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Tasneem Raja wins prestigious Gwen Ifill Award for leadership in journalism
By Cityside staff
May 3, 2024

Raja, the co-founder of Cityside and editor-in-chief of The Oaklandside, was recognized for her mentorship and commitment to diversity and inclusion in journalism.

Tasneem Raja, editor-in-chief of The Oaklandside and co-founder of nonprofit news organization Cityside Journalism Initiative, which publishes Oaklandside, Berkeleyside, and Richmondside, has been named the recipient of the prestigious 2024 IWMF Gwen Ifill Award.

In a statement, the International Women’s Media Foundation said it had selected Raja for this honor in recognition of her dedication to mentorship and leadership of diverse newsrooms and teams in Oakland and beyond, her commitment to equity and inclusion in the newsroom, and her generosity in imparting these values to the next generation of journalists.

“Over the past 20 years, I’ve been lucky enough to learn from a number of great newsroom leaders and colleagues across our field who demonstrated what healthy, intentional mentorship can look like,” said Raja. “I’m so proud of the systems and structures that we’ve collectively built—and are constantly refining—to ensure that everyone at Cityside can do their best work in serving our neighbors in Oakland, Berkeley, and soon Richmond with the high-quality local journalism we all need and deserve.”

This Gwen Ifill Award was established to honor the memory of the journalist and trailblazer Gwen Ifill, the former co-anchor of the PBS NewsHour, who died in November 2016. The Award is given annually to a U.S. woman or nonbinary journalist of color who carries forward Ifill’s legacy of leadership, mentorship and commitment to diversity and inclusion in the media.

“Tasneem has been a pioneer throughout her journalism career,” said Cityside’s Chief Content Officer Tracey Taylor. “She demonstrates a thoughtful, inspiring and process-driven style of leadership both within our newsrooms and as an insightful voice of authority in the industry at large. She has been a leading voice in conversations about creating an equitable culture and a healthy work environment in newsrooms. And she has prompted important discussions about the role of journalism which has tended to focus on producing news for well-educated progressive people, what academic and author Nikki Usher describes as the ‘rich, white and blue’ audience. Tasneem focuses on what it means to create truly community-focused, community-powered newsrooms, forcing news organizations to think not just about who they serve, but how they serve them.”

“Tasneem brings what any newsroom could want in an editor-in-chief, but few have: brilliant editorial judgment and technical chops, coupled with a genuine desire to continuously improve by embracing a shared process of listening and two-way feedback with colleagues,” said Jacob Simas, Cityside’s community journalism director and former managing editor at The Oaklandside. “During the past four years, Tasneem challenged those of us in the Oakland newsroom to do so much more than we probably ever thought we could — and we’ve been successful in large part because of her ability to not only communicate big ideas, but turn them into actionable plans.”

Before co-founding Cityside in 2019 with Taylor, its CEO Lance Knobel and Frances Dinkelspiel — who also co-founded Berkeleyside in 2009 — Raja demonstrated her commitment to equitable journalism as co-founder and executive editor of The Tyler Loop, a nationally recognized nonprofit local news startup in East Texas, an under-resourced and segregated part of the country. The Loop experimented with new ways to collaborate with the people and communities it served, from its storytelling training program to audience-driven reporting to a wildly popular taco tour.

Her previous roles include founding and leading the data journalism team at Mother Jones that built the first-ever database of mass shootings in America and leading the data-driven journalism project team at the Bay Citizen, a previous nonprofit news site she also helped launch, an experience she described as “a real boot camp experience in digital-first newsroom development.”

As a senior editor at Code Switch at NPR, Raja led a multicultural group of journalists with whom she developed and launched the highly regarded podcast Code Switch, which explores how race and culture shape and intersect with every aspect of American society.

“Tasneem is helping define what genuine, effective and successful leadership can look like in the news business,” said Knobel. “She believes the best mentorship happens in the workplace and, over the years, has worked with many young reporters to empower them, to help them punch above their weight, to aim high, and to give them a clear roadmap of what success looks like.”

“As a woman of color early in my journalism career, I’ve grown professionally and personally through Tasneem’s mentorship and feedback,” said Roselyn Romero,  small business reporter for The Oaklandside through the Poynter-Koch Media & Journalism Fellowship Program. “From her approach to editing to the energy she brings to our weekly check-in meetings, Tasneem leads by example through her empathy and enthusiasm.”

It takes intentional cultural competence to create systems that are geared toward the empowerment, growth and retention of journalists of color, and the Gwen Ifill Award recognizes Raja’s wholehearted commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in news organizations.

“At a time when the value of diversity is under direct attack, it is essential to have leaders at news organizations that are living into its value,” said Martin Reynolds,  co-executive director of the Maynard Institute, and a member of the Cityside board. “Tasneem embodies this, which can be seen and felt in the newsroom culture she supports and the journalism Oaklandside produces. These values can also be seen in the way she has approached the evolving relationship to the community in Oakland, taking the time to listen and respond even when it’s hard. For these gifts to our craft, she honors the incredible legacy of Gwen Ifill.”

Raja, who is on the board of directors of The 19th, served as a mentor in the 2020 Gwen Ifill Mentors program. Raja will officially receive the honor at an award ceremony in Los Angeles in June. Past IWMF Gwen Ifill Award winners include Karen Grigsby Bates, Mc Nelly Torres, Sisi Wei, Yamiche Alcindor, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Karen Toulon and Michele Norris.

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