bananas, and everybody’s, “Well, why is the comment section going bananas?” Because you’re misrepresenting people!
I went to a conference. I just got back Sunday. And they had, there was a whole day of DEI conversations. There was Taking White Supremacy Out of Language, there was, I mean, how do we fix this? How do we fix this? In not one of those sessions did anyone mention disability except for me, who was always like, “Hello! Hey! Hi.” And they were like, “Oh, yeah, you’re right. Oh yeah, you’re right.” And these were people who actually cared about it. I’m like [laughs]…. And if they’re not mentioning it, how are they covering stories? How are you doing it? You’re not! And people can die. Like, people are dying because you’re not doing this.
VALLAS: And I feel like implicit in what you’re saying, but just to bring it out a little bit as well, right, it isn’t just disability stories, right, quote-unquote, “disability stories.” Which yes, you were pointing out there’s a couple of major news outlets like The Times, like The Post, which have actually said, hey, we’re actually gonna have at least a fellow who focuses on this, which without question is definitely a step in the right direction. But there’s still such a silo when it comes to how so many folks in the media treat disability coverage where it’s like, oh, well, we have disability stories, and then we have other stories, right? We have like, normal, regular stories that aren’t about people with disabilities. And it’s like, y’all, every issue’s a disability issue. We got one in four people in this country living with disabilities, plus all the families that are impacted. And just also generally, it’s something that’s probably gonna happen to everyone at some point in our lives. I’m a broken record on this show talking about that. But every story has a disability angle. But as you’re beautifully pointing out, right, folks aren’t gonna see that, the same way that they aren’t gonna see what the race angle is or what the veteran’s angle is or whatever it is, right, if they don’t have that perspective or if there’s no one in the newsroom and no editors who can lift that up. ‘Cause no one reporter’s ever gonna have every perspective they can cover. So, curious if you have thoughts about that in terms of how you view that siloing and just generally that point.
REEDY: So, that’s actually a lot of what I teach in newsrooms is, I’ll start out, and someone will ask me to come talk in a newsroom. And they’ll say, “Oh, okay. Yeah, please come in.” And they’ll make up some title for it that I haven’t approved. And I’m like, okay, whatever. Whatever. I don’t care. And then I get there, and some people will say to me, “We really don’t really need this. What we need is you to tell us all the words that we shouldn’t say.” And I’m like, “Look. If you don’t know the words that you shouldn’t say, that’s not really my issue because the AP Stylebook, there’s the National Center on Disability and Journalism that has a stylebook. Go find that resource. That’s not what I’m doing. What I’m gonna do right now is how to help you tell, I’m gonna teach you how to tell better stories that include disability.” And I talk about mass incarceration, I talk about police killings, I talk about climate change, I talk about race. I talk about how all of those things intersect.
And I talk about stories that don’t talk about them, like Flint, Michigan. Why is no one following up on Flint, Michigan? Because I’m sure that now that all those kids that’ve been drinking lead, Little Miss Flint is now 16 years old. She was a baby. She was a little kid, like seven or eight when this started?! She’s 16 now, trying to get money for filters. But what has happened to all of those kids? Are there more incarcerated children now there because they got disabilities from drinking the lead water? What are the school rates like? Why isn’t it someone checking on this? And no one is! And that should be an indictment of the government and everyone else. People should be holding the government accountable for that, but they just drop it.
And there’s, you know, Hurricane Katrina was a disability issue. How many pictures of wheelchairs did we see floating in the water? All those people that got left in that hospital to just die. And I…. And they told the stories, but they didn’t tell the story of how Black people are more likely to be disabled. And so, you’re talking about hot spots of Blackness—New Orleans, Flint—and you’re not talking about how poverty creates disability. You’re not talking about how people got trapped. You’re not talking about any of that with the word “disability” in it.
Except we know all these facts. We know that disabled people are more likely to live in poverty. They’re more likely to live in extreme poverty. Why aren’t you investigating that? And it bothers me that the numbers are right there, and the intersections are right there, but they silo out, like, okay, we’re gonna talk about race. And then you say, “Okay, what about disability?” And they’re like, “No, we’re talking about race.” What?! [laughs] You got Native Americans have the highest rate of disability. You have COVID come in, and there’s whole swaths of Indian country that don’t have running water!
