Journalist/developer. Storytelling developer @ USA Today Network. Builder of @HomicideWatch. Sinophile for fun. Past: @frontlinepbs @WBUR, @NPR, @NewsHour.
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The Baked Data architectural pattern

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I've been exploring an architectural pattern for publishing websites over the past few years that I call the "Baked Data" pattern. It provides many of the advantages of static site generators while avoiding most of their limitations. I think it deserves to be used more widely.

I define the Baked Data architectural pattern as the following:

Baked Data: bundling a read-only copy of your data alongside the code for your application, as part of the same deployment

Most dynamic websites keep their code and data separate: the code runs on an application server, the data lives independently in some kind of external data store - something like PostgreSQL, MySQL or MongoDB.

With Baked Data, the data is deployed as part of the application bundle. Any time the content changes, a fresh copy of the site is deployed that includes those updates.

I mostly use SQLite database files for this, but plenty of other formats can work here too.

This works particularly well with so-called "serverless" deployment platforms - platforms that support stateless deployments and only charge for resources spent servicing incoming requests ("scale to zero").

Since every change to the data results in a fresh deployment this pattern doesn't work for sites that change often - but in my experience many content-oriented sites update their content at most a few times a day. Consider blogs, documentation sites, project websites - anything where content is edited by a small group of authors.

Benefits of Baked Data

Why would you want to apply this pattern? A few reasons:

  • Inexpensive to host. Anywhere that can run application code can host a Baked Data application - there's no need to pay extra for a managed database system. Scale to zero serverless hosts such as Cloud Run, Vercel or AWS Lambda will charge only cents per month for low-traffic deployments.
  • Easy to scale. Need to handle more traffic? Run more copies of your application and its bundled data. Horizontally scaling Baked Data applications is trivial. They're also a great fit to run behind a caching proxy CDN such as Cloudflare or Fastly - when you deploy a new version you can purge that entire cache.
  • Difficult to break. Hosting server-side applications on a VPS is always disquieting because there's so much that might go wrong - the server could be compromised, or a rogue log file could cause it to run out of disk space. With Baked Data the worst that can happen is that you need to re-deploy the application - there's no risk at all of data loss, and providers that can auto-restart code can recover from errors automatically.
  • Server-side functionality is supported. Static site generators provide many of the above benefits, but with the limitation that any dynamic functionality needs to happen in client-side JavaScript. With a Baked Data application you can execute server-side code too.
  • Templated pages. Another improvement over static site generators: if you have 10,000 pages, a static site generator will need to generate 10,000 HTML files. With Baked Data those 10,000 pages can exist as rows in a single SQLite database file, and the pages can be generated at run-time using a server-side template.
  • Easy to support multiple formats. Since your content is in a dynamic data store, outputting that same content in alternative formats is easy. I use Datasette plugins for this: datasette-atom can produce an Atom feed from a SQL query, and datasette-ics does the same thing for iCalendar feeds.
  • Integrates well with version control. I like to keep my site content under version control. The Baked Data pattern works well with build scripts that read content from a git repository and use it to build assets that are bundled with the deployment.

How to bake your data

My initial implementations of Baked Data have all used SQLite. It's an ideal format for this kind of application: a single binary file which can store anything that can be represented as relational tables, JSON documents or binary objects - essentially anything at all.

Any format that can be read from disk by your dynamic server-side code will work too: YAML or CSV files, Berkeley DB files, or anything else that can be represented by a bucket of read-only bytes in a file on disk.

[I have a hunch that you could even use something like PostgreSQL, MySQL or Elasticsearch by packaging up their on-disk representations and shipping them as part of a Docker container, but I've not tried that myself yet.]

Once your data is available in a file, your application code can read from that file and use it to generate and return web pages.

You can write code that does this in any server-side language. I use Python, usually with my Datasette application server which can read from a SQLite database file and use Jinja templates to generate pages.

The final piece of the puzzle is a build and deploy script. I use GitHub Actions for this, but any CI tool will work well here. The script builds the site content into a deployable asset, then deploys that asset along with the application code to a hosting platform.