VALLAS: Yeah. What’s ringing in my head, as you’re saying all of that, right, it’s Audre Lorde’s famous words, “People don’t lead single issue lives,” right? And so, of course, we’ve had whole conversations on this show with Vilissa Thompson about intersectionality and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work. And I think actually Mia Ives-Rublee recently brought that back up in a more recent episode as well. But I so appreciate the way that you’re bringing that together and also that you’re doing that directly in newsrooms. How has the response been? When you bring this to folks, and you’re saying, “Y’all, where’s the coverage? Why is no one following up in Flint?!” And side note, I have a particular reporter I’d like to connect you with who should write that story who was just bringing that up at an event I was at recently, who I think could benefit from hearing from you as someone who I think could do a lot of good on that. But I won’t name him and dox him right now. But how has that been received? When you go into these newsrooms and they give you the title you didn’t ask for, and they say, “Hey, we want your do’s and don’ts page.” And you say, “Actually, I’m here to tell you some stuff you didn’t maybe bring me in to hear,” how is that received?
REEDY: Mixed. So, I’m a journalist, and so it’s okay that I say this. But the egos in newsroom are, like, intense. And so, it either goes, “What?! What? Like, I didn’t know any of this.” Or “Where’d you get your facts?” Or you’re, how do you, I’ve had this question: “How do you mix your advocacy with being a journalist? Like, you can’t be an advocate and a journalist.” I’m like…. I said, “Well, number one, you’re the one calling me an advocate. I didn’t call myself that. Number two, everything I’ve told you is facts. So, my facts mean that I’m less than because I’m bringing you facts? So, I’m an advocate because I’m bringing you facts?” And they’re like, “What?” And I said, “Well, I’m a journalist that’s bringing you facts. And you just have never heard these facts, so now you’re calling me an advocate because I’m bringing you facts.” And they’re like, “Where did you get your facts from?” I’m like, “The government.” [dramatic silence] “Oh, well, where?” “Census, GAO, Bureau of Prisons. Like, whatever issue you’re dealing with, they have the numbers. You haven’t looked for them. That’s not my issue. That’s a you issue, and you need to take that back and own it.” But there’s a lot of ego. Some people are great about it, and they’re like, “I’m gonna implement this.” And some people are like, “I, I just…” they, it’s almost like because they didn’t think of it, then it must be not right or true. Which is—
VALLAS: And because it’s a critique, right? It’s a critique of the way they’re approaching media coverage. And so, yeah, ego, ego doesn’t—spoiler—egos don’t like critique, do they? So.
REEDY: No, they don’t. But I’m not here for your ego, so I don’t care. I don’t. And I spent too much time in newsrooms saying this stuff. And because I had no power, it was, “You’re problematic,” you’re this, you’re that. And now the tables have turned, and they kind of need me, but they’re still uncomfortable with it.
VALLAS: Well, I’m really, really, really excited to see where things go as you get this organization off the ground. I wanna talk a little more about what that long-term picture looks like, and then I’ve got some other questions, too. I’m gonna do a little bit of a who is Cara Reedy section, as I often like to do with folks that I have on this show. But talk to me a little bit about some of what your long-term goals and hopes are. You’re just, as I mentioned, in this early stage of getting this organization off the ground. It’s a huge, exciting thing to get the website up and running. One of the first things you’re doing is conducting a survey. Actually, let’s talk about that survey for a second, and then we can maybe talk about long-term goals, too, ‘cause I wanna make sure folks check that out and participate. I know we actually have a fair number of disabled journalists who are part of the audience for this show, and I wanna send you some folks. So, what are you looking to find out from this survey, what are your goals of the survey, and how can folks participate?
REEDY: So, you can participate at DisCoJourno.com. The survey link is at the bottom. We partnered with Accessible Surveys, which is in, they’re centered in England and France. Who knew?! But if you have an accessibility need, it probably will accommodate you. Don’t come at me if I missed one, but tell me if I missed one. Because they’re really active in wanting to rebuild the system. So, whatever we don’t have, I can go back and give them feedback, and they’ll probably build it in the next three or four months, which I think is amazing.
So, what we’re trying to find out is, you know, the survey is anonymous, so you don’t have to tell us who you are. We do kind of ask where you work, but you also don’t have to tell us if you feel uncomfortable or feel like you’ll be targeted. We’re not trying to make anyone unsafe, but what we’re trying to find out is what does a disabled journalist’s situation look like? Are you hiding? Do you feel like you can’t ask for accommodations? Have you asked for accommodations and then had repercussions after that?
This is, we’re really trying to find out how newsrooms are treating disabled people across the country because so much of journalism is, “Well, where’s the data?” Well, we don’t have any data because journalism, newsrooms aren’t really taking a lot of data around disability. They’re doing it around race and gender and sexual orientation, but they’re not really collecting it around disability. And if they do, they’re not gonna release it to us because then that will indict them. So, that’s why. ‘Cause someone was like, “Well, why don’t you partner with other places?” I’m like, “‘Cause I want it to be our data and for us to own it and so that we can then report it back to them.” So, it’s trying to find out what’s happening in newsrooms for disabled people. What is your situation? Are you safe? That kind of stuff. Because then I have, when I go to these newsrooms, I can be like, “Here’s the data, and it’s not looking good for you guys.”
VALLAS: Which is great.
REEDY: ‘Cause I already know it doesn’t look good.
REEDY: I need data.
VALLAS: That’s what [unclear], like sometimes you know the thing, but you need to actually go out and do the work of gathering the data, because that’s when it comes back, to your point before, right? As opposed to just a bunch of people’s opinions or anecdotes, which you’ve got plenty of, a lot of us have plenty of. But I know I’m really excited to see what that survey yields. What is the timeline? When is it wrapping up? How long are you keeping it open?
REEDY: We’re suppo-, you know, our timeline keeps changing, because our timeline of when it got up keeps changing and how we’re promoting it. So, at first it was the end of September, but I probably think it’s gonna be closer to the end of October, beginning of November, and maybe we’ll extend it if we’re getting steady responses.
VALLAS: That’s great. Yeah, and like I said, we’ll plug it in show notes, and we’ll be sure to tweet it out and whatnot, make sure that we can get folks participating. But so then zooming back out from that, if that’s the immediate step that you’re undergoing right now as part of this research, as part of figuring out what are the needs, what is the landscape in a way that’s adding some data on top of anecdote and experience, what are your long-term goals for this organization? What is your hope? If you’re thinking like, ten years from now, and you’re looking back at what it has been able to achieve, what’s your dream? What’s your ten-year dream?
REEDY: I really want it to be kind of a place where disability stories that don’t get a voice in newsrooms can come, and we will give a space and a platform. Like I’ve always said, it can’t just be an advocacy organization. We also, because we’re…we are not represented well so far in newsrooms, and we really don’t have any power, even power like people power, enough people inside, we are going to have to create content as well. And so, there will be a content creation portion of what we do, but also a unified force where we can come back at newsrooms who are harming people and we know they’re harming people without the one person in the room having to say, “Hey, you’re harming me.” We can then say, ‘cause that’s what NABJ, National Association of Black Journalists, does. That’s what the National Association of Hispanic Journalists does. When something bad is going down in a newsroom based on their membership, that person doesn’t have to respond. The organization responds, and then there’s nothing that they can do to us ‘cause we’re not under them. And so, that’s the real goal, is to be a voice, a unified voice, so that we can be, we can have some kind of protection on the outside.
That was something that I really wished I had the entire time I was there. I tried to join National Association of Black Journalists, and like, no shade to them, but they don’t talk about disability. So, there was always this, okay, well, maybe you should hustle more. Maybe you should do this, or maybe you should do that, that doesn’t attack the actual elephant in the room, which is well, I’m a dwarf, guys. Like, this isn’t…this isn’t something I can do. It’s not me being weak. It’s like I’m alone. [chuckles] I’m alone, and you guys aren’t speaking to it. You’re just kind of saying, you know, just buckle down and get better.
VALLAS: And I love all of that. And I know there’s also gonna be more that gets fleshed out as you develop your strategy and all the pieces that are gonna come from the survey and the landscaping and the research that you’re doing. But I so love your weaving in yes, there’s gonna be a place that people can go, the individuals who are not gaining access or not being treated well. But I also wanna ask one other kind of a bigger-picture question, because I get very, I get systems change energy from you, right? Like, you’re not going about this trying to say like, hey, it’s one person at a time. Yes, that’s part of what needs to happen, and people need that protection and that people power and that backing and for someone to have their back.
But I’m gonna raise up a strawman and sort of ask a question that some folks might be wondering or that maybe a lot of folks in newsrooms think, which is like, is it even possible for newsrooms to become a place that disabled people who need accommodations—’cause not all disabled people need accommodations, but many do—can work and can thrive? And that grind culture is so enmeshed and so normalized within that industry. And again, I emphasized before, it’s not just the newsrooms, it’s also politics and many of the industries it covers. But I’m curious how you speak to that when folks maybe say, “Well, look, this just isn’t a place for you.”