Baked Data in action:

The most sophisticated Baked Data site I've published myself is the official website for my Datasette project, - source code in this repo.

A screenshot of the homepage

The site is deployed using Cloud Run. It's actually a heavily customized Datasette instance, using a custom template for the homepage, custom pages for other parts of the site and the datasette-template-sql plugin to execute SQL queries and display their results from those templates.

The site currently runs off four database files:

The site is automatically deployed once a day by a scheduled action, and I can also manually trigger that action if I want to ensure a new software release is reflected on the homepage.

Other real-world examples of Baked Data

I'm currently running two other sites using this pattern:

  • Niche Museums is my blog about tiny museums that I've visited. Again, it's Datasette with custom templates. Most of the content comes from this museums.yaml file, but I also run a script to figure out when each item was created or updated from the git history.
  • My TILs site runs on Vercel and is built from my simonw/til GitHub repository by this build script (populating this tils table). It uses the GitHub API to convert GitHub Flavored Markdown to HTML. I'm also running a script that generates small screenshots of each page and stashes them in a BLOB column in SQLite in order to provide social media preview cards, see Social media cards for my TILs.

My favourite example of this pattern in a site that I haven't worked on myself is

They started using SQLite back in 2018 in a system they call Bedrock - Paul McLanahan provides a detailed description of how this works.

Their site content lives in a ~22MB SQLite database file, which is built and uploaded to S3 and then downloaded on a regular basis to each of their application servers.

You can view their healthcheck page to see when the database was last downloaded, and grab a copy of the SQLite file yourself. It's fun to explore that using Datasette:

Datasette running against the Mozilla contentncards_contentcard table

Compared to static site generators

Static site generators have exploded in popularity over the past ten years. They drive the cost of hosting a site down to almost nothing, provide excellent performance, work well with CDNs and produce sites that are extremely unlikely to break.

Used carefully, the Baked Data keeps most of these characteristics while still enabling server-side code execution.

My example sites use this in a few different ways:

A common complaint about static site generators when used for larger sites is that build times can get pretty long if the builder has to generate tens of thousands of pages.

With Baked Data, 10,000 pages can be generated by a single template file and 10,000 rows in a SQLite database table.

This also makes for a faster iteration cycle during development: you can edit a template and hit "refresh" to see any page rendered by the new template instantly, without needing to rebuild any pages.

Want to give this a go?

If you want to give the Baked Data pattern a try, I recommend starting out using the combination of Datasette, GitHub Actions and Vercel. Hopefully the examples I've provided above are a good starting point - also feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or in the Datasette Discussions forum with any questions.

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If the Supreme Court overrules Roe in the new term, will we know for sure?

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The state of Mississippi this week urged the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule the two foundational precedents for a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion—Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. If the justices agree, will we know for sure?

The question isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem. The justices haven’t always used the magic word “overruled” to speak clearly about what they have done.

In the abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, to be heard in the new term, Mississippi, however, is quite clear in what it wants the justices to do.

“The stare decisis case for overruling Roe and Casey is overwhelming,” the state argues. “Roe and Casey are egregiously wrong. The conclusion that abortion is a constitutional right has no basis in text, structure, history, or tradition.”

The issue that the justices agreed to decide in the state’s case is whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.

The state is defending a law that bans abortions after 15 weeks, a time well before the general consensus that viability occurs at 24 weeks. The Mississippi law is a direct challenge to Roe as well as Casey, which reaffirmed Roe’s core holding.

“Before viability, the state’s interests are not strong enough to support a prohibition of abortion,” the court held in Casey.

There are at least three ways the court can discard a precedent, and it has done all three in recent terms.

First, there is the magic word. In 2018, a 5-4 conservative majority discarded a 41-year-old decision in Janus v. AFSCME. The decades-old decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education had held that so-called “fair share” or agency fees paid by nonunion workers for the cost of collective bargaining by unions required to represent them did not violate the First Amendment speech rights of the nonunion workers.

“Developments since Abood was handed down have shed new light on the issue of agency fees, and no reliance interests on the part of public-sector unions are sufficient to justify the perpetuation of the free speech violations that Abood has countenanced for the past 41 years.,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote. “Abood is therefore overruled.”

There was no question that the Janus decision overruled Abood. The majority went through each of the factors weighed when deciding whether to overrule a precedent, and the dissent countered with its own weighing of those factors. It was the classic approach used by the justices for years.

Second, there has been a kind of back-handed overruling. Japanese Americans have waited decades for the justices to state clearly that the court’s opinion upholding the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II was wrong and was overruled. When the justices in Trump v. Hawaii finally addressed its 1944 decision In Korematsu v. United States, it was almost an afterthought.

Trump v. Hawaii involved the Trump administration’s defense of the so-called Muslim ban—presidential orders prohibiting the entry into the United States of foreign nationals from eight predominantly Muslim nations. It wasn’t until the very end of his majority opinion that Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., only by responding to the liberal dissenters who likened his opinion to Korematsu, addressed the 1944 decision:

“The dissent’s reference to Korematsu, however, affords this Court the opportunity to make express what is already obvious: Korematsu was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history, and—to be clear—’has no place in law under the Constitution.’”

Roberts’ language left some scholars and court watchers wondering if the court had actually overruled Korematsu. Roberts did say the decision had been “overruled in the court of history,” but he did not say explicitly that his court was overruling it. And the issue of overruling Korematsu had not been raised and briefed in the Hawaii case and was not part of the case’s official holding.

After so many years, Japanese Americans could be forgiven if they felt less than satisfied with Roberts’ comments.

And finally, there is the “hidden” overruling, the least clear of all approaches, the most confusing to the public and perhaps the most dishonest.

Some believed that was the case in the term just ended when a divided court decided Jones v. Mississippi. Brett Jones was 15 when he killed his grandfather. He was convicted and state law required a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

The Supreme Court subsequently ruled that those mandatory sentences violated the Eighth Amendment. That sentence could not be mandatory for those under 18 and judges had discretion to impose lesser sentences, according to the justices. Jones was resentenced following that ruling, but the judge reimposed life without parole.

The Supreme Court later made its decision striking down the mandatory sentence retroactive, and Jones had a new opportunity to appeal his sentence. He argued in the high court that under those recent Supreme Court decisions, judges had to make a separate factual finding that a murderer under 18 was permanently incorrigible before sentencing him to life without parole. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, writing for the majority, disagreed with Jones’ interpretation of the two high court decisions. He wrote that a discretionary sentencing process in which youth was considered a factor was adequate.

And the majority also disagreed with the three liberal dissenters in the case who said the court had abandoned the meaning of those two earlier decisions. He downplayed their disagreement, calling it a “good faith disagreement” over how to interpret the court’s prior two decisions. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the dissenters, accused the court of gutting those two decisions.

Miller’s essential holding is that ‘a lifetime in prison is a disproportionate sentence for all but the rarest children, those whose crimes reflect ‘irreparable corruption,’” she wrote, quoting Miller v. Alabama (2012) and Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016).

The majority, she said, “attempts to circumvent stare decisis principles by claiming that ‘[t]he Court’s decision today carefully follows both Miller and Montgomery.’ The Court is fooling no one. Because I cannot countenance the Court’s abandonment of Miller and Montgomery, I dissent.”

Who was right? Did the majority implicitly overrule Miller and Montgomery?

Abortion rights advocates believe there will be no lack of clarity if the justices rule for Mississippi. “Let’s be clear; any ruling in favor of Mississippi in this case overturns the core holding of Roe –the right to make a decision about whether to continue a pregnancy before viability,” the Center for Reproductive Rights said on the filing of Mississippi’s main brief this week.

They are certain, but will we be?

Marcia Coyle is a regular contributor to Constitution Daily and the Chief Washington Correspondent for The National Law Journal, covering the Supreme Court for more than 20 years.