REEDY: I think, well, the newsroom industry is changing rapidly. The big guys don’t really know what they’re doing anymore. You can look at CNN. It’s not, this isn’t, and it’s not new. It’s not like everyone…. ‘Cause I’m alu-, ‘cause I’m from CNN. I was raised at CNN. Everybody’s looking at Chris Licht, who was the last CEO as, “Oh, well, it was Chris Licht’s fault.” I’m like, “Was that, or was it culture?” And so, do I think I can change the culture of CNN? No. I don’t. And several funders asked me that: “Well, if you don’t think you can change the culture, then why are you doing it?” Well, the culture is changing around these big guys. And so, what is going to happen and what is happening is there’s these little startups are coming up, and those are the people that I’m really hopeful for because they’re nimble enough to change immediately.
There’s The 19th, there’s Capital B, there’s URL Media, and all of those organizations have reached out or are working on it. They’re all active. And are they perfect? No, but they’re thinking about it, and that’s different than the other ones. And so, I think there’s going to be a ton of smaller, more nimble startups that kind of go around these big guys and then will then force the big guys to change. So, no, do I think I’m gonna change The New York Times? No, I don’t. Washington Post? Absolutely not. Like, you’re just, the industry, it’s too enmeshed. They’re too old. And I don’t mean old people. I mean like old structures. And there’s a lot of people that don’t want it to change. And so, more power to ya, but eventually you’re gonna have to.
VALLAS: And obviously a lot is changing when it comes to the workplace generally across industries, right? And COVID has had a lot to do with that, and remote work is now a thing in ways that are— I mean, I’m having a conversation with you in the D.C. office that I allegedly work at that I’m never at because I’m always in Charlottesville! So, people are probably noticing a different background, right? It’s weird for me to be in the office. That’s just one example of how work is changing in so many ways. So, I share your optimism that even if it is a long game and even if it starts with some of the newer places and some of the startups, right, there is obviously a lot that is changing around even the most hardened establishment institutions across a whole bunch of different sectors, journalism being just one of them.
And then the other question I wanna ask you before I get into a little bit of a lightning round or ask you some questions about you as a journalist, but also now apparently as an advocate—[chuckles] if we’re gonna call you that, you’re gonna accept that title—is you referenced before, and I feel like you started to speak to this just a little bit, but I wanna give you a little bit of space to connect the dots back around. I mentioned that you’re a member of the Disability, the Disabled Journalists Association is actually a member of the Disability Economic Justice Collaborative. And you started, when you were laying the foundations for how you got to the place of founding the organization, that this was actually part of what attracted you to journalism in the first place, right? It’s about holding power to account, right? And that that is obviously fundamentally one of the core reasons media exists and it’s at its most ideal and at its highest expression. It is what media is best for, right, when it’s used well. I’m curious to hear you speak a little bit to how you see this organization and also just the general mission of the organization, that of intentional and equitable and diverse representation in newsrooms with a disability lens, right—which is new for a lot of folks—how that fits into the larger picture of disability justice and of disability economic justice specifically.
REEDY: Well, how are you going to make any of those changes if people don’t know anything about it? Right? Media, if you’re not broadcasting all of these issues, you’re working by yourself. And you have to activate the public, and the best way to activate the public is through media. That’s, I mean, that’s why I love it so much, because you can turn, an image can turn entire, like…it can change the world. People see things, and they’re like, “Ew! We can’t do that anymore!” So, if we as disabled people are not actively working in that section, we’re never gonna win. We’re never gonna win. We have to. And I, you know, am I, do I, did I grow up in grind culture? Do I have those, “We gotta win?” Yes. I’ve probably been to one too many presidents’ talks at newsrooms where they’re like, “We have to win! Get the ratings!” But I kind of, you know, I believe that, and so I feel that way for us.
Like, we have to win. We have to get better. We have to force these images. We have to force these ideas out in the world so people can see them and understand it. Because as soon as I start, whenever I start evangelizing and telling people all of these facts, everybody goes, “What?” Even at the conference we did a panel. Ryan Prior was actually on the panel with us. So, we did this panel, and we start dropping facts. And you could hear the, “Ooo-uhh” in the room. You can always hear it. So, it’s, I don’t really believe that people don’t wanna know it. I think they don’t know what they don’t know.