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A lawsuit against The Washington Post reignites the debate over objectivity

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Walter Lippmann in 1905

The meaning of objectivity is at the heart of a lawsuit brought by a Washington Post reporter against the paper, five of its top editors and former executive editor Marty Baron.

Felicia Sonmez argues that she was subjected to unlawful discrimination after she said she had been sexually assaulted by a fellow Post reporter and was then banned from covering stories involving sexual misconduct, according to CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy.

Darcy and New York Times reporter Katie Robertson report that Baron has declined to comment on the case.

I’m not going to get into whether Sonmez is right or wrong; that will be for the legal process to sort out. But what’s interesting about this is that her claim involves the appearance of objectivity — that is, she could have been accused of not being impartial, whether fairly or not. This is a largely bogus argument, in my view, as it places news organizations in the position of preemptively giving in to bad-faith critics.

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What’s odd is that Baron understands the true meaning of objectivity, and pursued it during his years as the top editor at the Post and The Boston Globe. In particular, the Post’s fierce coverage of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and subsequent presidency was grounded in exposing the truth, not in “both sides” false equivalencies.

Several months ago Baron spoke to Northeastern journalism students and faculty via Zoom and defined objectivity in terms that would do Walter Lippmann proud. “I don’t think the answer for us is to be partisan,” he said. “I think the answer for us is to be independent.”

Citing Lippmann’s landmark 1920 book “Liberty and the News,” Baron said that objectivity is about “independence and open-mindedness and fairness,” not giving each side equal weight. After thoroughly reporting a story, he added, “then we tell people in a forthright and unflinching way what we have learned.”

What Sonmez is alleging is that the Post fell into some of the worst excesses and caricatures of objectivity, such as the bad old days when LGBTQ people were somehow thought to be disqualified from covering same-sex marriage, or when Black reporters were regarded as suspect if they covered issues involving racial justice. Surely some of that was at work in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s prohibiting its then-reporter Alexis Johnson from covering Black Lives Matter protests after she posted an innocuous tweet.

There may have been other factors involved in the Sonmez case. You may recall that she was suspended for tweeting details of Kobe Bryant’s sexual-assault case not long after he died in a helicopter crash. I thought the suspension was unwarranted, as did Post media columnist Erik Wemple. But you could certainly argue that she should have waited a day or two.

In any case, her lawsuit raises some fascinating issues and is well worth paying attention to.

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Marvel’s Black Widow movie could only have happened now - Polygon

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Journalism is becoming a dangerous occupation

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Photo (cc) 2012 by Mr.TinDC

Paul Farhi of The Washington Post reports on a disturbing phenomenon: television journalists coming under attack. “In recent months, local TV news crews have faced verbal and physical abuse while on the job,” he writes. “A few reporters have been injured. Some have been robbed or had their equipment damaged.”

Some of it is no doubt related to the “enemies of the people” rhetoric of former President Donald Trump, who made hatred of the press part of his authoritarian brand. And as Farhi notes, TV reporters are far more conspicuous than those of us who walk around with notebooks and smartphones, making them more likely to be subjected to violence.

It’s not just MAGA. One of our GBH News Muzzle Award winners this year were Black Lives Matter protesters in Burlington, Vermont, who stole copies of the alt-weekly Seven Days and burned some of them. No, that’s not the same as assaulting reporters. But I wouldn’t imagine that was a safe place to be for someone visibly identified as a reporter.

And let’s not forget it was just three years ago that a gunman killed five employees at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland. On Thursday a jury found that the shooter, Jarrod Ramos, was criminally responsible, rejecting his insanity defense.

Journalism is still safer than working as a lumberjack. Neither, though, is it entirely hazard-free. It’s something we’ve begun to talk about with our students. I don’t know what the answer is. Bearing witness is a vital part of what we do. If we have to start barricading ourselves in secure newsrooms, a lot of what we do will be lost.

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Nikole Hannah-Jones declines UNC tenure offer, heads to Howard University

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In an exclusive interview, Hannah-Jones reveals that she and fellow award-winning journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates will launch new Center for Democracy and Journalism at Washington, DC HBCU

After months of public controversy and behind-the-scenes political struggles, acclaimed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has decided not to join the faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Instead, the Pulitzer Prize winner will join the faculty at Howard University, where the Knight Foundation has established an endowed professorship in Race and Journalism for her — with tenure. There, at the most prestigious of the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities, she plans to create the Center for Journalism and Democracy. Acclaimed journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, a Howard alum and close friend of Hannah-Jones, will join her at the school.

Hannah-Jones and Coates bring to Howard $20 million that foundations and individuals have already contributed to their positions and the new center.

The decision wasn’t an easy one, Hannah-Jones told Policy Watch in an exclusive interview this week. But the political quagmire in the UNC System and lack of transparency and support from school leadership ultimately made it inevitable.

“Literally the day the story broke, I started hearing from universities,” Hannah-Jones said. “At one school the dean said to me, ‘We’ll offer you tenure and respect.’”

Hannah-Jones felt torn. She hadn’t sought the UNC job; she was recruited for it. She had a good relationship with the dean of the journalism school, Susan King. The Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Journalism, which Hannah-Jones co-founded, is headquartered at Chapel Hill.

“I still wanted to come to Carolina,” Hannah-Jones said. “It’s my alma mater. I love this place.”

Since May, when Policy Watch broke the story of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees denying Hannah-Jones a vote on tenure, faculty, staff, students and alumni have rallied around her. Major funding partners publicly called on the school to grant her tenure. The Knight Foundation, which endows the professorship for which Hannah-Jones was recruited, also pushed for the school to hire her with tenure — a status that has been afforded to all previous Knight Chairs at the school.

But as news stories revealed the extent of pressure from conservatives, including Arkansas media magnate and UNC mega-donor Walter Hussman, Hannah-Jones said returning to her alma mater to teach seemed less logical.

“Once the news broke and I started to see the extent of the political interference, particularly the reporting on Walter Hussman, it became really clear to me that I just could not work at a school named after Walter Hussman,” Hannah-Jones said. “To be a person who has stood for what I stand for and have any integrity whatsoever, I just couldn’t see how I could do that.”

The journalism school was renamed for Hussman after receiving a $25 million donation from him in 2019. The school also committed to etching what Hussman calls his “core values” into stone on the building. No one, including the school’s dean Susan King, said they foresaw that Hussman would assume the gift granted him far more than naming rights.

When King told Hussman she was pursuing Hannah-Jones for the school’s new Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, he objected. When King stood firm, Hussman peppered Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Vice Chancellor David Routh, who oversees charitable giving at the school, with emails detailing his opposition. They included complaints about “The 1619 Project,” the award-winning, long-from journalism project originally published in The New York Times and conceived of by Hannah-Jones — she won a Pulitzer in commentary for her opening essay — that’s been the target of criticism from many conservatives. Hussman also personally objected to her views on reparations to Black Americans for slavery. Hussman shared his emails critical of Hannah-Jones’s work with at least one member of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees. The board subsequently decided not to consider her tenure application.

Guksiewicz told King that Hannah-Jones wouldn’t receive a vote on tenure. He urged her to persuade Hannah-Jones to instead accept a five-year fixed contract with no guarantee of tenure, a protection viewed by many as essential for faculty members to exercise academic freedom without political interference. The work-around was designed to circumvent a vote of the board of trustees, political appointees who were feeling pressure from the politicians and commentators on the right to deny Hannah-Jones tenure or even prevent the hire altogether.

Reluctantly, Hannah-Jones accepted the five-year contract. But at the time, she didn’t understand how it came about or why it had been made necessary. As the extent of the political gamesmanship became known, Hannah-Jones said, the idea became untenable.