VALLAS: Yep, I love that answer. And obviously, telling stories is what builds awareness. And if you don’t have awareness, you’re never gonna actually get change because there’s not gonna be anything people feel they need to act on, right? And so, it’s that, what are we shining a light on and in what ways and whose stories are we telling, right? So, it’s part of why I believe very passionately in what you’re building and part of why I’m excited to be in collaboration with you in hopefully a growing number of ways.
But now I’m gonna put you on the spot and ask some questions about you. [laughs] I’m gonna do a little lightning round to close us out. A question I love asking folks—and I feel like it’s come through in this conversation, but I’m gonna give you a chance to put it into some words—what is your personal mission statement, and how did you come to find it?
REEDY: Oh! So, personal mission statement? So, I really hate injustice and unfairness. I don’t like it. I’ve never liked it and even when I was a small child. In fact, my goodbye CNN speech, one of my managers said, “When she knows something’s wrong, she won’t let it go. And then she pushes us until we do the right thing. And she’s always right about it.” And that’s kind of, I’m not saying I’m always right. I’m right a lot, but I’m not always right. But I do. I just, it drives me bananas when I see injustice. And most of the time it’s injustice for no reason.
VALLAS: I love that answer. I feel like it’s hard to come up with a better personal mission statement than, “I really hate injustice.” [laughs] That’s a pretty nice thing. We’re gonna put that on your business cards at some point.
So, one of the premises of the way that I organize this podcast is I believe that everybody who comes on this show is a superhero. I’m a nerd, so it’s superheroes who work with law and policy and culture change and all those things. So, if you accept my premise that you are indeed one of those superheroes, what are your superpowers?
REEDY: I, what is…? Persistence. I think persistence. I don’t have one where, like, I just won’t let it go. I don’t. If it’s a problem that needs to be fixed, I’m not gonna let it go. I’m not gonna let it go until we fix it.
VALLAS: I like that. I like that a lot for you. And I bring it into this podcast a lot. But just because I feel like these are words that ring in my ears for a long time and have rung in my ears for a long time, I was taught pretty early on as a legal aid lawyer that an advocate is someone who simply refuses to go away. [laughs] Which is like 90 percent of it, right? It’s just not being willing to go away. So, I love that answer.
A question I’m gonna ask because I committed to bringing it into every episode, we did a whole season on self-care as political warfare, interrogating Audre Lorde’s famous but usually superficially understood words. But I committed to bringing at least one question into every episode from there. How does self-care show up for you as a leader within the disability community? How do you take care of yourself? Do you have any particular tips or wisdom to share?
REEDY: I’m not the best at taking care of myself. I’m gonna be honest about that.
VALLAS: None of us are.
REEDY: I love a nap, though. Like, I don’t care. I was at the hair salon yesterday, and my hair stylist knows it. She was like, “When your foot starts tapping, you’re out.” And I will go out on her while she’s braiding my hair, and I don’t care. So, a nap. And I like good food. I have digestive issues, so a good quality day of eating healthily is self-care to me too. Relieves everything, makes my body calm down. Yeah, I think I feel like those are my two.
VALLAS: I love those answers. And I’m with you on the digestive issues, which doesn’t mean we don’t love food. You can have digestive issues and still actually love food. You just have to, you know, you have a complicated relationship with it, so.
I’m gonna ask you a question that is one of my favorite to ask folks in this podcast context, which is, I know it’s a little unfair because making you pick one is kind of unfair, but I’m kind of unfair sometimes. If you had to pick one, what is, in your opinion, the most toxic limiting belief that we as a collective need to get rid of so that we can actually build an economy where everyone is free, including disabled people?
REEDY: I think what is really toxic is the inability to listen, and active listening, like when you’re not worried about what you’re getting ready to say. And I have to work on that sometimes because I’m like, “I know!” And then…. So, I’m gonna tell a quick little story. In the summers, I manage a concession stand at the largest outdoor theater in America. And so, I work with 16 to 22-year-olds. And they are different. They are different people than we are ‘cause they were raised differently. And so, one thing that it is management at its base level, and one thing I have to do is shut up a lot and just let them talk. Because how can I lead someone if I’m not listening to them? Because I may have ideas of what I think they need, but maybe that’s not exactly what they need. So, I have to shut up and listen and actively listen and be quiet and maybe not make a decision until I’ve been around them for a while. Because all people want of any age is to be heard. And so, in order to hear people, you actually have to shut up.