“I had proven everything I felt I need to prove”

Hannah-Jones began her life in Waterloo, Iowa, in a working-class Black community where most people didn’t have college degrees. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and her master’s from UNC-Chapel Hill. From there, she worked her way up, starting with The Chapel Hill News and the Durham bureau of The News & Observer to The Oregonian, Pro Publica and The New York Times.

Having to prove herself to powerful white people and institutions is nothing new to her.

“I was bused into white schools starting in the second grade,” Hannah-Jones said. “I’ve spent my entire life fighting to prove that I belonged and deserved to be in predominantly white institutions. When this whole story broke and I learned more and more about what happened in the background, I decided that wasn’t the fight I wanted anymore.”
She chose Notre Dame as an undergrad because she knew that as a Black woman, a credential from a prestigious school would help her compete. The overwhelmingly white environment was traumatic, she said.

“The first time I was called the N-word was by Notre Dame football players,” she said.

A Black dean helped her get through undergrad, she said, and though UNC-Chapel Hill has its own racial struggles, she was largely insulated from them as a grad student at the journalism school.

In a 20-year professional journalism career, she has won nearly every major award in the industry, including the Peabody, Polk, Pulitzer and National Magazine awards. UNC-Chapel Hill has touted her as a star alum, asking her to speak at the journalism school’s commencement ceremony, honoring her with a Distinguished Alumni Award and inducting her in the school’s NC Media & Journalism Hall of Fame.

To be so accomplished, yet to face opposition by Hussman and members of the Board of Trustees — people who had never met or communicated with her — was, ultimately, just too much to take.

She didn’t back away from the fight, though, and insisted that the university offer her tenure if they still wanted her.

Lamar Richards, a rising 20-year-old junior and student body president at UNC-Chapel Hill who serves on the board of trustees, petitioned for an emergency meeting of the board, forcing a vote on the issue. On June 30, the board approved a tenure offer for her in a 9-4 vote after a three-hour closed session.

The support of the students, faculty and alumni meant a lot, Hannah-Jones said.

“The faculty, the student body, alums — were trying to do right by me,” Hannah-Jones said. “I know the university is caught up in a political system that it doesn’t desire.”

But the fact that such a fierce fight was necessary for her to be offered what was automatic for previous Knight chair professors, all of whom were white, showed she needed to go elsewhere.

From UNC leadership, a deafening silence

That didn’t have to be the case, Hannah-Jones said.

“Had there been some political courage on behalf of the leadership of the university, that also could have made my decision different,” she said.

Instead, Guskiewicz and other campus-level leaders were virtually silent throughout the controversy.

“I understand that [the board of trustees] has a different vision for the university,” Hannah-Jones said. “And they’re political appointees, so I understand that. But the silence from administration, the unwillingness to come forward and say, ‘She deserved tenure at this university and to be treated like everyone else,’ the lack of transparency — I still don’t know what happened and I’ve had one-on-one conversations with the chancellor.”

The degree to which the school’s board of trustees or even the UNC Board of Governors could interfere with her as a professor would likely be minimal, Hannah-Jones said. But feeling as though she lacked the support and protection of the school’s leadership solidified her decision to go elsewhere.

“I had proven everything I felt I needed to prove,” Hannah-Jones said. “I got a lot of clarity. I decided I was going to go to a historically Black college, to a place that was built for us, for Black uplift.”

More than $20 million already secured for new center at “the crown jewel of HBCUs”

Howard was not a consolation prize, Hannah-Jones said. She chose it and, she said, she was lucky the school — which she calls “the crown jewel of HBCUs” — also chose her.

“Historically Black colleges have always had to punch above their weight,” Hannah-Jones said. “They produce a disproportionate number of Black professionals with disproportionately low funds. It’s very hard for them to attract someone like me.”

Even while she was planning to come to Chapel Hill, Hannah-Jones said she had talked with King and school leadership about creating a joint program with N.C. Central, one of the UNC System’s own HBCUs.

Now, she’ll be starting a new center at Howard designed to prepare students for the reality of journalism today. It will teach the principles that are the backbone of every good newsroom, Hannah-Jones said, but will do so in the tradition of the Black press, which has never had the luxury of prizing “objectivity” over all else.

She’s raising $25 million for the center — the same amount Hussman gave to UNC’s journalism school. “Not only am I going to go, but I’m going to try to show the resources I can bring to this institution,” Hannah-Jones said.

Three foundations and an anonymous donor have already contributed more than $20 million, according to a statement from Howard.

The Knight Foundation is providing $5 million to establish an endowment at Howard University to support a Knight Chair in Race and Journalism and to develop symposia to support journalism students and faculty across the network of HBCUs, directed by Hannah Jones, the school’s inaugural Knight Chair.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is providing a $5 million grant to support the Center for Journalism and Democracy.

The Ford Foundation will provide $5 million for general operating support for the creation of the center, according to Howard. Ford’s funding is designed to support the infrastructure of the center and its programs to help increase the number of Black professionals entering journalism and enhance their career-readiness, the school said.

An anonymous donor contributed $5 million to fund the Sterling Brown Chair in English and Humanities, which Coates will hold, and to establish the Ida B. Wells Endowed Fund to support the Knight Chair.

Coates is the award-winning author of Between the World and Me: Notes on the First 150 Years of America and We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy.

He is also a Howard alum who encouraged Hannah-Jones to bring her talents to the school.

“I heard a wise man once say, ‘A man who hates home will never be happy,’” Coates said in a statement on his move to Howard this week. “And it is in the pursuit of wisdom and happiness that I return to join the esteemed faculty of Howard University. This is the faculty that molded me. This is the faculty that strengthened me. Personally, I know of no higher personal honor than this.”

Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation, said the it is pleased to support the new chair, one of 26 it has endowed at 23 universities. 

“Their decision to emphasize the training of the next generation of Black journalists was decisive in our choice to endow a Knight Chair in journalism at Howard,” he said. “We congratulate Nikole Hannah-Jones, who will be the first holder of the Knight Chair at Howard. The University has chosen someone eminently qualified to train the next generation of journalists.”

John Palfrey, president of the MacArthur Foundation, said it is proud to support Hannah-Jones’s work at “a moment of inflection on the impact of race and racism in the United States and around the world.”

“Hannah-Jones’ twin passions of investing in the next generation of Black journalists and her tireless quest for the U.S. to confront and repair the enduring legacy of slavery through the 1619 Project will now have a home at Howard University,” Palfrey said in a statement. “We are excited about the opportunity Howard offers for Hannah-Jones and Coates, two MacArthur Fellows, to build a legacy in the fight for racial justice.”

 “Journalism has a tangible effect on communities and cultural narratives, so we are thrilled to support the Pulitzer Prize winner Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ta-Nehisi Coates and this legendary institution in fostering the next generation of Black journalists,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, in a statement.

“As our news and information rapidly change, the media must do more to diversify the ranks of newsroom decision-makers who determine the stories that are told,” Walker said. “We believe the establishment of this center at Howard University will play a critical role in helping to advance this important public interest objective.”

No one’s name is going on the the new center, Hannah-Jones said. Nor will they be etching any one person’s ideas about journalism into granite there. Instead, she said, she’s going to prepare students for a volatile world and their roles in it — which even the most prestigious programs seem to be neglecting.

“I always find it interesting when people talk about ‘objectivity’ as though the stated goals of journalism are neutral,” Hannah-Jone said. “They’re not.”

The best journalism programs need to teach students to question history, orthodoxy, and how systems work and why, Hannah-Jones said, particularly now, at a volatile time for democracy in America.

“We can see this in political reporting all across the country,” Hannah-Jones said. “Folks who have too much faith in political institutions, who are not critical enough, who believe our democracy will hold because their experience has taught them that.”

“There is a depth, complexity and urgency that is missing in too much of our coverage,” Hannah-Jones said.

The Center for Journalism and Democracy at Howard will emphasize that the two things are intertwined, she said. “Journalism is the firewall,” she said. “The firewall is eroding.”

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