VALLAS: I love that answer so much. And I also especially love it in the context of talking about journalism, right? Which at its best is people doing active listening and then actually using those platforms to elevate what they’ve heard. So, I love that answer. And it’s a totally, that’s unlike any answer I think I’ve gotten to that question yet, so I really love that. Active listening is something that is, I think we could all work on it, even the people who think that we’re good at it, right? And often, the people who do the most talking are the people who need most to work at that. And I am definitely one of those people! So, it’s been a journey for me. Yeah.
My next question is gonna come in the context of a brilliant idea that one of our producers, Kings Floyd, had. So, I’m gonna ask the question, and then I’m gonna tell you why I asked it. What is your hype song or your walk-up song?
REEDY: It changes.
VALLAS: Doesn’t have to be forever. It can be your answer for now. We can let you change it later.
REEDY: Okay. I have to look it up. It’s by Noname…. It is called Namesake.
VALLAS: Okay. I don’t think I know that song.
REEDY: It has the best kind of baseline beat that, ‘cause I— Up until a couple years ago, I was in New York full-time. And so, you need a power song to walk from your house to the subway. You have your headphones. You have to power walk. You gotta walk through the streets. And so, I like songs with really good beats and bass lines, but my latest one is Namesake by Noname.
VALLAS: All right, I’m gonna check that song out. It’s the first one that we’ve gotten as the answer to that question in this whole season that wasn’t a song I knew, so I’m excited to discover this song. And the reason we’re asking is because, a, we all need good up songs that help us shift the energy, but also because Kings is gonna be making a playlist with all the songs from this season. So, that will be in the playlist. Let us know if you have something else you wanna add in at some point if it shifts for you and you have something else you wanna nominate. But I’ll get back to you once I’ve heard the song ‘cause I love a good bassline too. And also, I am also with you that I’ve got headphones in, and I’m doing like, if I’m walking down the street anywhere, right, there is a level of music in my ears, and it’s my own personal soundtrack, so I love you describing that. I was picturing you through the streets of New York, on the way to the subway, so.
And then the last question I’m gonna give you is just a chance to plug what’s next for the Disabled Journalists Association? What do you wanna plug? We talked about the survey. We’ll have that in show notes. We’ll also have the website in show notes. Folks should get in touch with Cara if they’re interested in learning more or if they wanna join or kind of get on the list. But anything in the last couple of minutes that we have that you wanna plug or anything you’re excited about.
REEDY: It’s, honestly, it’s really the survey, the survey, the survey. And also, sign up. Sign up, get yourself known by us so that we can track you and have you on our list for new info. We’re planning content and events and stuff that will be coming up in the next few months. And so, we’d love anyone and everyone to come hang out with us. But definitely survey, survey, survey. [delighted chuckle] That’s our biggest thing right now.
VALLAS: I’m super excited, and I’m excited to get to hear what results come from that survey. And I know we’re gonna be doing lots together with the Collaborative, so just really thrilled to have you as a member of that and excited about what you’ve been building.
Cara Reedy is the founder and the director of the Disabled Journalists Association. Check it out at DisCoJourno—which we’ve got in show notes—DisCoJourno.com. We’ve plugged that survey, but if you are a disabled journalist— And maybe you don’t identify that way, but I mean, I took the survey ‘cause I didn’t think about myself as a disabled journalist, and I don’t think about myself as a journalist at all. And then I was like, oh, no. Actually, I do qualify. So, check it out, even if you’re not entirely sure. And Cara, I’m really excited to see what comes from this, and I’m just really, really grateful for your leadership. I think you’re really cool, so I’m excited we got to have this conversation, and it was a lot of fun for me.
REEDY: Thank you so much for having me. I think you’re really cool too.
VALLAS: [chuckles] Love a good mutual admiration society. We will talk soon, and always, always gratitude to the Cokleyverse. [theme music returns]
And that does it for this week’s show. Off-Kilter is powered by The Century Foundation and produced by We Act Radio, with a special shoutout to executive producer Troy Miller and his merry band of farm animals, and the phenomenal Kings Floyd, who keeps us all in line week to week. Transcripts, which help us make the show accessible, are courtesy of Cheryl Green and her fabulous feline coworker. Find us every week on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your pods. And if you like what we do here at Off-Kilter Enterprises, send us some love by hitting that subscribe button and rating and reviewing the show on Apple Podcasts to help other folks find the pod. Thanks again for listening and see you next week.